Absolute Balance

The Magic of Being Quantum



An Interview with Jerry Wennstrom

By Colin Whitby

Last month we featured an article by Jerry and we had so much interest we thought it might be good to find out a little more about Jerry and his work. I hope you enjoy.

Colin:- Jerry, in one of your presentations you said you are probably more famous for destroying your artwork than for what you had created up to that point. Could you describe the events that lead you to that momentous decision?

Jerry:- After producing an enormous body of work, I came up against the limits and potential of human effort. I felt my will and drive had reached a natural end in some larger cycle. I intuited the need to let go of all controls as a creator, and hand creation over to a more inspired possibility. I believe the paradox I encountered embodies the true spirit and deeper meaning of the word “sacrifice” which, transliterated means, “to make sacred.” If, in the natural cycle of things, we lay our hopes, dreams and precious attachments on the altar with a willingness to let them go forever, the whole of our creation is sanctified and returned to us in ways we never would have imagined.

The Key to HeavenEinstein says, “ Matter never dies, it changes form.” If, as I suspected, art was beckoning me forward in the direction of some greater formless experience, then the “matter” and attachment to the objects of creation would only change form and offer up something unexpected and more alive. This is what the experience of destroying the art did for me. There is no question that the act of destroying my art and giving everything I owned away involved a huge risk. I was very aware that my initial impulse might have been misguided or even insane. Realizing this, it required every ounce of courage for me to trust the higher sense of beauty and potential I was intuiting enough to allow my life to be transformed by the experience.

It is mostly in retrospect that the true gift of this choice has revealed itself to me. Most artists want to touch the world in some meaningful way with their life’s work. However, I never would have imagined the paradox of ultimately being acknowledged for destroying my art would be my way!

Colin:- You have compared that moment in your life to dying, an old part of yourself leaving to make way for the new.  How did you feel once you had taken this step?

Jerry:- At first I felt completely elated and liberated for no apparent reason, other than the fact that I had walked into my worst fear, unburdened myself of everything I most identified with as an artist, and felt more alive as a result. Over time (and we are talking 15 years here) before I returned to something resembling a “normal” life, I experienced every imaginable emotion.

The AlchemistThere are no reference points to solid reality when we no longer take our cues from the world around us and look, instead, to our one-on-one relationship with the mystery. It is, without a doubt, difficult holding the unknowing of such a path; but it is an unavoidable requirement of the individual journeys we take. When one has been empowered to move forward, in a radical new way, there is an inherent loneliness and responsibility that simply comes with the territory. However, with any personal breakthrough, if it is inspired, there comes the ineffable knowing that the ground we stand upon is real and inherently self-sustaining. Although I experienced doubt in some of my weaker moments, the luxury of dwelling on this doubt became a ridiculous non-option when faced with the haunting certainty that events were unfolding exactly as they should. I was never quite able to believe that the journey I was on was anything but an exciting new reality brimming with possibility. 

Colin:- Many people can come to this moment in their lives in their own way, ‘walking into their own death’ so to speak; do you think this kind of process applies to us all in some way?

LucyJerry:- I certainly believe, at a mythic level, the journey applies to us all. We ARE the story-- it comes out of some fundamental principal in the human psyche. It is the stuff of myths and fairytales; it is death and resurrection in its’ many forms -- the Sumerian myth of Inanna, Cinderella, the Christ story. At some deeper level it is the only game in town and it is largely an unavoidable journey we must all eventually take.  Perhaps our only option is when we choose to take it.  I do not believe we all choose to walk into our own death, however. Sometimes the gods “boot” us over into the experience. Being a conscious, willing participant and correct timing, eliminates a certain amount of useless suffering and makes for, generally, a more heroic adventure.  There is, however, only a small difference between the two paths. The faith, hope and courage it takes to stay with the journey, once it has begun, is difficult to maintain for all of us. What matters is that we fully traverse the territory we are given, which will always look and feel like death to the ego.

Colin:- You say your life has become your inspiration rather than your work, so for you your art has become more whimsical, it is no longer the driver. How has this given you more freedom to create?

Jerry:- Our freedom comes to us through self-awareness. As a young artist, I saw no alternative but to face the metaphor of death and open myself to the potential it had to free and enhance my life at all levels. If art is to deliver all of one’s reality onto the solid ground of a more inspired possibility (which is what I believe it should do) then it was the gift of death that did this for me. As a path of discovery, I believed in art with all of my heart and soul, and had produced an enormous body of work (early work) by age 29. This path took me to an edge where I could do no more with my will, intelligence or good intentions. I was experiencing the death of everything I most relied on as an artist, which was my belief in my own unlimited creative powers. It was at this juncture that I began to realize that the reliance I had come to depend on was too small a container for the larger creation I sensed was coming through. With my belief system failing, two choices became clear to me. I could back away in fear and live out the status quo of the “artists” of my day, or I could trust the unreasonable mystery of inspiration itself and surrender to that which I intuited would inspire my entire life. This larger, creative vision is what I gave myself to and it remains the most important thing I have ever done with my art or life. The freedom to create in a more complete way came with the territory, and included every aspect of my life. You might say it all became one big creative stir, with no one piece being any more or less important than any other. Perhaps the whimsy in my work is a reflection of the larger cosmic joke the gods had played on me.

