N ara Pilgrim Wood was born in northern California in 1976. She spent her childhood on a remote island in the Lau group of Fiji where she received a comprehensive and unconventional education – with a focus on the cultural and religious history of the world. Since then, Nara has spent her time residing as close as possible to water – in California, New York, and Hawaii – and this movement toward the horizon, in the presence of water, is visible in many of her paintings.
Nara has spent the last 18 years in the self-guided study and practice of art, with painting as her constant focus. The spontaneity of her aesthetic passion has led her to explore mediums from web and magazine design, to theatrical make-up and set design, to oil and watercolor painting.
Her former tutors include sculptor Peter Lennon, miniaturist Linda Oppenheimer, and painter Lydia DePole – who first introduced her to watercolor. In 1996, she began a two-year study in art conservation, caring for and cataloguing a large private collection of East Indian, Asian, and Disney art.
S acred art is art as gift. In my case, it is a gift to my guru, Adi Da Samraj. I was raised to understand art as a celebration of love. Its aim was to magnify our contemplation of what is most beautiful, what cannot be put into words. This intention behind the artistic process is exactly what sets it apart from more ordinary creative endeavors.
When I was nine years old and living on the island of Naitauba, my sacred art was music, keyboards, harmonium and singing. I'd been given a fantastic Yamaha keyboard by Adi Da, my parents, and the rest of the villagers that year. Every day, after our academic
lessons, we children would have several hours to practice our art forms, and my keyboard was set up in a small, four-room cement and wood building next to the kitchen. Beyond that was the beach.
The keyboard looked out on the village square, through louvered glass pane windows that were usually open. One day, I was sitting at the keyboard during my scheduled time to practice my scales and a classical piece I was learning. I was a notorious bookworm and always carried with me whatever novel I was reading. After a few minutes of practice, I picked up my book, laid it on the keyboard and became immediately absorbed in the story, with no sense of my surroundings.
It seemed like I was gone for a long time. Then, suddenly, a booming and unmistakable laughter jarred me out of my self-enclosure. I looked up to see my guru's face inches from mine, peering through the louvered window. I started laughing with him. We looked at each other, and just kept on laughing. I felt like he was a kid, too, sharing my secret. There was no sense in hiding what I'd been up to, and no reason to make
any excuse. It was a moment of unobstructed joy.
Adi Da smiled at me and asked me what I was reading. I told him about the book and what was happening with various characters at the moment. We talked for a few minutes and then he said: "Well, you better get back to practicing now." He was still smiling with amusement, even as he admonished me to return to my practice. I told him I loved him, then I said goodbye to him. He stepped off the porch and continued on his way to his office. I started playing the classical piece I was working on, knowing that the sound of the music was going out the window and reaching his ears as he walked up the hill.
My guru guided me through many forms of sacred art, and it was always with such humor, always with a powerful impulse to have me to learn and grow to the highest degree possible. I'd perform recitals for him and the villagers every few months. I'd play and sing my heart out to him as he beamed back at me. Our connection was deep and alive as I would play, and I'd remember those moments in the days when I was
practicing in my music room. I'd also draw him pictures and give them to him as gifts.
The children on the island would do daily sand art — rangolis — outside his house as a surprise for him to see when he returned. We'd delight in coming up with new and unusual designs, and we learned to master the flow of the sand through our hands as we brought flowers, fish, animals, people, and words to life. We learned dance, ballet and break-dancing. We also learned to act, putting on elaborate plays and musicals for everyone on this tiny island in the middle of nowhere.
But our art was always about one thing: bringing
happiness and joy to others. And by sharing our creations, we learned to focus ourselves with profound intention in the development of our sacred arts. I had many opportunities to give Adi Da my paintings, and as a sacred artist himself, he always looked to see what disposition the artist was in when they created their art. It was always obvious, and this too has had a deep impact on how I work. My art will always express my state, and it is a yoga to stay in a place of depth while creating art for one's guru, and for others.
As an example, when I begin to paint, I consciously drop into a form of meditation — a feeling-invocation, a "letting go" disposition, a space of being "right now" in relationship with the energy and force that is the sacred. By entering into this feeling dimension, I'm able to get out of the way, and be a humble participant in the act of bringing forth the image.
There is an intensity in this process — a demand of concentration, a calling to stretch my abilities to their limits, a requirement to go beyond myself, to be transparent. When all of this happens with true
simplicity, the art is infused with the heart, or that place
of happiness that we intuit in our most open and connected moments.
When true art is created, the artist is nowhere to be seen. And when art speaks to the sacred, the viewer is drawn beyond themselves too, and both are reminded of happiness, both are delighted and returned to the sense of mystery.
So this is the intention that I embrace in my work: to create art as a gift, not as a form of self-expression, or as a personal triumph. But to engage a process wherein art becomes a means through which the Divine can manifest and shine.
As regards technique: I paint with watercolors and sumi ink (one of the most lasting vehicles of human expression) and I use silk, because of its luminous quality. I do not mount the paintings, but rather suspend them in their frames in order to allow light to pass directly through the silk. The more fluid character of the fabric is preserved with this method.
I love the mixing of the colors, the gentle feel of brush on silk, the moment of discovery, the push-and-pull of bringing an image into life. I create worlds of imagination from paint and silk and brush. Each of us has had solitary visions like the kind I was given as a child in Fiji. We all enjoy places of dreams and extraordinary beauty. I want to share mine.