A curious experience to come across this interview with two old friends in Malvern, the Pureland Buddhist priests Satyavani Robyn and Kaspalita Thompson. Re-reading our discussion after five years, I had the weird sense of being spoken to, here, by someone who seems a good deal clearer on a number of issues than I typically find myself to be, day to day - and whose advice on balancing art and life, directed here to his younger self at the interviewers' request, now addresses me from the opposite direction.
Before turning their lives over to the founding of the Amida Mandala Pureland Buddhist temple in Malvern, Kaspa and Satya, both of whom are also writers, ran an online school of creative of writing called Writing Our Way Home, which is where this interview took place.
An Interview with Mat Osmond, artist and writer
Mat Osmond lives and works in Falmouth, Cornwall. After a number of years working solely in visual art, Mat now combines images and words within an ongoing series of stories and poems. His closest mentors are often poets, especially those whose work speaks to our embeddedness within the natural world. A long-standing, stumbling involvement in Buddhist practice has been a theme behind much of his creative work. In recent years this sense of a common ground between creative and spiritual practice has emerged more clearly and simply than before, through encountering the Pureland approach to spirituality, and the work of the Amida Trust. Mat earns his living lecturing in art and illustration.
Thanks Mat, on to the questions: What drives your creative work?
‘A love of work’ might be the simplest answer. On the one hand, a love of doing it – like an old friend who is there waiting for me when I can make the time to visit them. On the other hand, other writers and artists breathing on my own experience through their work, shaping and enriching my world. I would also say that for me making work is driven by a sense of dumb necessity; a need that doesn’t always assert itself, but remains there in the background, and comes round again in time. One way of saying this might be a coming alive through making work – as if there were a vital dimension of experience that creative work was able to render accessible and workable.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
I would say; “Don’t worry about not doing your work all of the time, or even most of the time. Don’t be frightened of having other priorities. Love is not only more important than making art: when set apart from love, making art is an irrelevance. You will find, anyway, that your work thrives best in the cracks and gaps of a busy life’s demands.”
How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
Sometimes making work is an invaluable way of processing life’s difficulties, and sometimes making work itself becomes bogged down in intractable difficulty, and the best thing is to simply stop, and do something else for a while. So the short answer is: sometimes I consider it best not to.
How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
At its best, making work offers a ground on which to meet the cosmos, and to relate to our direct experience in ways that are particular to that ground. Work can offer a digestion process: slowly absorbing what is most real and most valuable within the mind’s constant, acquisitive gathering. Creative work (mostly others’) also creates a meeting-space in which friendship can grow, understanding can be shared, common ground can be recognized, and delighted in. At its worst, making work fosters a condition of withdrawn preoccupation that pulls me away from the world into an endless, self-absorbing ‘project’. That’s usually a good sign its time to give it a rest.
What is it like to send your work out into the world?
It is a lovely thing to find the work speaking to others – especially, perhaps, those I have never met in person. In the main my work circulates through artists’ bookfairs and exhibitions, and more recently through the journals of the Dark Mountain Project, who have provided an important inspiration since 2009. Such sending out is usually done with a few friends first, whose responses are often seminal. But the work needs to find a way beyond my personal sphere for the process to feel complete, for it to have taken on a life of its own.
What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
When I was about nineteen, my friend Hester and I visited a Spiritualist Church in Falmouth. I met there an old Cornish man called Harry, with hands like knotted oak roots, who took both my hands in his and said: “There’s something in your life you’re trying to rush. Don’t. You can’t hurry it, and even if you could, you’d regret it. There’s a reason they call it a lifetime’s work.” Twenty-six years later, Harry’s advice remains fresh in my mind, and illuminates many aspects of my life. Harry also said “Just because you can’t see the path, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” I’m grateful to have met him, the more so since I learned that he died shortly after our meeting.
What helps you to pay attention to the world?
After making pictures for years, I have come quite late to writing. I am beginning to discover a space that can open up within the process of writing, where attention to the world is sounded…awakening to things already experienced, but lying dormant within awareness, until they’re turned over through writing, and something already given reveals itself. As I’ve said, in contrast to this, making images often seems to draw me into a space where I become quite out of touch with the world. Head in the clouds, one might say. So now I do both, and that seems to be working much better than just making pictures.