Colin:- Part of the creative process you describe involves surrendering to your own truth and that resisting these ‘death’ or surrender moments is what causes the pain people experience in life. Can you expand on this for us?

Jerry:- I can give a simple answer to your question. However, the levels of avoidance we have the potential to involve ourselves with, can get very complex. There is also karma, which creates experience as well, but that’s another subject. 

Goddess CabinetJung says, “That which is not made conscious is lived out as fate.” I will add,  “fate” too has the potential to make us more conscious if we are tracking and doing our work. In other words, for awareness and soul-life to grow we consciously or unconsciously create experiences that are often uncomfortable or difficult -- situations that force us to move beyond the numbing effects of boredom and complacency.  The experiences we create inform us, in quiet ways at first, that there is a need for change. When we do not listen to the gentler whisper of this voice, reality ups the volume and we experience a disturbance, usually in the form of an external experience or event. It can be a simple wake-up call, like someone getting angry at us or feeling “off” and bumping one’s head.  If we are still not paying attention or if fear is causing us to further avoid facing the issue needing our attention, the volume increases further and we experience a more serious upset. If we continue the avoidance we experience the message as something slightly more tragic. We can ride the effects of this continually increasing volume all the way to the grave if we choose to. As I said, this is a simplistic example. Avoidance can be very complicated and become a way of life, taking us into every form of addiction and abuse.

Colin:- How does the universe support someone like yourself when your focus is no longer on producing art to please others, to sell, but is more about honouring your inspiration? Many people would love to ‘dare’ to step into this place, but may doubt they will be supported, particularly financially.

Jerry:- There is a wonderful quote in Rusty Moe's book “Where God Learns.” I will paraphrase: Living the mystery means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God (Grace) did not exist. In other words, the mystery supports, validates and holds our lives in place through the element of Grace and not through reason, manipulation or strategy.

The above statement speaks to the fundamental economy of our Being, and it is the most balanced and efficient way of being. I believe this way of life would work for anyone if we trusted completely and were willing to live with what comes rather than what we think we need or want.

To answer your question fully, I can share with you a few ways in which the universe has supported me in recent years: Through our association with Parabola Magazine (original distributors of In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom.)  I received several grants to tour with their film festival, present the film and speak internationally. Friends and supporters funded the film itself.  I also have had 2 major benefactors who have supported my work for the past 5 years. At this point I don’t know where future support will come from but I trust it will if I am to continue my work, and if it doesn’t I will do what I can with what I have available. 

Colin:- Following on from the question about trusting the universe will provide, have you found that your new work is now sought after, that people would like to take it home with them?

Jerry:- Yes, to some extent. Because of the attention I have received through my book and the films made about my art and life art, I have at times been offered a significant sums of money for my art. I have given much away. I have no philosophy or reason why I don’t sell art – it is more that I haven’t felt the rightness in doing so yet. Whether I ever will…?  I don’t know. I trust some individual or organization will eventually come along and suggest something that will simply feel right, which will allow my art to enter the world in a way that is significant and in keeping with the nature of my journey as a whole. This may or may not have to do with money. It would be nice if it involved money, however, I don’t see money as the criteria for right action in the world.

SteamI have spent my life listening and following the quiet voice of (what you might call) a strange and unreasonable god. I feel my personal mythos (and we all have one,) that seems to have a life of its own, has unfolded in the most fascinating and mysterious way possible. At this late stage in my life I simply do not wish to interfere with what I perceive as a perfectly informed process. I will, however, admit it is not always easy living this way.

Colin:- Where do you see your work and life going for the rest of the year, what are your plans?

Jerry:- A year is a long time and it is difficult for me to plan too far ahead. I can share a few things. I leave for Italy in a few days and will be there for a couple of weeks. I have a few speaking/film engagements planned and there is a new art piece stirring. That’s about as much as I know.

Colin:- Jerry thanks very much for sharing with us today, and have a great time in Italy.

Artist, author Jerry Wennstrom was born in New York on January 13, 1950. He attended Rockland Community College and the State University of New Paltz. After producing a large body of work, at age 29 he set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. For years he questioned the limits of his creative life as a studio painter. After destroying all of his art and giving away everything he owned, Jerry began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for 15 years. In 1998 he moved to Washington State, where he eventually married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art. Marilyn and Jerry’s charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique interactive sculptures and paintings. Jerry also built a 40-foot meditation tower on his property, which is featured along with his story in a book by Laura Chester called Holy Personal.

Jerry's story is told in his book,
The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation (foreword by Thomas Moore) published by Sentient Publications and in the Parabola Magazine documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom. There is also a Sentient Publications DVD with the same name ,which includes a short new film called Studio Dialogue. Studio Dialogue is a presentation Jerry did before a live audience with music by Susan McKeown, sung by Marilyn Strong. Jerry travels internationally lecturing, teaching and presenting his film and work and he writes a monthly piece on the spirit of the times for a New York City consulting firm.