Nature of Art

The nature of art is a delicate but penetrating force. Art is the handcart for self-expression and the conveyance of idea and philosophy. Its roots are deeply bound in the human experience.

Painting, for me, is an opportunity for the fullest expression of my love for nature. It is an evolutionary journey of inner harmonies that I am exploring and which I have the privilege of sharing with others.

We live in a land of miracle. I hope the miracles reflected in my paintings are appreciated for many generations.

Preservation of World

Painting in its "pure and natural" sense is radical. Sometimes I feel like it is trying to breathe life into dinosaur’s bones. The color of the sky in many large areas of this country is changing, becoming less blue, as the result of airborne pollutants. The grasslands of the Midwestern states is no longer the rich tapestry of effulgent life as once described and illustrated by the pioneers who made the first crossings to the new lands, and this the likely result of industrial farming and the effects of organophospates and insecticides. Powerlines and pipelines march unashamedly across vast expanses of once pristine wilderness. Roads continue to increase in number and to dominate all but the most inhospitable terrains. A simple and intimate study of the earth at peace is increasing difficult to attain.

Naturalist Painting

Painting pretty pictures is not the goal of naturalist painting. Naturalist painting the discipline of study that focuses on the key of light, the atmospherics of the sky, and the infinite harmonies of color as reflected by the forms on which light falls. The elements of design, composition, and value are added to intuition and affection to become a poetic symbol on canvas. The magic in naturalist painting is to add the spirit of the visual world. There is some parallel to "seeking truth." It is pulling on the robe of God. It is about being a good student and learning, though in small measure, what the Master has to teach.

I do not paint that which is known to be ugly or abusive. I am not interested in painting the corruption of life. This may be a cop-out or some less noble path. For me, it is important to find the expression of harmony. I have tried to paint malevolence and bitterness, to find a way to express the pain I feel and have felt. But I can’t. I can not add to hideousness. I can, however, serve to endear and to encourage.

Man has had a great relationship with the earth for ages of time. Though we are currently at war with the earth, I honor and love the affinity and kinship of this longstanding union. In all cultures and in all times, a common thread of love for the earth and a desire to know beauty has motivated great events and been at the forefront of the tide of human intellectual and spiritual evolution. The mystery of life has tinged our hearts with the colors of sunset.

I look for this.

I believe naturalist paintings will become more important in the years ahead as the effects of development on the presently shrinking wilderness become more publicly apparent and less tolerable.

The American West

There is a spirit in western rural America that authenticates the experience of living in the West. For Westerners, who we perceive ourselves to be and why we like living closer to the earth than many other Americans is perhaps found in the settings in which we live our lives. Maybe the youthful presence of a Holstein calf lends a feeling of aliveness and a sense of well being to our own lives. Perhaps in the work of the farmer we can see, above all else, we are part and parcel of the earth. In some way we are dependent on Mother Earth, must touch her and work with her to live.

It may be that Westerners are innately aware that human beings want and need to put their feet into a cool stream, to lay back and feel the earth against their backs. We may know the same sun that warms the flat river rocks beside us also reaches into our hearts and warms the nature of our personal and collective lives.

The struggle of Native Americans continues to this day. They are the sole-surviving group of participants to have suffered through the early settlement of the West, though the cultural accoutrements of their lives are very ragged today. The lives of the Pioneers, the U.S. Calvary soldiers, who represented the U.S. Congress and whose actions spoke for the will of a nation, and the Mountain Men are now preserved only in rich stories, historical artifacts and legends. The Cowboy survives, in some fashion, into the 21st Century, although the roles are changed and their work is diminishing.

In my painting I am looking to find the expression of contemporary Western life. As Westerners we still make a profound statement that honors the natural world. There is still a great poetry in the relationship we have with the land. Like ancestors who carved tools and colored them, making them both beautiful and functional symbols of their day, we too, have our tools. There are not many things that compare to the beauty of a 1951 Oliver tractor, worn and willing or retired and rusting in its pedigree of service.

Our nature as Westerners is bound to the ranch and farm life. For many, whether they have ever worked or lived on a self-supporting ranch or farm, the choice is made to live a life in proximity to wildlife, cattle, and farm implements. The backdrop of 10,000-foot mountains is preferred to a life surrounded by high-rise apartments, traffic and crosswalks filled with people.

