For an artist who aspires to make the world beautiful, life can be trying.
“The reason why [life is] so hard is that the world is off-tune,” says painter Jan Kasparec. “The whole system screams at you, ‘Get serious! Make money!’” Kasparec worked in finance for years before becoming a full-fledged artist.
“Now, if you choose to walk the path of your heart, you are one against many,” he says. “You live in a monetary system, [but] your heart doesn’t care about money. Your heart only cares about giving. It wants you to be generous. It wants you to be happy. It wants you to be all these creative, beautiful things. It wants you to dance.”
Kasparec believes the outward expression of his art aligns with his inner growth. His skill and spirit must develop together so that he, and his art, become equal conduits of positivity.
“The outside world is a reflection of our inner world — it’s all connected,” he says. “My art is always about my spiritual journey.”
He talks about following his heart’s rhythm. A lot of voices have tried to overpower that rhythm, including his own ego, he says. Listening to his ego — his sense of self-importance — instead of his heart left him unfulfilled for many years. It was only when his ego took a back seat that he started to live his dreams.
A dark age and a renaissance
While growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, Kasparec was fortunate to have open-minded parents who recognized his talent. They enrolled him in art classes to cultivate his artistic abilities.
But as a self-described “ego-crazy adolescent,” Kasparec dropped his art, entering a period in his life that he calls his “dark age.” He was a runaway teen, often in trouble, and beauty had no place in his life. When he was 19, he decided he needed a change: “I just felt like I had to escape the darkness that I created around me.”
He joined NATO’s armed forces in France, but says his time there created different obstacles that prevented him from listening to his inner voice. “I [had] locked myself into a different kind of prison. But it made me wake up. It shook me up so badly that I realized that I am at the core of my own suffering.”
His dark age ended five years after joining the army, when he was 24. “It just came to my mind,” he says. “It was a crazy idea from above; ‘Hey, you should go and start painting again.’”
But art didn’t make any sense from a practical perspective. After he had finished his military obligations he was studying and working full-time in Paris to establish a career in finance. His aim was to become a “productive member of society.” There was no time or energy to waste on a hobby like painting.
But eventually, Kasparec ignored his logical side, jumped in his car and drove to the store to buy art supplies. “I bought a set of oil paints, which I had never used before and started painting right away. I didn’t know anything. And, I’ve never stopped painting since then.”
Kasparec painted in the evenings and on weekends during college. Then, while working in finance for Microsoft in Dublin, he decided to take his art seriously and began training. Courses in figure and life painting and learning to paint outdoors or in situ, a method called ‘plein air’, were beneficial. But Kasparec feels his greatest growth came from the endless effort he put in on his own. “Putting so many hours into trial and error, I fine-tuned my vision so that I could actually understand the concepts of perspective,” he says. “I mostly taught myself by doing it, doing it until it became my second nature. If you really go and explore it with your purest desire, it will open up to you.”
A journey within a journey
When Kasparec was 29, he took a month-long vacation to Argentina, which turned into another life changing experience.
“When I got to Argentina, it was the first time in my adult life I saw the world as a free man, as a man with possibilities.” This motivated Kasparec to quit his job at Microsoft and travel the world for a year and a half. It was as much an exploration of his own heart as was the world around him.
He says he was an “unleashed animal” and “pleasure hound” at the beginning of his travels as he partied his way around the world. Then gradually he began to listen to his inner voice; “Slowly I turned inwards… and I felt that it was time for a change.”
Upon the recommendation of a man he met on his travels (a man that, in retrospect, he thinks of as something of a guide), Kasparec visited India for a meditation retreat in Bodh Gaya, where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment and where Kasparec too would find a new level of consciousness. “I had my first spiritual insight… It was the first moment of experiencing stillness and peace. Peace within, when the beast in my head finally gave up… It was the first blink of light, the first real crack in the shell of my ego.” After finishing several days of meditation, with tears streaming down his face and his heart wide open, he realized, “There is a deeper meaning to life.”
Shortly after his travels, another seemingly random “guide” popped up at a pub and suggested Kasparec visit Vancouver. The next day, Kasparec applied for Canadian papers. Working again in finance he was able to get his papers to live and work in Canada, but when he lost his job several months later, he says, “I just played the wild card.”
He remembers thinking that he would not look for another job but keep his fingers crossed that he would be permitted to stay in the country. Optimistically, he started looking for an art studio so that he could give painting his full attention, and paint he did!
“It wasn’t an easy path, but after three or four years, I had a breakthrough!”
Touched by grace
He had been painting nature scenes and cityscapes, but selling very little. “I was painting things that were kind of nice, but they weren’t 100 percent aligned with what I thought inside,” he says.
Eventually, his bank account was empty and he thought, “Okay, what am I going to do now? Am I still going to paint even if I’m broke and unrecognized? Or, am I going to pick up a job and go back to part-time painting?”
When Kasparec took the time to listen to his heart, the answer was clear. “I knew that I had to paint, that I’d have to give it my best, even if I had to live in my studio or sell everything that I had,” he says. Then, after he decided to be true to himself, he saw a vision of Buddha while meditating.
“It came to me,” he says. “I was just sitting, and it just popped into my head. It was a very simple Buddha face, smiling, surrounded by flowers.”
Kasparec painted the vision of Buddha.
“That was my first real spiritual painting,” he says. “I put it on Facebook and it sold in five minutes.” So, he painted another one, this time a profile of a Buddha face with a butterfly fluttering around it. Again, it sold right away.
“It came to me, and I reflected it on canvas. I wasn’t trying to achieve or convey any other message than just paint what I felt,” he says. At first, his paintings were selling for only $100. Then $200, then $500, then they sold for $1,000, $10,000, $15,000, his world was changing.
“It was crazy,” he says. “I created a brand without wanting to create a brand. I’m just trying to authentically reflect what I feel.”
Breaking through resistance
While he continues to meditate and keeps himself open to the flow of inspiration, painting isn’t always easy. There’s “the thing inside of you which doesn’t want you to sit down and do your work,” he says. And it has “100 different faces,” including expectation.
Kasparec feels that artists hold themselves to high standards, and that expectations can’t be allowed to hold you back. He practices letting go and allowing himself to be fully in the moment in order to bring his visions to life; “Once I break the resistance for a few hours or even half a day, then I’m in a completely different dimension where I, as Jan Kasparec, disappear.” It’s a place where his heart is stronger than his ego, where feelings take precedence over thinking. “That’s the place where I’m actually able to forget myself and be my greatest self. That’s where all the best things happen.”