Over 20 years ago I read a story in the local press about an artist that would spend weeks on end out in the high mountain backcountry, living out of tent and cave, painting daily. Surviving snow and rock and ice and fire. On his return he’d see civilization’s blur of concrete and impatience through eyes made clear in the thin mountain air. He’d also return with 38 paintings. On his back. And that would just be one pack. He’d have another pack full of camp gear that he’d haul around in a game of alpine leap frog as he juggled these two packs all over the peaks and valleys of the country he loved.
I’ve never been more inspired by any artist’s commitment. Oh, you paint in the howling wind? Fun. Oh, you paint every day like a good devotee to the religion you’ve built around art in your mind? Bless you, my child. Oh, you paint large canvases outdoors, much larger than most plein air painters would attempt? Go big or go home, as they say. Those are all great, but get back to me when you’ve gone on a solo painting trip for a month on foot in the wilderness and have to wait out a blizzard in a bear’s cave punching holes in the snowpack to breathe as you shiver out the storm surrounded by half-finished paintings from the warmer, sunnier days that preceded this long dark day that could have held 4 or 5 ordinary days within it’s length*. That is the bar that has been set. When it comes to commitment, none of us, and I mean none of us, are Ken Jarvela. (Except Ken… so I guess one of us is Ken Jarvela. Hi Ken!)
I found Ken on a warm October day back in 2019 surrounded by giant old growth redwoods, working on a 24″ x 60″ panel from the road beside his car, watched by his cat, Charlie Wing Wang (may he rest in peace). Very few painters can make sense of these dense forest scenes and actually make them work, but Ken is truly a master. What was there to do? I was just another cat watching so I created my own cat’s-eye-view of Ken Jarvela, a man among giants.