I am a person who cries easily in response to the beauty of this world. This past winter I stood in the very crowded Guggenheim looking at the Hilma af Klint paintings with tears streaming down my cheeks. There was the time when I turned around at the Clark Art Museum and saw John Singer Sargent’s Fumée D’Ambre Gris and burst into tears. Don’t ask me why; I have no idea.
I am readily moved to tears by acts of generosity and genuine human kindness. Perhaps because they are in such short supply in our lives.
When I first saw the work of architect John Pawson, images of his home in London, it left me breathless. I got my hands on everything I could find to see more of his projects and often, staring at the spaces, unadorned and perfect, completely lacking in the usual clutter and debris of modern life, I cried. What he seemed to be saying was ... you don’t need much ... use beautiful materials, keep it simple, use common sense, reflect the beauty of the natural world, stop filling your living spaces with lots of crap. Something about that quite mysteriously touched something deeply embedded in me.
Several years ago I read that Pawson was collaborating with the monks at the Abbey of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic to create their living and working spaces. The story goes that one of the monks had seen photos of Pawson’s work on the Calvin Klein flagship store in Manhattan and had gotten in touch with him to see if he would help them. There’s something hilarious about that in the disparity between Trappist monks and Calvin Klein, but clearly they share a similar minimalist aesthetic.
When I saw photographs of the project I knew I would have to go; the thing gnawed at my consciousness with the tenacity of a tick. The confluence of a great love of God and sublime architecture and design in a rural setting ... this to me seems like something very close to perfection.
Two years ago I started corresponding with Brother Jan Maria, one of the twenty monks who lives there, in the hopes I might be able to make a visit.
There is so much I am curious about: what it is like to live a life so quiet (no talking at meals); what does it sound like when the monks sing and chant; what do they eat; what is the light like in the chapel; what does it feel like to wake up in a John Pawson building? I am deeply curious to see what kind of impact an environment like that has on one’s interior life.
I imagine it to feel like art and beauty and faith and love are all wound up together into a kind of very pleasant life experiece. I understand the monks make several kinds of mustard and some sort of luxurious hand cream and I can’t wait to see what that’s all about.
I have a lot of questions. Although, to be sure, I have no idea if the monks will engage in conversation.