Himalayas: creation & destruction
Eelko van Iersel made an inspiration trip in the Himalayas in 2019. For over 20 years he creates non-figurative, imposing paintings. He paints with his hands and uses oil, sand and paint as materials. He calls it 'colourful energy fields' himself. He also runs a gallery called Zeven Zomers in the centre of Nijmegen.
Roof of the world
A journey for myself and with myself. I felt the need to get away from 'the Dutch bubble'. To leave the art world, the responsibilities, my worries and my ambition far behind me. I was looking forward to new insights, and most of all to 'not knowing' what all this would bring me. I was able to join a travel group that would spend a month travelling around the northern tip of India: Ladakh, Nubra Valley and Zanskar Valley. The Himalayas, the roof of the world.
At the end of 2018, I booked a return ticket Amsterdam-Dehli. I made three paintings in the months leading up to my trip. An incipient connection with the area I was going to was formed. By reading about the Himalayas, by seeing pictures my inspiration was sparked. I was already dreaming of the mountains, the colours, the silence. And these images came, through this energetic tuning, on the canvas. Layer upon layer the colour field of the high mountains was created. I was already attuned to the Himalayas and what I was going to see with my own eyes. I made a diptych and one large painting. And I sold all three of them before embarking on the journey. With this I financed my trip and all the expenses that continued to be incurred at home during my absence.
Layer upon layer the color field of the high mountains was created
On 19 July we flew to Delhi and from there straight on to Leh. We got out of the plane in the middle of the Himalayas, at 3500 meters altitude. You notice that immediately by breathing. Everything goes much slower. At this altitude there is less oxygen in the air, so you have to breathe more often to get enough. I was dreading it beforehand and I must say; my breathing was a challenge during this trip. Taking the time to acclimatise is essential. Fortunately, I did not get altitude sickness, nausea or headaches, but it was an attack on my airways and lungs. Especially with all the dust in the sand valleys. And believe me, it is very unpleasant to wake up in the night in a small one person tent, panicking and gasping for air. That happened to me a couple of times during this trip and it was frightening. Coping well with that, in turn, gives you a lot of confidence.
I've seen so many beautiful colours: green, black, white, grey, ochre, red, blue, and countless combinations
'Himalaya', a Sanskrit word meaning 'abode of the snow'. The first 10 days we did a lot of sightseeing in a small bus. We traveled through valleys at high altitude and passed several passes, up to 5800 meters. The eternal snow is resting there. All the colours of the mountains, the rocks, the air and the rivers I absorbed like a sponge into my head, body and memory. When I am captivated by the beauty and impact of nature it comes naturally. I have experienced the Himalayas as enormously powerful. Appropriate words are difficult to give this experience. It went further and deeper than 'primal force'. The word combination 'creation' and 'destruction' comes closer. Nature is so full of power and life. The rivers flow like white water rapids. It rains for a few hours and dirt roads turn into rivers. Rocks four meters wide fall down on the road. And all the locals stay calm; for them it's ordinary and everyday. I have seen so many beautiful colors: green, black, white, gray, ochre, red, blue, and countless combinations.
Their singing, the smell, the colours and the looks that were exchanged. Who is looking at whom?
The monasteries we visited were of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition or Yellow Hat Buddhists. I was deeply impressed by the morning prayer in Dixit where we were allowed to be present with a group of elderly monks. Their singing, the smell, the colors and the glances that were exchanged. Who is looking at whom? The chanting resonated with me for a long time. We also visited monasteries that still radiated little devotion and spirituality. Some monasteries seemed to be exploited for the upcoming tourism.
It was beautiful to carefully experience how the energy of different monasteries had a different effect on my feelings. Some felt serene, quiet and pure, where other monasteries felt gloomy and cold. In one monastery I was meditating and in the serene silence I heard the chanting of prayers. I didn't really hear it, but in my head, in this space. I resonated with the chant of all the years, the ancestors, all the prayers chanted and blowing with the wind. As if somewhere, far away, a prayer was being chanted and taken with the wind to enter my world.
