Nick Pedersen was featured last year back in July. His featured series, Sumeru, received a lot of acclaim and there were quite a few requests for an interview with the author. With that being said, EK has taken your order and delivered it to your table. Continue reading to help yourself to a plate of the main course you have been waiting for as well as a scrumptious side dish, courtesy of the chef.
A lot of the time when spiritual things are trying to be conveyed, the person trying to send these spiritual messages across feels as though things get lost during the translation process. How do you feel about this idea in regards to your work?
Conceptually, this series is very much about being lost and trying to find the way, and essentially it represents this existential journey of the truth-seeker. There is a lot of deep meaning and symbolism in this work but I didn’t want the answers to be too apparent. I thought it was important to leave a mystery that can be pondered over for subjective interpretations and meanings. My goal was to provide access into this metaphorical world so that the viewer can explore and discover its deeper layers.
Related to the question above, how does the literary imagery compare to your visual images? Can you give an example of a key word or phrase you read that inspired a certain image to come into your mind?
This project was primarily inspired by my study of Zen Buddhism and eastern philosophy. The main verse that inspired this entire project was from a book of Zen koans written in 12th century China called The Blue Cliff Records, and it reads,
Taking no notice of others,
Throwing his staff over his shoulder,
He goes straight ahead and journeys
Deep into the recesses of the hundred thousand mountains.
In my images I wanted to portray this metaphorical realm of the hundred thousand mountains and illustrate an epic spiritual quest to reach its highest peak. In Buddhist mythology this mountain, known as Mt. Sumeru, stands at the center of the universe and is symbolic of ultimate truth.
It is apparent that this project of yours was something very meaningful to you. How does this relate to the kind of work you like to show to the public?
I wanted to create these images as a symbolic reflection of my own experiences, while authentically portraying the esoteric philosophy of the Zen tradition. The main motivation behind this project was in laying out a path for the viewer to follow, and to have them contemplate these mysteries.
Why do you choose to portray these images in black and white rather than color?
To visually convey the conceptual theme of this work, my main aesthetic inspiration was from Chinese landscape painting. The beautifully idealized landscapes of the Song and Yuan dynasties were a big influence for me and I wanted to translate this into my own style. I like to work in black and white because I think it simplifies the concept and makes it more direct and striking. I also thought it was suitable for this body of work because it helped to create the archaic aesthetic I wanted in my images.
Are your images purely illustrated or are some of them digitally manipulated? Why do you choose this particular technique to illustrate your spiritual images?
This is a question I get quite a lot because I developed a unique style for this work and the medium is hard to decipher. All the images in this series are actually photo-based, and utilized a very complex process of high dynamic range imaging and digital compositing to create a seamless montage using my own photographs. This was the best technique to illustrate my concept because it created an incredibly detailed quality that I couldn’t get from anything else.
How has illustrating your spiritual interpretations helped you develop in your spiritual growth?
Researching and working on this project really helped me to clarify my own understanding. However, I would never call myself a Zen master or anything like that. In this work I wanted to metaphorically illustrate this path undertaken in Zen thought, based on historical references and literary symbolism. In my life I am constantly at different stages along this journey, but I like to think of what I have created as a guide.
What drew you to Zen Buddhism, and what inspired you to translate your spiritual process into art?
I have studied Zen Buddhism for nearly ten years and I can honestly say that it has profoundly affected my life. In Zen I finally found what I was looking for after a long time of aimless searching. For me this was a deeply personal project and I felt like it was something that I needed to get out of myself.
Given the fact that there is a page-long statement on this series, what significance does this series have to you? Why is it so distinguished from your previous works?
Sumeru was my Master of Fine Arts Thesis at Pratt Institute, and that statement is just an introduction to a 35-page paper I had to write about this body of work. I think what distinguishes this series is that I have never put so much into anything in my life, and I spent more than 2 years working on these images and publishing them in a book. It meant a lot to see my vision realized in the end.
Almost all of your works seem to be related to nature or feature some kind of environment. What are some sources of inspiration for you?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is completely surrounded by mountains and so early on I developed a deep appreciation for nature. I have done countless backpacking and camping trips in the Rocky Mountains and that has been a huge influence in my work and in my life. Most of the imagery in this project comes from these wild places that are very important to me.
This is a major theme in much of my previous work and in what I am working on now. Fundamentally, all of my work is about my experience with nature. Sumeru does this in a much more philosophical way, but I am also very concerned about environmentalism and the future of our planet. I’m not sure what will happen, but I am very motivated by thinking about what might be lost due to manmade factors. I feel like we are quickly approaching a threshold, and that is something I want to portray.
Are there any projects you are working on currently or upcoming events to look forward to?
Right now I am actually an Artist in Residence at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada and I am working to finish a new body of work that I will be showing at The Slingluff Gallery in June. It is the first of a 3-part series that will be published in my next book. This project shows a return to my previous environmentally motivated work envisioning the hypothetical future, and collectively it is called Pangea Ultima.
A couple preview images from Pangea Ultima:
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