E: It sounds like the mural became the interface with the community.
A: It is an interface, and the way that spoke to me back then, and still does today is that in an image you're presenting an idea, and the ideas that I immediately wanted to present were ideas of beauty, purity, imagination, and spirit. Those four qualities were the most powerful things I could give. When I put images out there, I'm speaking with thousands of people I don't know...
E: Whether you're physically there or not...
A: Exactly. I'm not there most of the time, the mural is still there, it's been there thirteen years.
E: What is the picture of?
A: It was a tree of life. There's an angel flying over top of it, there's a city at the bottom. It was a very simple and lovely metaphor to me. It's like regular human life is there (symbolized by the city) and this tree is just dwarfing the city. This immense tree is obviously not a biological tree, it's a spiritual tree, because it's obviously far bigger than any tree really is. So immediately because it's not literally a real situation that you can see with your eyes - we know we're talking about something that is mental and not physical.
So it's represented in a way that causes us to let go of our material understanding of the world and say “Okay, something else is happening here.” The tree of life is a pretty central image, a common image, and it feels to me to put an image like that, that is pure and healthy, life affirming and beautiful, in a place that is normally dominated by commercial images, which really brings it out in even greater relief than if it was in a book or a gallery. You know, the context makes it that much more powerful.
E: Kind of like, unexpected?
A: Yes, exactly. You put an image out in the world, and what you're counting on is that the people who see it have something in their interior life that resembles that image.
E: What do you mean by interior life?
A: I mean their thought life, their feeling life. I think a lot of us have things in our lives we don't know how to put into words, we don't know how to put into language, and that's one of the ways in which artists do a service as much as a plumber or a carpenter where the artist does something that fulfills a need. We all have these interior spiritual lives. I see my role as making images that help us see that even though we sometimes can't put those interior lives into language, other people are having them too and we're together as a group.
Here's this image and it's talking about something spiritual, something deeply felt and you might see it and say “I have that feeling too, but have never been able to put it into words.” When that happens we feel, “What I doubted, I doubt less. I believe more in what I have felt because I see that someone else felt it too.” I think all of us need help in bolstering that confidence. We feel something inside of us and if we are the only people in the world that felt that we would go, “Oh my gosh, maybe that's wrong, maybe I didn't really feel it, maybe it's not that important.” That's why things like church, families, and organizations are so important – to build up our sense of idealism and foster confidence in our inner lives.
Art helps fill that role by taking images that speak about our untouched interior lives and make them relatable. It says, "Look, even though we all have our normal everyday jobs and lives, we're sharing deep experience - we all have this experience of really being alive. And art is talking about those things, that real feeling of real alive-ness. And maybe we don't know how to talk about it but look, there it is in a painting! And look, we're sharing it. That's at the heart of community.