The Ghostdancer Interview

Interview with Obi Kaufmann by @theghostdancer Rhiannon Griego

Wilderness preservationist, illustrator, poet and artist Obi Kaufmann is this week’s maker. Obi and I have been circulating one another’s work for 4 years. When I first began exploring the realm of connection through the web of instagram, I happened across his profile. His illustrations and poetic kissings really struck a chord and the further I dove into his world, the more my appreciation grew for Obi. He’s the real deal and I value individuals who walk what they preach in the world. Immersing himself in the backcountry by sunrises and campfire, he thoughtfully draws the mirrors of the natural world around him. He’s been a driving force behind the harvest and cultivation of the brand, Juniper Ridge and his voice is being echoed through his call for our generations to wake up to the toxic damage upon Mother Earth. A few days ago, his recent book titled ” California Field Atlas ” was released for pre-order and the first wave of orders has been thundering in. I’m convinced every school should have this gentlemen educating young minds on the awareness of the living world around and his book should be required reading to facilitate a visual experience of the Californian landscape. Do yourselves a favor, pre-order and follow the trail of Obi below.

What is your brand/name:

I started the website as a hub for all my art, and my land-conservation efforts in 2010. It feels like a million years ago. A few years later I joined instagram as @coyotethunder, which has become a bit of a moniker for me, as if my first name is Coyote and my last, Thunder. I’ve found a really enjoyable groove with instagram, where I can connect with my clients and my collectors and speak my poetic voice and those who get it, get it strongly – I think social media works best on that level. I suppose the brand and the man have merged on some level: for the most part I don’t post about my personal life at all.

What is your heritage:

I am Californian. My parents were both scientists: my father, an astrophysicist and my mother, a psychologist. I was doomed to be an artist. I spent my childhood mapping Mount Diablo, a 3,500 peak, twenty five miles east of San Francisco. Covered in Oaks and patrolled by a healthy population of mountain lions, I found my invisible family there – between the spider webs and the sage flowers – a frequency that dispelled all my youthful loneliness and opened me up to the great mysteries of the natural world.

 What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work: (philosophy/culture):

For the past year and a half I’ve been pouring all my heart into the creation of the CALIFORNIA FIELD ATLAS – a book that is being published by HEYDAY out of Berkeley. I’ve been so inspired lately by that team that runs and creates for the publishing house and the support they’ve offered me. John Muir Laws creates the most beautiful field guides to exploring the California back country and his work and way of truly seeing nature for both its scientific and its artistic quality is super inspiring. Tom Killion (@thomaskillion) is another HEYDAY artist who has been making woodblock landscape prints for decades and whose recent work with the poet-of-poets Gary Snyder forever sings to my heart. HEYDAY was started by Malcolm Margolin – look him up, he wrote THE OHLONE WAY – who has become a good friend and whose generosity of spirit is constantly humbling is a man I’ve learned to look to as an ambassador of all that is good and worthy in this world.

I would like to also point out the work of tattoo artist Matt Decker (@deckro) of Premium tattoo in Oakland. As a disclaimer, it should be noted that Matt Decker is also my best friend. Recently, Matt has invited me into his shop as a working ink slinger, and our art and friendship has only profited by the collaboration. The man is an art-making machine, and everyday we bounce a galaxy of creative possibilities off one another, and I just can’t imagine my career right now without him as part of it.

When thinking about other great, creative forces in my life, I need to shout out Mats Andersson, the genius behind INDIGOFERA (@indigoferajeans). For the past year, Mats and I have been collaborating on a capsule line of men’s apparel called THE CALIFORNIA HIKING SERIES; this line brings calls to mind an extinct era of the gentlemen hiker, the naturalist who would rather be identifying wildflowers than being into extreme outdoor sports, for example. Mats’ eye for detail, his knowledge of what makes a thing of quality at all, and the kindness of his spirit are all qualities that I feel so lucky to have gotten a chance to glean from at all.

What are 3 skills you’ve learned in representing yourself as an artist:

I learn something everyday, and when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, that works out to a lot of lessons. The old adage of art being only partially inspiration and mostly perspiration works for me. I like to get up before dawn and I like to work all day and into the night. I am not exactly sure where the energy comes from, but I like to joke that I am a father and I am a farmer, but I have no children and I have no land, so I’m working on a surplus of budgeted energy. Art has never been a hobby to me, but a serious endeavour that has always demanded all of my guts, every last one of them. That is step one: an unquestioning desire and determination to hold that living fire every damn day. If you don’t have that, you are sunk from the beginning. If you do have that, you can move onto step two: riding the surf. Waves of success come and are inevitably followed by troughs of doubt, questioning and wasteland visions. Riding that bronco takes decades to acclimate to. The third step, I would say is to trust the surrender: your voice will change over your career and I’ve learned to welcome the evolution. I revel now in the incremental progress through the seasons of my skill, my style and my voice. What happens on this trail next as we travel through this forest only time will tell.