It is true that beauty is found everywhere. Still, life in the rural West is a moving experience and a visual and spiritual wonderland. We hardly have to look any further than our own backyards for something beautiful and full of life.

Nature and the Soul

I find the declining relationship people have with the natural world today concerning. City parks, in many cases, have supplanted wilderness in our lives. Architecture and concrete walls have become the new rock cliffs.

If we are losing the direct experience of nature and diluting our first hand knowledge of the natural world, how are we going to be emotionally equipped to protect her when development asks for that which is irreplaceable.

We study habitat and ecosystems in most elementary schools in this country and revisit that knowledge throughout the educational process, for this I am very grateful. Knowledge is a powerful tool. The undeniable truth, however, that beyond this training, wilderness is not made an active interest in the lives of young people. Poor or no accessibility to wilderness locations prohibits a substantive relationship with the natural world.

I have experienced life in the Arctic regions of Alaska for five years. Wilderness surrounds all life in the Arctic. The human and animal inhabitants, alike, hunker down when powerful storms envelope the landscape. I have dug my way out of my home at the same time as other villagers, after the passing of these Arctic storms. Animals of the land also begin to poking their heads out and look around, a new relationship with the virgin environment is being experienced. The sky at these times is always clear and clean. The storm, after unleashing all its power upon the world below, as a passionate sculptor, has carried away all malice. Beautiful light flashes millions of times on the newly drifted snow with every slight movement of my head. The wonder in my heart is warmed and my humility is reconfirmed at times like this. I know that untouched and unembellished natural splendor impresses upon a person a great respect for the earth.


I look for still and undisturbed moments in the natural world as the subjects for my paintings. I do not deal with current intellectual themes. I only seek to point out the direction of that which I feel to be true, to motion toward those things which give me the experience of faith. These movements are inner and private. Many times I hear the history of trees in moving branches and am astonished at the spiritual distance traveled as my mind and soul slow and tune themselves to the pressed rhythm of the earth. I sense human history and the struggle of destinies in the sky and clouds, in sunsets. The same sun sets today for us as was seen thousands of years ago and in other ages.

Revelations of this magnitude I find in nature, but I also find a comfort and humor in coming upon a young cow standing beside and equally young cottonwood tree. The tree, though stripped to its essence by the winter winds and cold, is strong in stature and in calm repose, accepting well the entrenchment of winter. The cow is just the same, steadfast, sure, and in calm repose. There is a communion in these things for me. Their simple statements of nature stir in me my own humanness, and help me to find deeper meaning in my own world, in my own life.

To work in this fashion from the natural world confirms for me the existence of truth in both the outer and inner worlds. Through these experiences I find the same courage to dwell in the life that both the cow has, and the tree, and through knowing them I too feel taller on the earth and more real.

Around the Farm

A lover of the visual world, I am interested in the expressiveness of strong forms, candid placement, and charmed color. Underscoring a life well lived is the old farm truck with its faded and oxidized red patina and dry wooden stock rack. The ’51 Oliver tractor sitting beside the barn waits for the crack of the ignition, and the opportunity to yet again serve its owner another day around the ranch. Beautiful forms, interesting histories, human needs and ingenuity are the makings of a good painting.

I try to help the subjects in my paintings emerge with their own stories. . I try to use a painting style and technique that venerates the splendor of the visual world, at the same time I feel as though I must also assume a humble role of support, basing my works on living poetry as revealed by a faithful study.

I like gentle expressions of service and humor when I paint items manmade.


Heartwork is a word used by 17th Century Puritans to describe the surrender of one’s life to the perfect guiding will of an infinite Creator.

Heartwork, with a little shift of interest, can express my belief that Art is the movement of the human heart seeking truth. It is personal vision becoming symbolism and "today" becoming a place in history and benchmark of time. The artist—troubled or in love—asks for reflections on who we are, where we are going, and what we are agreeing to in order to get there. In my portraits I attempt to nudge a real part of the person onto the canvass, to capture the precious strength of another individual who is unique in life. In my landscapes I share a simple love of the natural splendor, the old pale blue Ford, the mountain lake, or the stream not touched by man.

The American West is where much of what is important to me as treasures of the human experience can be seen—sitting in quiet repose, gracefully transitioning in time. Poetry in life, dreams of ancestors, and preservation of wilderness is, for me, Heartwork.

Another’s Thoughts

…the last Taos painter.

Jo Basiste, Artist