For an artist whose aspiration is to make the world beautiful, life in the workaday world can be trying.
“The reason why [life is] so hard is the world is off-tune,” says painter Jan Kasparec. “The whole system screams at you, ‘Get serious. Make money.’” He 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 folk. 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’s idealism speaks to the hope and aim of the Luxury Home & Design Show — to remind us that the essence of luxury is the heart and spirit behind it. In today’s fast-paced, machine-made luxury market, what’s missed, and what’s being desired again, is the human touch of handmade artisanship and the creativity of the human spirit.
Kasparec says his connection with Wendy Guo, the director of the Luxury Home & Design Show, was refreshing and unexpected.
“It was the first time that I really felt so in line with the organizer of any kind of show … typically [they are] just hungry for returns. But I don’t have that feeling about Wendy,” he says. “We’ve got a goal in common, which is to bring beauty to the world, not just always focus on money and on the brand, but make something beautiful.”
Kasparec believes the outward expression of his art aligns with his inner growth. His skill and spirit must be refined together so that he, and his art, become truer 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, which is coming through acceptance and bringing beauty to the world.”
A Dark Age and a Renaissance
“If you follow your heart’s rhythm… you’re giving an expiry date to your ego,” Kasparec says. “Your ego will do everything in its power to survive, which means that you won’t live your dreams.”
Kasparec’s insight was hard fought, something he awakened to after living unfulfilled for many years. While growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, he was fortunate to have open-minded parents who saw that he had special artistic talents. They enrolled him in art classes outside of school to begin cultivating his inborn artistic inclination.
But as a self-described “ego-crazy adolescent,” Kasparec dropped his art, entering a period in his life he calls his “Dark Age” — life without art, and, in his case, a separation from his true self. He says during those years, “I didn’t create really anything that beautiful.”
After “lots of trouble,” he says, and living as a runaway teenager, Kasparec decided he’d grow up. At 19, he decided to join NATO’s armed forces through France, wanting a change, a shift of some sort.
“That cut me out from any kind of creativity completely,” he says. “I just felt like I had to escape the world, this darkness that I created around me. But I 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.”
Destiny’s grip was never too tight, just loosely cradling Kasparec, aligning his life in proper cadence. 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 that just popped in my mind like, ‘Hey, you should go and start painting again.’”
Picking up art again didn’t make any sense from a practical perspective. He had finished his military obligations, and was studying and working full-time in Paris to establish a career in finance, to become a “productive member of society.” There was no extra time in his day to waste on a hobby like painting.
But Kasparec ignored his head, jumped in his car, and drove to the supermarket to buy art supplies. “I bought a set of oil paints, which I had never used before,” he says. “But I just bought them and started painting right away. I didn’t know anything. I’ve just never stopped painting since then.” That was 14 years ago.
Kasparec painted in the evenings and weekends during college, and then while working in finance for Microsoft in Dublin. He took courses in body drawing, figure and plein air painting — painting outdoors. But Kasparec’s greatest growth came from the endless effort he put into cultivating his craft on his own.
“Putting so many hours in 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, just by always 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, and it changed his life.
“I wasn’t happy about [my life] anyway — I wasn’t living my dream,” he says. “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 who’s got possibilities, who’s got his freedom.”
Kasparec quit his job at Microsoft and travelled the world for a year and a half. It was as much an exploration of his own heart as of the world around him.
He says he was an “unleashed animal” and “pleasure hound” at the beginning of his travels with his partying around the world.
“Slowly, I turned inwards… and I felt that it’s time for a change,” he says. Upon the recommendation of a man he met on his travels, Kasparec visited India for a meditation retreat in Bodh Gaya, where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
It was like the first blink of light, the first real crack in the shell of my ego.
“I had my first spiritual insight… It was the first moment of experiencing stillness and peace, peace within, when the beast in the head finally gave up… It was like the first blink of light, the first real crack in the shell of my ego,” he says. 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 a Canadian work visa. His application was accepted, and he moved there a couple months later. He got a job in finance again so he could get his papers to live in Canada, but when he lost his job several months later, “I just played the wild card,” he says.
He remembers saying to himself, “OK, well I’m not going to look for another job. I’m just going to hope that the papers are going to go through, and I’m going to start looking for an art studio instead. I’m going to do everything that I can to paint full-time and give it my full attention.”
“It wasn’t an easy path, but after three or four years, I had a breakthrough when I burned all my savings and was almost completely broke.”
Touched by grace
He had been painting scenes from nature 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.
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.
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, his heart 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. After he decided to be true to himself, he saw a vision of Buddha during his meditation.
“It came to me,” he says. “I was just sitting, and it just popped in my head. It was a very simple Buddha face, smiling, [surrounded] in 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. ‘That’s a good sign,’” he thought. So he painted another one, this time a profile of a Buddha face with a butterfly fluttering around it. Again, it sold right away.
“[Those paintings] marked the journey for me,” he says. “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 began doing larger paintings, and the art world reacted colourfully, with both praise and criticism. Though some critics challenged his spiritual themes, he remembers encouraging himself to forge ahead: “This is the time that I’m really going to do just what I feel.”
The universe seemed to support Kasparec’s decision. His paintings started off selling for only $100. Then it was $200, then $500. Then they sold for $1,000, $10,000, $15,000.
“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.”
Kasparec explains that his art and path are a never-ending journey, and even success has its challenges.
“There was a process of healing through my painting — to learn how to let go; how to sell my paintings; how not to get carried away by the financial aspect because sometimes I make more money in one month than I made in a year before, and sometimes I don’t sell a painting for three months,” he says.
To get into that flow of life, Kasparec practices yoga and meditates, practices that unlock his compassion.
“I experience moments of an open heart. Physically, I feel it as my chest vanishing and just expanding to infinity,” he says.
He also prays regularly, not for his own benefit, but for humanity and world peace. Having that selfless, benevolent intention and perspective changes him, and his art.
“Whatever I paint is not really mine,” he says. “I’m just fortunate enough that I got the garbage out of my way so I could be the channel of an energy which is greater than me. I honed my skills enough so that I can deliver what I see.”
Though he loves his craft, he says it’s always very challenging for him. “When you pick up the brush, you’re exploring,” he says. “It is rare the painting goes with ease. I always go through the process of resistance.”
Kasparec describes resistance as “the thing inside of you which doesn’t want you to sit down and do your work.” He says it has “100 different faces,” including expectation. As an artist, expectation is tough to ignore because you have such a high standard for your works. But you need to let go in order to be absorbed in the moment and bring the vision to life, he says.
“Once I break the resistance for a few hours or even half a day, then I’m in a completely different dimension where me as Jan Kasparec disappears,” he says. “That’s the place where I’m able actually to forget myself and be my greatest self. That’s where all the best things happen.”
In those magic moments, where mind, body, and art synchronize, Kasparec understands life operates on divine timing. “This universe is a symphony,” he says. Kasparec’s paintings are like instruments helping keep it in harmony.