Renowned artist Jayson Fann takes on a childlike excitement when talking about his work and process. A self-proclaimed transient, the 48-year-old has spent the last few years living in an artists’ community under the Bixby Bridge, continuing to develop the human-scale, arabesque nests he builds from sometimes thousand-year-old fallen trees in the Big Sur region. He’s also a former director of the Art Barn at the Esalen Institute and founder of the Spirit Garden.
When the Weekly caught up with Fann, he was moving several of his pieces, which can each weigh several tons, onto an 18-wheeler headed to Colorado, where over the next two months he’ll be installing his works for a children’s education and storytelling project.
Weekly: So, where does this all start? How did you begin making nests and how did you get to this point?
Fann: I’ve been making these nests since I was 9 years old. I didn’t intend to become a professional nest builder. I’m not sure I would even define myself in that way. As an artist, the nest has been my process of connection and connecting. When people think of a nest, they might think of a bird but for me, it’s something different. It’s a place that holds life. In the end I kind of just work with what I have. When you’ve got sticks, work with sticks. If you’ve got words, work with words.
Education seems to be a big part of your upcoming project in Colorado. Why prioritize education?
I spent as little time at public school as possible. I think our education system strips people of their creativity. It tends to stifle a lot of kids. By isolating things and compartmentalizing them and not understanding how everything is connected, we’re really missing out on a path of learning and understanding life. I think we need to revolutionize our education system. We need to start to open up and get out of that mentality where we think we know everything. We need to really learn from each other and other cultures.
That’s where these spaces come in. I am able to provide a space for all different voices, to share their ideas, their thoughts, and their truth. It’s so important that we provide spaces for young people to have access to different and diverse perspectives. Otherwise, if we get streamlined into this system, it strips away who we really are.
How do you feel like this work has shaped you over the last 40 years? What have you learned?
The first word that comes to mind is humility. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and how much more there is to learn. Part of the humility process is also trusting your inner voice. It takes humility to stop operating out of reaction to your outer world.
As an artist, or as a thinker, it’s important to really keep a hold of the direction you want to go and not let your work get absorbed into other people’s ideas. Otherwise, this all becomes, like, a glamping thing.
I recently did that TV show To Tell the Truth. I was like, “OK, I’ll do it for exposure, it’s fine.” But it was very trivializing. When I was up there, and they’re making fun of my work, I just realized, “wow, these people don’t get what I’m doing at all.”
Artistically speaking, do you feel like you’re still trying to develop or perfect an articulation of your inner voice? Are you chasing something with this work?
I wouldn’t say chasing, but I do feel I have a lot of work to do. I’ve realized the most important work is the inner work of quietness and peace. It’s not always about producing, sometimes the best thing you can do is just be inside. Sometimes the thoughts are just for you. It’s not It’s not for other people.
But we do need creative leadership and I do feel called, as I’m growing older, to be in a position of sharing the knowledge that I have.
How do you think about legacy?
When I think about legacy, I also think about destiny. I don’t see destiny as something in the future. I see destiny and legacy as something in the present. I believe that, for every person, destiny should be today because you don’t know how many days you have. Your legacy should be the last best thing that you do.
My godfather, [famous African drummer] Babatunde Olatunji, said, “Jayson, whatever you do in life, make sure that it’s of consequence, that it has impact in a positive way.” I hope my legacy would be that people would just be inspired by my work and think of me as a kind and loving human being.