If you find yourself strolling through the cobblestone streets and vine-draped buildings of the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village in downtown Sedona, be sure to make your way back toward the shops that line Oak Creek. On a warm Saturday afternoon, you might glimpse an artist working peacefully in his gallery as the breeze carries ambient sounds in and out of the open window. Nicholas Kirsten-Honshin has two art galleries in Tlaquepaque. The Gallery of the Ascending Spirit is his second-floor working studio and the Gallery of Wholeness, Harmony and Radiance is located at ground level in The Plaza of the Bells. Each of the galleries display the artist’s own works in a myriad of media. Paintings—available as originals, hand embellished giclées, and prints, many of which have Honshin’s thought-provoking poems beside them—grace the gallery walls. The poetry shares with the viewer the inspiration that birthed the creation. Honshin’s artistry lay not in painting and poetry alone for one will find exquisite jewelry, sculptures, and whimsical works, all of which he has been perfecting over a lifetime of experience.
Honshin and his wife Krystal Kirsten welcomed me with a warmth and radiance reflective of the sun that was shining on this particular afternoon. Honshin means ‘Original mind. Pure heart.’ It is the artist name given to Nicholas Kirsten in 1984 by his father and his father’s teachers in Japan. This name perfectly describes the man who stood there before me in the bright and peaceful space surrounded by his own works.
He spoke with me for over an hour about his life, philosophies, and art, and he regaled me with enough stories and ideas to fill a book. The central thread, though, always seemed to tie back to interconnectedness. Our conversation generally flowed around the cycle of nature communicating to people, who then create art so that other people can better experience nature. Here are a few of the particular moments that brought those ideas to life in our conversation. “My philosophy is that all art comes from nature,” Honshin explained. “We have an experience. That experience becomes a symbol or a color, a shape or a form that conveys the idea of our experience. Information…When it’s working perfectly, it tells a story!” He had me imagine the stories of the earliest peoples, their lives and their experiences. He had me consider the first symbols they conjured, to share those experiences that were so important and so deep in their hearts that they had to find a way to communicate with them. Honshin reminded me that those very first symbols and experiences have built on one another to give to the world mathematics, language, art, science, technology, and so much more.
“Our feelings have been expressed in all these symbols,” Honshin said, bringing me back into the present. “And they organize themselves into something which is looking back into nature, where we came from! I just see it as a beautiful circle.” Just as the circle has continued to spiral forward from our ancestors, it also reveals itself in smaller, more individual interactions. Honshin shared several stories about his own art and how it had directly connected him with others over the years. The interactions and effects that ripple out from the artist, the piece of art, and the audience with whom it resonates, is just as important to Honshin as the process of creating the work itself. Those interactions have been some of the loveliest experiences he has had in the more than 50 years he has been showing art. “My art, my job, my painting is not complete until someone sees it, and gets struck in their heart, and wants to share with me,” Honshin explained. He then shared with me a particularly lovely story about a connection created by, from and through his art.
Over the years, Honshin has spent a great deal of time communing with nature in the most remote places he can find. “I have lived in the wilderness a number of times, in sacred spaces,” Honshin explained. “The Gila and the San Pedro Wilderness, the Pecos Wilderness and the North Cascades. All those deep interventions into nature.” In the mid-1990s, he retreated into the Stehekin Valley outside of Seattle. Honshin smiled a little as he described the remoteness of this particular escape. “There are no roads and you either take a boat or an airplane or walk 30 miles to get there.” At this time, he owned the Kirsten Gallery in Seattle, and his brother was managing the space while Honshin was away. A woman came in one day and was so moved by Honshin’s art that she purchased some work and inquired about the artist. She wanted to know when he would be back in the gallery because she wanted to meet him. The woman was so persistent that eventually she was given his PO Box address, and she immediately wrote him a letter.
Honshin received the letter and he replied that yes, he was planning to return to Seattle soon. “By that choice of going back, I got to meet Krystal,” Honshin said, smiling across the room at his wife. “I would have never met her had she not fallen in love with my work. It was the art that connected us.” When asked how long the two had been married, both laughed gleefully and sort of shrugged their shoulders in unison. For these two individuals, the decades spent together feel unbounded by time; they appear as connected to one another as they do to the present moment. Connection is the core of Honshin’s work. Connecting nature to art to science. Connecting individuals to one another and to themselves. Connecting cultures. A final story that Honshin shared with me, that helps describe who he is and what he is creating, begins in 1956. Honshin was 10 years old the year his father first visited Japan. His father felt like he was finally home for the first time. He began dividing his life between Japan and the United States, spending six months at a time in each country and slowly bringing Japan back to Seattle with every trip. This meant that, as he grew up, Honshin was greatly influenced by Eastern culture and philosophy.
At about 20 or 21, Honshin did what many young men do, and he decided to forge his own path. He said to himself, “I don’t want to just follow in Dad’s footsteps. I am going to go to the Southwest to study the ancient indigenous people, whose culture was here and was also very old.” What he discovered as he embarked upon his literal and metaphorical journey was that the two cultures, though obviously very different, were also very similar and had many of the same influences. Honshin described how many of the Eastern beliefs revolve around the understanding that nature is alive and has a spiritual energy to which we are connected. He then pointed out that this is exactly what the native people here in the Southwest believe as well. “So that’s what I decided I wanted to do,” Honshin said, bringing the observation home. “I discovered that this was all connected. Eastern and Western come together and blend into my art, and the symbols of East and West tell the story of our true hearts and our true nature and our connectivity with the rest of the cosmos.” In the end, Honshin put it best when he said, “The idea of my art is to create those symbols that reach out from nature and touch the soul in a way that [the viewer’s] heart is opened up to a peaceful, harmonious wholeness that is present in every human being.”
Honshin seeks to share his art and his beliefs with anyone who is interested, and he has found several ways to make himself accessible to the public. Visit honshinfineart.com and learn more about his life. Watch the movie about him titled, “The Original Mind: Take the Journey from Your Head to Your Heart.” Find his YouTube channel and listen to the information he shares on his art and philosophies. If you find yourself in Sedona on the first Friday of the month, make your way over to his Wholeness, Harmony and Radiance gallery and experience his painting, his poetry and his presence firsthand.
“MY ART, MY JOB, MY PAINTING is not complete until someone sees it, and gets struck in their heart, and wants to share with me.”
Story written by Sara Knight Photos Provided by Renick Turley for Honshin Fine Art and Mark Short