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I've been interested in drawing and painting since I was a child, but it was four years of living in Europe as a young teenager that really made me an artist. My most impressive experience in that respect was a visit to Lascaux during the brief time those caves were open to the public. I would have been around 13 or 14 years old and I was completely overwhelmed by the enduring beauty of the art and by the fact that it was so incredibly ancient — some 17,000 years old.

Another forming experience (from around the same time) concerned Jacques Louis David's painting Oath of the Horatii. As a boy I
had often seen this painting reproduced in art and history books, and I liked it in relation to an interest I had in the history and mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. To suddenly encounter it full-scale in the Louvre — to see it as a colossal painting rather than simply as a book illustration — had a very strong impact.

During my art education my greatest interests were conceptual art and minimalism. Ideas are important to me, and I've always developed interests which include history, archeology, anthropology, the sciences, and philosophy.

Spinoza's notion of God-or-Nature (Deus sive Natura) was something else which took a hold of me when I was quite young. As a result of religious teachings I was struggling with the idea of God and not coming up with any satisfactory explanation until I stumbled upon Spinoza in a popular book on the history of civilization. His notion (only vaguely understood at the time) fit in well with my own spiritual feelings which were most intense when I was out in the natural world. As a boy I moved around a lot but, no matter where I was, I always sought out my own private Walden — a place where I could feel connected to the great outdoors (I didn't read Thoreau until much later, however).

During my art education I also took an interest in how certain artists and philosophers had traditionally related to nature. In these cases the term "nature" didn't always relate specifically to plants and animals but to natural forms and materials. Hegel, in his Aesthetic, wrote about how art is something that takes nature to a higher level — that art is a result of human imagination imposed upon natural materials and coming up with forms nature couldn't otherwise achieve.

The idea of making art in nature by integrating art with the natural world didn't really seem to come about until artists such as Robert Smithson and Richard Long took art out of the galleries and into the landscape in the 1960s and 70s.

Prior to that, art so literally integrated with the natural world was art that civilization scoffed at: the art of people who were labeled "savage" and "primitive" (like those artists of Lascaux). But this "primitive" art was profoundly rooted in the natural world in ways that "civilized" art could not be. In fact, civilization evolved with the very intention of setting humans apart from nature: the marble floor serving to elevate and insulate civilized humans from the primal mud. Idealized and durable forms made of stone and metal became preferred over the rough-hewn and profane forms more directly associated with organic nature. Until very recently, nature was considered something to be overcome as the threatening "other" — the ancient nature god Pan, for example, serving as a template for the depiction of Satan.

Suddenly however — in ways we are still trying to come to terms with — nature is re-asserting itself. Suddenly we are being made aware that we are nature and subject to a very delicate balance of natural processes and conditions that has allowed us to evolve and survive. We can't separate ourselves. We are discovering, to our great distress, that human attitudes concerning the natural world might have reached the level of insolence, and that Spinoza's God-that-is-Nature is capable of turning on us as surely as any anthropomorphic God made angery by our excesses and disrespect.

There's a phrase "the sacred landscape" which is often used in reference to how certain indigenous peoples have come to understand the world around them. The landscape and nature have meaning. Mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and even trees and stones have spirit, and there are often ghosts associated with them.Things have happened out there — there are stories connected to this landscape that tell us about ourselves and who we are and what we've done. This is important stuff, and it's up to the cultural workers — artists of all kinds — to keep these stories and traditions alive. This is the source of not only our cultural life but also our spiritual life. What effected me so much during that visit to Lascaux was the realization, for perhaps the very first time, that the landscape is indeed sacred and that I'm a part of a much bigger story.