About Wildness

The WILDNESS WITHINDrawings, Photographs & Collages by Jim Johnson

I believe in Wildness, both in the natural world and within each of us.

“In Wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Thoreau, but people often get the quote as “wilderness” instead. While wilderness might be untrammeled land along the Alaskan coast, Wildness can happen anywhere – in the jungle or your backyard. And it’s not just a place; it’s a feeling. It rises up when you least expect it.


The WildnessWithin is the theme for my drawings and photos. It appears for me when I allow myself to just be – with the quietness of the land – the wildness in the eyes of the native people and wild animals – a feeling of fullness permeates me, its thrilling – The Magic of the natural world is everywhere all the time when I take the time to look for it….

In writing this today I had thought that my interest in the Wildness theme had begun for me in my 40′s with the Men’s Work Movement. But it began much earlier.

My first connection to wildness happened in 1954 when I was 13. My buddies and I went to see the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. After seeing the movie I was star struck, I bought a motor cycle hat and black leather jacket like the one Brando wore in the movie. I wrote the word “Johnny” on the front and “The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club” on the back. It was the first adventure with graphics. My parents forbid me to wear the outfit in public. Saying it made me look like a criminal or hood (or something like that} Over my parents objections my pal Tom Ryan and I would leave our houses at night, grease up our hair, put on our outfits and rumble off to the movie house. It seems to me that we saw the film at least 13 times over the next few months.


For me Brando was an image or model of the kind of man I wanted to be (The Wild One). The only problem was that my parents wouldn’t let me have a motor cycle. So we had to hang out with some guys that did. (50′s greaser’s) and that drove my Dad (who was a typical conservative 50′s Dad) crazy-man crazy.

In retrospect I think I was looking for that primal wild energy that was beyond the influence of my parents and the stereotypes of my popular culture. In time The Wild One became lost in my rebel adolescence. But it was that exposure to that wild spirit that helped shape my growth and eventually led me to my life’s work as an artist.

In the 1980′s I met Robert Bly at one of the Minnesota Men’s Conferences where we read a Grimm’s Brothers Fairy Tale story of Iron Hans. The story had a new interpretation of the Wild Spirit when Robert wrote the book IRON JOHN. In the book Robert describes the character of Iron John, the Wild Man, a male initiator and mentor. And a door way to consciousness and feeling. It is at the same time a new vision of a very ancient vision of adult manhood one that has depth, vividness, and solidity.

My journey to wildness began when I left Minneapolis, where I lived in the center of urban life for 40 years. I had a successful career in the art & design community as principal graphic designer, in my own Design Firm. I was also on the design faculty at The Minneapolis College of Art & Design and a fine artist.

While working on a exhibit design for Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell South Dakota I met Mikki, a beautiful lady who lived on a ranch in Northern South Dakota. She and her husband Pete invited me to come and photograph the Northern Plains. I took them up on the invite and discovered a new world. I fell in love with the area and moved from Minneapolis, having no idea how that would change this city boy !


Jim, Ricky, Romeo and my cattle on Caspers Ranch

Living on the Ranch on the Northern Plains I am discovering my true Nature, finding my passion in the lushness of Nature, The vastness of The Plains, unlimited vistas, wild and domestic animals, the plant world and all the natural cycles of birth and death – Living on instinct – One of my teachers Marten Purcell a South American Shaman calls it “The Deliciousness of Nature.”

The theme for my work the Wildness Within comes from this understanding of the need to unite with our Natural Self that lives inside us. This need is to connect with a deep spiritual passion within the natural world.

The idea for the blog came from my Woolly Mammoth brother Bill Schmidt who said (Bless him). “You should get in the water of the Internet and begin swimming and I will teach you.”

So it is with this “Deliciousness of Nature” notion that I have begun to capture the essence of the Wildness Within Nature with my drawings and photographs.

All these images are from the environment on and around Caspers ranch where The Wild One now lives on The Great Plains of South Dakota.


Contact info – jamesjohnson@midco.net

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