What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?

On the rote-businessy end of things, I’ve found that all my success has come from being available. That means that 1. You’ve got to go to things and meet people face to face. You need a community, a support group, a network of resources that extends more deeply than a  social media platform and that also means fostering relationships – relationships are your greatest resource. Keep those emails going out and coming in. Engage. 2. Deliver. Procrastination is the doom of the hired artist – get to work immediately and approach it with as honest a heart as you can muster. Let the sun be your battery & take care of your health. Your body is the best tool you’ve got. 3. Protect yourself. Establish boundaries and expectations along all points on your delivery chain – from commission, to dealer, to supplier, to collector. Trust your gut in all relations: if you are working too hard to making something happen with someone – I mean working hard on making a creative deal happen at all – it probably isn’t right. Learn to cut your losses and let your rolling stone gather no moss.

What moved you to make with your hands:

I think all artists are called to chase the study of aesthetics, whether consciously or not. The idea of atonement with larger concepts of beauty through  the process of arrest: the chase of the arresting moment, when we are held in stasis – no desire, no loss, no suffering – the eye of the universe perceives the thing of the universe and are one. Beautiful art affords our better minds this ability. It is actually quite common, and as satisfying as any sensation I know. To make great art takes a lifetime. A lifetime based on surrender to a fleeting thing that breaks us for just a moment to make us more whole for the rest of the journey.

If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why?

I live in Oakland, California. I consider it my hometown although I was born in Los Angeles. Oakland is the most beautiful city in the world. The sky is an uncracked Sapphire and the gardens are in bloom all year. Tonight I walked around the lake in the heart of the city where dozens of double-crested cormorants are making their yearly nests in the tall elm trees, just off Grand Avenue. Tomorrow I am headed to Lake Tahoe to wonder at how beautifully the water can mirror the heavens, and then next week I am headed to Mount Shasta, to the father mountain – there I will crawl around the creeks that feed Lake Siskiyou, searching for the low-hanging lilies that shyly show their bright colors from under shaded, seeping stones this time of year. The whole place that is this Golden State is a garden and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect home. That is where I would most like to travel – where I am always trying to travel: home.

3 Favorite songs at the moment?

Funny you should ask; Matt and I spend most days at the tattoo shop listening to a lot of loud music. In fact, we’ve been debating rock’s top 50 albums of all time for a couple of months now.  We have the results posted on the wall of the shop. It is an ongoing process. I live by loud music: real, heavy, raw, beautiful, ugly, I don’t care. I am going to sidestep your question and answer with the three albums from this year that are in heavy rotation: 1. Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression – makes me laugh, keeps me calm and levels me out. 2. King Woman’s Created in the Image of Suffering – an Oakland band making the most innovative heavy music anywhere: transcendent, haunting and resonant. 3. Graves at Sea’s The Curse that is – hurts me in all the right ways – super heavy and moody, classical and ferocious.

 What advice would your 65 year old self give to you today?

Relish these moments. The days pulse by like a raven’s wing – be sure to move slowly. My book is about to be published and it seems to me that from here on my life will be defined by all that was before the CALIFORNIA FIELD ATLAS and all that came after; like a birth, or a death. I suppose life would be as sweet as it ever could be were to be more aware of this as a daily occurrence, really.

What change would you most like to see in the world?

I think that stagnation is an illusion. I see nothing but change in the world. This dynamic ball. This frenetic creature. This furious angel. I work for land conservation – I consider myself an activist, because I don’t have a world view that gives the world and all its resources to us unconditionally. I see all natural systems as living systems and am anxious for the coming paradigm-shift when this perspective may have its time in the sun. I spend a lot of time lamenting the passing of the Holocene into the Anthropocene age of the Earth, simply because I find great beauty and wonder in optimized bio-diversity across all ecosystems and right now we are seeing levels of species diversity fall across the board.

Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?

The CALIFORNIA FIELD ATLAS is a book of over 250 hand-painted maps that describe California by the shaping forces of earth, air, fire and water. Map making, as all art making can be, is an exercise in power. This is the core idea behind the agenda of my art these days: you have the power to shape the world with your art, influence it to be a more holistic place. Take that power and use that power for good.


Categories: PRESS