A Unique Painting:

The Voyage

Adi Da

Kerwin Whitnah, "The Voyage", 1972
(click on painting for larger version)

In the beginning, every voyage starts with one step, or visual impulse, or precipitating event. And so it was with my own personal Voyage, and adventure of painting a picture by that name.

It all began in Berkeley, many years ago I was waiting to catch a train to San Francisco A friend, passing by, greeted me; and just before I caught the train he handed me a book which I had never seen before. It was a dog-eared paperback, a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, or Hindu Song of God. Curious and interested, I began to read. And, as the train started up, I realized that the book was taking me on a completely different destination than to San Francisco!. Because this was a journey -- or a true voyage of a different color! And my mind began to fill up with forms of such a journey done into a painting. And all the thoughts I had ever had on this subject came into the imagination of the inner eye vividly. First, there was the ordinary "trip" to get to San Francisco. And then there was the night-sea journey; then the fearsome journey to the end of the night; then the impossible journey against all odds to get to God knows where. And last, but not least, the summary Voyage of no return. And I remembered reading about exactly such a journey by a Sufi Saint, a l0th-century Egyptian called Mohammed Al-Niffari.

How did I get to al-Niffari, of all people? Only because voyages are only begotten by other voyages. It's like an interlocking puzzle of endless beginning and always new endings. Basically, first I had to meet Aldous Huxley, the author-mentor of my youth. But before I could do that I had to find the man who would truly open me to spiritual life's beginning. And I couldn't do that until I found a book. Which book, and where to find it? It was, as a matter of fact, lying on a table at a friend's house. It was by one Jiddu Krishnamurti. (More about my meetings with Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and Krishnamurti here, if you are curious.)
So when I got home I looked up the book and read again his visionary words:1

God made me behold the sea, and I saw the ships sinking, and the planks floating; then the planks too were submerged. And God said to me "Those who cast themselves into the sea, take a risk." And He said further: "Those who voyage and take no risk shall perish." And, further: "The surface of the sea is a gleam that cannot be reached. And the bottom is a darkness impenetrable. And between the two are great fishes, which are to be feared."
And, as if with a stylus of fire, these words were inscribed indelibly on my painter's eye.

Then a few days later, while at work, all these strands of thought and visual inspiration suddenly took form, and with great urgency I made a detailed drawing of what had been presented to my inner vision.

When this drawing was finished, I made it into a small painting. But, unfortunately, soon afterward the painting was stolen, and I was unable to retrieve it.

Unwittingly, however, the thief had done me a great service. For then, with much painstaking work, I had to completely recreate and substantially improve the lost painting. But, as I proceeded, I quickly became very uncomfortable: For I realized that if I pushed ahead with this project, I would be entering into completely unfamiliar territory from which there could be no return, nor any guarantee of safe arrival anywhere. Then I realized with an intuitive flash of comprehension that painting, like any other truly worthwhile enterprise, or a true Voyage, was exceedingly dangerous, a great risk -- a real trip into the unknown, with no assurance of safe arrival at journey's end, and no guarantee of any reward whatsoever; but then, I remembered that old-time painters had done exactly that: Rather than serving the ego, they painted for the greater glory of the Divine to "make something beautiful for God." That would be their only Truth and their true reward.

Adi Da and The VoyageI felt as if I had been given an archetypal vision to paint, and so I seized the day, and set about bringing that vision into painted form. But about that time, I discovered Adi Da Samraj's The Knee of Listening", read it intensively, and then wrote to the author, thanking Him "for a gift I could not yet comprehend!" And soon got a letter back from the Ashram Manager saying: Adi Da "has read your letter completely and He sends you His Blessing"; which moved me deeply. Still later, after I had been to Los Angeles for an interview, I had the opportunity to meditate with Him. The sitting was a revelation of His Compassion, and I saw His undefended purity, and radiance of Being.

When I had finished the painting I knew it was the best I had done or might do, and I must give it directly to Him without delay. He received it most graciously, and, with many jests (and much hilarious laughter!), asked me if I would put a wide-painted frame around it and expand the very picture onto that frame. This being done resulted in the current complete work, which is 78" x 56", done in casein paint on a gesso panel.

More about a very special art teacher, Henry Schaefer-Simmern, and the influence he had on the making of The Voyage.
Now, the above is not an "explanation" of The Voyage, but only a few relevant facts about its inspiration and genesis. Because if a painting could ever be "explained," then it need never be painted at all. And so I hope these notes will help you to share the "content" of The Voyage and make it yours, if you so wish -- though none of this can be done with words or analysis, but simply by looking. And, before you look, please remember the unalterable truth that: "The Spirit that dwells in the forms speaks only to him, or to her, who stands speechless in wonder!"

And I hope that your Voyage (and perhaps mine too!) will lead only to Light, beyond all categories of mere formal beauty!


Kerwin Whitnah


Jean and Roger Moss (Berkeley, California) write:

We had the pleasure of living with Kerwin Whitnah's massive painting, The Voyage, for several years. It hung in our living room, facing north, where we could sit and watch it in the changing light. At times, the Voyager and his boat would be the focus, then the underwater life, and toward evening, the stars would begin to light up the sky.

The painting had such richness of texture that often guests would be unable to resist touching it -- convinced that it was an embroidered textile. The complexity of detail spoke often to us of the hundreds of hours of spiritual and artistic energy the painter devoted to its creation.

The Voyage enriched our lives and those of our friends who, after a number of years, still remember it in many ways.

Maggie Finch (Mrs. Henry LeRoy Finch) writes:

This amazing painting, The Voyage, by Kerwin Whitnah -- became instantly "taken in" by my husband and myself when we first clapped eyes upon it. We were struck by its freshness and clarity. Acquiring a print of it, we hung it on our bedroom wall so we could see it first thing every morning. It continues to grow in spiritual meaning and utter delight. It seems to glide beyond the here and now into a world of oneness and joy, and sings the message -- "We are in the very best of hands! Our voyage is a good one!"

Clement Renzi is an eminent American sculptor. His work, collected all over the world, is especially to be seen in Fresno, and the Central Valley of California. One of his most archetypal pieces is THE VISIT, which is in a small public park in Fresno.

Clement Renzi writes:

To state my thoughts about The Voyage means stating some thoughts about the painter, Kerwin Whitnah. The painting is somehow, to me, representative of Kerwin and his life-long Voyage. Both Kerwin and his painting are rare, courageous assertions. Both are bigger than the life most of us experience and seek to express. Of course, the painting depicts a great sea filled with giant whales lumbering along just below the surface and just below the voyager -- Kerwin!

This is what is unique about The Voyage: It tells me, in retrospect, all about Kerwin Whitnah and the way he has steered his vessel over this vast sea, which for him has profound depths, and endless horizons. It's like he exists on many levels. It is serious; it has wonderful humor; it is totally mysterious, and its essence remains always fresh, and somehow inspiring. Above all, like Kerwin's life, it has all the qualities of a work of art.

1quoted from The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley, HarperCollins, 1990.