One of the best experiences was the hike to the Phuktal monastery. A monastery which can only be reached on foot. The fact that they were able to build it in such a remote location was very impressive. A walk of four hours on a narrow mountain path, all alone in this overwhelming nature. Alone with myself in the environment of natural power and personal victories.
I sometimes had to swallow as I made my way past deep chasms and falling rocks. "My fear of heights is just a feeling, which will also pass. Sometimes the fear made me stand stock-still, but eventually that too would move, if I allowed it and could breathe through it. And with fear I can also move and go on. Emotions come and go, nothing stays the same forever, life is flowing by nature.
I realise that in the West we often have the idea that we have a lot of control over our lives, that we can steer them, but in reality that is nonsense. Life has its own plan and I may learn to trust that. A walk like that, with all the experiences, from intense joy, through fear, to sadness, to gratitude, that is a spiritual experience that no monastery can compete with. But Phuktal lives up to its promise.
Such a walk, with all the experiences, from intense joy, through fear, to sadness, to gratitude, is a spiritual experience that no monastery can compete with.
At one point I was walking along a rocky outcrop and saw in the distance a monastery high in the mountains. Like a wasp's nest riveted to the mountain. Really beautiful. We drank tea at the uncle of our guide in his small house. The simplicity and purity created a heavenly glow. My first experience with a group of young monks was completely different than I could have imagined beforehand. I walked up a staircase and heard children's voices in the distance coming my way. A group of 20 little monks came running down the stairs. They were all mad and wanton. A running boy called Sir, Sir! and tapped my forehead with his hand. Impulsively I gave a tap back. It was all in the game. ...serenity alternating with wantonness... 'holiness' alternated with 'earthly worries'. 'higher consciousness' alternated with 'everyday worries'.
I have seen so much during this trip. Nature with all its roughness and colours. Full of energy and inspiration. I have been painting non-figurative, colorful paintings for over 20 years now, and in my opinion, inspiration is 'always and everywhere'. Whether or not I experience inspiration has mainly to do with how I relate to the world around me. Or actually even closer: 'How do I relate to myself? Am I open, receptive to the beauty that is there? Am I flowing in nature? Or am I cramped, stressed, is my mind constricted? In recent years I have noticed how essential it is for my creative process to feed myself with relaxation, pleasure, happiness and with new impressions. The biggest challenge is to keep myself flowing: to recognize and acknowledge 'emotions'. To recognize and acknowledge 'thoughts' and to let them pass by like clouds that come and go. To break through old patterns and let go of negative assumptions. Feeling, letting go, being.
I call it a training to experience 'everything inclusive'. That makes for a literally broad palette of painters, where inspiration is allowed to flow freely.
The practice of meditation is essential to this. To be open to the inspiration that is there, 'always and everywhere around me'. And of course, such a process involves trial and error and it is important to see the shadow side of my person. The dark and dour sides in me, next to the zest for life, energy and joy. I have a focus to keep my inner forces in balance. That's what makes life so fascinating, intense and rich. I call it an education to experience 'all inclusive'. That ensures a literally wide palette of painters, where inspiration can flow freely. I have the conviction that the width of my its shines through in my paintings. It also gives me the feeling that I am acting as a medium between creation and the canvas. I master the techniques and the instruments, but the expression is given to me and flows through me. In this respect it becomes more and more clear to me: 'the more I remove myself (my 'ego') from the painting process - the less I try to steer the painting process - the better I can connect to creation and inspiration that is there'. Then I can connect most easily with worlds that inspire me.
Seeing, and literally sucking up like a sponge, all the colours, shapes, impressions and experiences during my journey through the Himalayas, provides for new expression, for new worlds with which I can connect while painting. My reservoir is filled to the brim again. Now that I am back in my studio in Beuningen, all this inspiration ends up on the canvas.