Back in 2013, a paraglider on Vancouver Island asked me to design a greeting card. This woman is not your average human. She has flown all over the world but routinely drives around her home town with her kit, just in case the wind is right on the way home. A teacher, a dancer, a hockey player who picked up paragliding almost on a whim; and then found herself travelling to Switzerland to teach the sport. Because, you know, they are just getting the hang of mountains over there.
As I was saying: at the time, her son was still pretty small. He loved all the usual things a preschooler enjoyed: playing with cars, riding his bike, jumping off cliffs with his mom…
They already had an original of my digger piece when she asked if I could do a piece with paragliders on it. I’ve never flown myself, but after looking up photos of people paragliding, I was immediately captivated by the idea. The pictures fairly oozed serenity and splendid – no, magnificent – solitude. I saw shots of paragliders flying over oceans in the late evening, the sky streaked with purple and orange, or floating between jagged peaks with wisps of silver clouds at their heels. I imagined what it would sound like up there and how it would feel to be looking down on the rest of us, dashing around trying to beat the clock… While up there, with the wind rushing at you and your body suspended in mid-air, time stands still. As a person whose mind rarely stops racing, I found myself wondering: What would I think about, up there?
In short, I was carried away by the feeling that to fly meant experiencing two, powerful yet contradictory sensations at the same time. The incredible rush of doing something that – in theory – goes against nature, set against the total absence of all the usual stimuli of daily, human life. The ground beneath one’s feet, furniture, social media, stick shifts and traffic lights, whirring fridges and combustion engines. Chattering humans, kids pulling our pants off…
In short, to fly is to discard all of the unnecessary things that make us feel as though we are exploding with… what? Stuff. Just STUFF.
And since my process as an artist is largely about cutting out extraneous stuff, this project was ideal. Here’s why: I start with photographs, either my own or someone else’s. I look for the shapes and colours that define these images. I pull out the most important elements and discard everything else. As I look and then sketch, and then cut and stick, my entire process is about distilling the information I collect with my eyes, and sharing it with others in a gentler, more serene, less noisy form. Like all forms of art, it’s a way of interpreting of the world, making it feel more manageable, while elevating that which is vivid, alive, that which reminds us to experience freedom, awe, inspiration and the full extent of our power as individuals… and all that with the colours and shapes that feel like love, safety and kindness. Or maybe they make us laugh. Or maybe they just make us feel like dancing.
At any rate, this project felt like a match made in heaven. It made me feel as though I, too, could fly.
So, to those of you out there who jump off mountains and share your experiences on Instagram, thank you. I want you to know that even at great distances, through two screens and a gajillion miles of cables, you bring fresh air and inspiration to this mama, who’s looking up at that same sky, from the bottom of one of those mountains.
Be free, guys. Be safe.