It's always a little bit of a mystery when planning a drive to New York from my Jersey shore home town. It's a short trip being only 50-60 miles away, but with traffic, that normally one hour trip can easily morph into two or three. As a line of fire engines and emergency vehicles pushed their way through rush hour traffic, a megaphone blasted from the fire truck with a heavy New York accent, “Move over, get outta' the way…Outta' the way!! Move over!! Move over!!!” The incident immediately pushed to the side any remaining mind clutter from my day and instead of stressing me out more, it allowed me to focus on gratitude and presence for how fortunate my family and I are. I continued my journey and eventually got to my destination in Brooklyn.
I walked up to an incredible park in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn which I had never known about before but was quite impressed with. I must have passed by five or six photo shoots of models and newly married couples. The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge and New York skyline all visible made this a photographer's wet dream. This gentrified community contained a climbing facility called Dumbo Boulders under the Manhattan Bridge. The weather was sunny, warm and just perfect and I was about to meet with World Champion Rock Climber & 2020 Olympic hopeful Sasha DiGiulian. Sasha is the first North American woman to climb the grade 9a, 5.14d and whom also has ascended groundbreaking multi-pitch routes of up to 1000 feet of 8c climbing. She has accomplished multiple First Ascents and 28 First Female Ascents around the world. I can go on and on, but basically in laymen's terms, she's a bad ass.
I put my stuff down and caught up with my good friend since high school & professional photographer Jess Halas for a bit when Sasha walked over with a huge authentic smile greeting us with hugs.
We sat down near the water in a semi-quieter location which was far from quiet. Roaring noises of clanking trains directly above us forced volume increases in our vocal chords every few minutes. After the initial intro's we jumped right into conversation that must have lasted an hour or more, I truly lost track of time. Sasha, a recent graduate of Columbia University who studied Writing and Business had a lot to say. Our mutually shared curiosity fueled many conversational tangents.
Our chit chat turned into deep topics ranging from the flow state of creative energy to quantum physics. She told me about a training experience she had with famous breathing coach Wim Hof which coincidentally I had just heard about a couple weeks back. She told me about her physical and spiritual connection with the rock face itself with the blood that she bleeds acting a connective medium between her energy and the limestone that was her favorite stone surface to climb. She described some of her mind hacks that she uses to overcome fear and pain and I related with so many of my artistic creative processes. We discussed the commonalities with surfing, art, climbing and yoga and discovered what made our various pursuits appealing in a visual and creative sense. Several famous names were brought up that would interest most, but it was our talks of creative connection that enticed me to keep diving further into our dialogues.
What brought us together on this picturesque evening was a series of collaborations that we are taking on. Sasha and her management and I started talks about working on a piece of art that I would paint of Sasha. These talks landed us both in this meet-up scenario where we had a chance to find ways to connect. I very much wanted to understand Sasha's mindset and hear about her interconnection with climbing and nature.
I could of course just paint her from the millions of photos that have been taken of her, documenting her many ascents, but that wouldn't be a collaboration. For this piece, my goal of this meet-up was to have her experiences and inner magic be expressed through my paint. One of my goals of this evening hang out was to channel Sasha's inspirational and understand what fuels her. She agreed to share with me some of her personal writing about her climbing mentality and I am just so excited to see what painting reveals itself to me from our two creative energies linking up.
Sasha is moving to Boulder, Colorado to pursue her training where many would consider to be the climbing capital of the U.S. Sasha's repetitively vibrating iPhone reminded her that she had a dinner appointment to get to. But before we parted ways, she got up on the wall to show me some of her favorite climbing moves while describing quite eloquently how she envisioned an artistic rendering. I asked a series of questions to help fuel my creativity and try to tap into what makes this powerful young woman tick.
We took a photo together and enthusiastically high fived. I jumped on the wall for some bouldering time of my own until the night sky enveloped the park.
I'll see Sasha again in October when we participate and attend the Big Red Ball in New York City to raise money and awareness for Right To Play. I'll be doing a live painting with Sasha at the event and we will be auctioning off that piece for charity as well as a signed limited edition print of the painting that I'm working on now of her. Being able to contribute to worthy causes is one of the amazing benefits of having an audience with my artwork. Getting to meet inspiring humans like Sasha is another.
All Photos: Jess Halas, LivingStonesPhotography.com