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 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 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.”
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 loosened the reins 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 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.”
He was a runaway teen, often in trouble, and beauty was sparse in his life. When he was 19, he decided he needed a change, a shift of some sort. “I just felt like I had to escape the world, this darkness that I created around me,” he says.
He joined NATO’s armed forces through France, but soon found, “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.”
It was like the first blink of light, the first real crack in the shell of my ego.
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 he was studying and working full-time in Paris to establish a career in finance, to become a “productive member of society,” he says. 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 store 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 on weekends during college, and then while working in finance for Microsoft in Dublin. He took courses in body drawing, figure, and plein air painting. 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 monthlong vacation to Argentina, and it changed his life.
“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 after that. 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.
“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, he says, “I just played the wild card.”
He remembers saying to himself, “Okay, 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 had burned all my savings and was almost completely broke.”
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.
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.” 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. His paintings started off selling for only $100. Then $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.”
Breaking through resistance
While he meditates 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.
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. It’s a place where his heart is stronger than his ego. “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.”