There is a world when people close their eyes and open their hearts, to see – Raistlen Jones, artist’s statement.
That land is Tir’Nan’Og. Whitehorse painter and sculptor Raistlen Jones has seen it, felt it, and is now sharing it with a wider world.
Jones, 30, has been inspired by visions of the mystical Celtic land (sometimes spelled Tár na nÓg, and also known as Faerie) since he was a child. Now, he is putting his ideas of this land on canvas.
“It’s known as the land of ever-youth,” Jones says. “These paintings are my perceived ideas of what Tir’Nan’Og looks like. It’s a vibrant, bright, colourful place where anything can happen.”
Jones’ exhibit, on display at the Guild Hall until October 8 during the run of the theatre’s current production, God of Carnage, reveals Tir’Nan’Og as a land of bright green grass, sharp white poplars, reflective mystic pools, and crystals growing from the ground.
Skies are an azure blue or metallic gold, and Celtic knots and dragon-shadows appear from nowhere.
It’s a land that tradition holds is revealed through sleep, or at the edge of dreams. And Jones reaches into those dreams to create his work.
“I never sketch out the paintings in advance,” he says. “They just come out, progress as I paint.”
Asked which was his favourite, Jones replies, “I love them, I love them all. I believe I have come through with something, a touch of what it could look like.”
Jones says his paintings are a bridge from our world to this mystical land. Indeed, his own life is a bridge between worlds.
He is a member of the Ta’an Kwachan First Nation; he does traditional dance, acts, builds bows and atlatls, and has won achievement awards for his work with youth.
But the inspiration of this exhibit comes from the European side of his heritage.
“My grandfather was Welsh,” he says. “I was always fascinated with other worlds and there being other worlds out there, and the connection between them.”
As a young boy, Jones says, he did a lot of research into that part of his culture.
“I felt myself pulled towards my Welsh side,” he says, then quickly adds, “I’m proud of both my cultures.
His exploration began with looking at some old fairy tales and legends.
“I remember them describing some place with the clearest waters, with crystals jutting out, rolling fields, giant mountains, like the land was alive,” he says.
“I’m trying to capture that in my art.”
The juxtaposition or blending of Welsh and First Nations cultures isn’t really all that odd, the artist maintains.
“I’ve noticed both pre-Christian Celtic and pre-Christian Native cultures have a lot of similarities,” he says. “The way they held themselves as stewards of the land, not owners of it but taking care of it, ensuring it remains balanced.
“Both cultures never took more than they needed; they took what they needed and left the rest. They left as small a footprint as they could.”
Jones is still very much an emerging artist, his vision and passion most apparent, his skills in presenting them still growing. But he’s committed to becoming a full-time artist.
He left his most recent job as a youth support worker for his First Nation, and put his training as a computer engineer behind him. Now, he says, it’s his art that matters most.
His goal is to become an internationally known artist. He also works in bone, ivory and wood, seeking to realize the vision of that better, brighter world more fully.
“The magic woven into the land makes it a brighter, healthier place,” he says. “I really believe the colours I used are healing colours. They bring a serene feeling to people when they see my paintings.”
Jones plans to make more artistic visits to this magical land in the future, exploring more than just the fantastic landscape.
He wants to begin depicting the beings that live there, the creatures only hinted at in a few paintings in this exhibit in the shadows of unicorns, dragons and knots.
Legend has it that an adventurer can only find Tir’Nan’Og with the help of a guide.
Jones is hoping that, through his art, he can be that guide, providing a bridge for us to a better world.