"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no
greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and
different sun. If you want to get more out of life Russ, you must lose your inclination for
monotonous security and adopt a helter skelter style of life that will at first appear to you
to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty."~Christopher McCandless
"Diary Of A Supertramp", oil on wood, 4"x72", is a painting of the leather belt that Chris McCandless painstakingly handcrafted in 1992 while staying with his friend Russell Fritz. The belt chronicles Chris's adventures from his departure from Atlanta following college graduation in 1990, all the way up to his intended destination, Alaska, marked with an "N" for north. The completion of his odyssey would be his final greatest adventure in the wilderness near Denali National Park.
This painting was truly a labor of love. I first saw and held Chris's belt in 2009. It truly is an amazing work of art. His parents and good friends Walt and Billie generously let me use the belt as inspiration for a painting that would be 150% life size. I didn't want to miss a nuance of detail in my rendering of the belt.
I went to Home Depot in Burlington to find my "canvas". My canvas turned out to be a 2x4 piece of pine, 6 feet long, and cost $2.46. I thought Chris might appreciate that. I placed it in my car, ducking my head to avoid it, and went home to begin what would turn out to be a 100+ hour painting.
I am currently traveling and working away from my studio, BUT I will post more close up photos of the belt painting when I return to Canada in a month. Until then you can see a smaller study of Chris's belt below. "Diary Of A Supertramp (study)", oil on panel, 8"x10", was completed as a test to see if I could paint leather in a satisfying way. The full belt and the study are unusual pieces. I tried to paint in a very detailed manner. I didn't want to lose any information. I wanted to go on the journey with Chris as I painted each piece.
Each painting was completed starting on the left and moving to the right. I thought it would be interesting to paint it chronologically. I painted "July 1990", a No U-Turn sign, a skull and crossbones with CJM overtop, a two-lane blacktop, a thunderstorm with Chris's Datsun flooded and abandoned, the Pacific Crest Trail, The Sierras and on and on. Chris retells his odyssey on this belt and it is a very special artifact.
I recently had an exhibition of my paintings inspired by Chris's life in Oakville, Ontario. You can see the belt painting here in the exhibition, "An Aesthetic Voyage: Paintings Inspired By The Journeys Of Christopher McCandless, held at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario."
I sometimes marvel at the impact that Chris's life and journeys have had on countless people. His courage to explore the unknown with élan and his ideology of less is more really do reverberate on a global level. Even if we do not hitchhike and go as minimally towards the horizon as he did, it is what we distill, what we take away from his words and actions that matter most. Below is another photograph from the exhibition, as well as more paintings that were in the show...
Opening night at Abbozzo Gallery
"To The Sea", oil on canvas, 24"x36"
"Chris's Tent, Stampede Trail", oil on canvas, 18"x36"
The belt that Chris carved so meticulously and artistically, is like his photographs in that it is his unique vision. There are no other interpretations, it is simply his life as he lived it fully and completely, recording it for us to see. Look for those close-up photographs of the painting of the belt here in the coming weeks.
When I was in France last fall for a photo shoot, I bought a silver ring at the Rodin Museum in Paris. Inscribed in a pretty script on the ring are the words "Une vie a plein bord" or "A life lived to the brim". I have worn the ring ever since, even out to Bus 142 in Alaska, being pulled by a snowmobile for over 20 miles along The Stampede Trail in March, bundled up, the snow crunching and flying by. When I got off the sled attached to the snowmobile, the ring had been bent from the effort of holding on so tightly as I was pulled over moguls and around sharp curves. I love that it is bent. It is perfect now. A life lived to the brim. I would like to think that Chris would agree with its message too.
"Not all those who wander are lost."~J.R.R. Tolkien