Spirit of the Wild
Toto, IN USA (2022)
This painting had been in the works since 2019 when I painted my first piece in the US, in North Judson, IN. Unfortunately, shortly after, the pandemic started and everything just crashed to a halt. Finally, after months of back-and-forth attempts to get everything finalized and a definite answer, we managed to get everything lined up (mostly) for this to actually happen.
Whenever I paint in the US, I run into hurdles that make me not want to do another (here). There’s generally more funding available in the States, but everyone wants to add their 2¢, and in the end, it inevitably dilutes whatever the painting started out as down to some cliche. If you’ve gone on a drive through the States, you know the type. Generally, they’re collages of some local photos with the town's name angled across like a varsity team’s name on a t-shirt, or perhaps of a scene just down the street. None of this is to say that I don’t understand the intention, I do. However, these attempts to memorialize the local landmarks or events in a painting that generally offers no context or backstory for the public are more misguided than beneficial. The reasoning that I’m often provided with is that they “want to put ________ on the map”. What happens, in the end, is that they’re given a cookie-cutter mural that’s often based on what the next town or county has thematically, just ends up fulfilling the bare minimum, and nobody really gives a damn.

As an artist who thoroughly researches places where I paint and often spends time there prior to painting, I want to paint my artwork for the people in the town to see, to experience. I want to inspire and invigorate others’ imaginations and dive into local folklore, history, and other aspects that I find interesting. As I often say to people when asked to paint these cookie-cutter-esque murals, if you want a sign painted for the town, ask a sign painter. Murals aren’t signs, they’re public art, and in this mindset, they don’t need to nor are they meant to represent any one person or population. They’re paintings that are created in a public space rather than on a canvas for a select few to see. Aside from that, the concept and imagery don’t need to be relatable or familiar to anyone but me. They’re my artwork that I want to share with others and in my work, I want to tell a story without an ending, not to retell a snapshot of the local landscape that everyone in the area already knows, is familiar with, and that concluded 50 years ago. In the same way that you don’t watch movies or TV shows that are just live video feeds of your own life, why would you want to see a painting that shows what’s already around you? I realize that this is all just my own 2¢, but it’s also my painting.
Drone photo of the mural/area
Drone photo of the mural/area
Slightly ranty introduction aside, this painting, thanks to Jacque Ryan and the owners of the building, allowed me full creative freedom. As a native of the area, I already had a connection and wanted to utilize the wall space to tell a specific story of two homes. The first, Starke County, which I wanted to display through the silhouettes of the deer and the white of the building. Second, the background landscape, though familiar-looking (enough), is of a farm in the Bosnian countryside near Bihać where part of my maternal side of the family is from. The home where I grew up and that mostly formed me as an individual and the home that led to my being and the culture that I currently call home. The deer are from a photo of some deer on my parents’ property and though I have been bombarded with questions of why I left them white/when I plan to paint them, their silhouette being a solid color is intentional. First, they’re obviously recognizable as everyone has specifically said “the deer” when inquiring about them, despite them being surrounded by a field of sheep. Design-wise, my intention was for them to stand out while the background fades into, well, the background. That the first part of the painting that you (the viewer) would see would actually be the lack of painting. As some dunces have been quick to point out, “I could’ve painted that”, to which my reply is simple: the white silhouettes are only simple because the background is complex.

Which brings me to the background: As the vast majority of input/suggestions that I get when painting in rural Indiana revolves around painting fields and farm-related subjects, I wanted to entertain these comments while doing something unexpected. I wanted to paint a place that was eerily similar, yet half a world away. To both compare and contrast the ways of life while telling my own story and history and through the painting, melding it to the history of the building and area. The term home is challenged in a number of ways through this view. The home where I grew up, the home of my ancestors, and the home where I currently live and where I learned how to paint and started creating murals.

The painting is titled “Spirit of the Wild” in an effort to partially mislead. The deer could be the spirit. White in color and more like an apparition than an actual living being, they draw upon our memory and recognition to complete the image. The background could also be the spirit, though, as the landscapes (both painted and real) do more to communicate a sense of belonging, identity, and narrative than the silhouettes. In reality, neither is solely the spirit of the wild. My intention with the painting was to bring the world to Toto, Indiana, and to cultivate a sense of curiosity and spirit of adventure in anyone who takes the time to engage and wonder what it means.
It was a bit tricky to do in the timeframe as it was raining on-off through the entire month, but it came to be in the end and I’m quite happy with it. Here’s some drone footage of the piece:
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