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Craig Muderlak: Coloring Outside the Lines

“Today, as an artist and climber, I continue to embrace that formative creativity my mother defended years ago,” Craig Muderlak says via phone hot off the Tuckerman Inferno Pentathlon race–a run, hike, kayak, ride and skin–on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. He usually doesn’t do races, but liked the personal challenge and the chance to spend time in an environment that reminds him of the landscape he’s used to seeing in the west.

Muderlak moved to Providence, Rhode Island, a year and a half ago. Before that, he lived in Boulder, Colorado, for seven years. Since coming out East he’s had to adjust, and he used the race to work toward something that pushed him as the higher peaks of Colorado did.

“The adventure for the race was unknown, and it could have been over my head,” he says. “The race felt like going out and traveling in the wilderness. At some level that sense of adventure ties in my art. With most of my illustrations, I don’t know how they’ll turn out and I have no guarantee of a good outcome. Like with the race, I didn’t know if I would make it and knew I would be pushing myself beyond my limits.”

A few weeks ago I asked Muderlak to share his art and thoughts on I, too, recently transplanted East–to Alpinist‘s headquarters in Jeffersonville, Vermont, from Golden, Colorado, and I am still adjusting. Perhaps that’s why I asked him to share. Plus, I like his work. Our art director does as well, and he chose to feature Muderlak’s art in Alpinist‘s 50th issue, which ships to the printers next week. — Chris Van Leuven

Art and climbing are two of the most consistent passions in my life. Both elicit adventure and inspiration, and influence my life dramatically. These two pursuits feed off each other and create valuable human experiences through the virtues of creativity, passion and exploration.

Although I work in a variety of mediums and styles, all my inspiration originates from the desire to explore my connection to expansive landscapes, often originating from the pursuit of climbing.

Many of my illustrations are marked with lettering. This style developed out of my passion for journaling and exploring my deep connection to these landscapes through the written word. The text is usually illegible, comprised of jumbled letters or words without literal meaning, implemented as a pattern or compositional element.

Through the spontaneous and compulsive use of color, text and contour, I try to share something more than simply a depiction of beautiful landscapes. Instead, I use my illustrations as an outward expression of the obsession, yearning, emotions and questions associated with my connection to these landscapes.

My preschool teacher expressed concern that I was “not coloring within the lines.” As an advocate for her youngest child’s creative disposition, my mom took it upon herself to share her conviction and disapproval. While not a self-described artist herself, she believed that imposing artistic rules, especially upon a 4-year-old child, had the potential to inhibit the nurturing virtues of creativity, the ability to foster exploration and comfort with the unknown.

Today, as an artist and climber, I continue to embrace that formative creativity that my mother defended years ago. I am able to navigate the unknown through the profound human experiences of exploration and adventure in both art and climbing.

I was ten years old when I first contracted the adventure bug. In the comfort of my bedroom, sheltered from a frigid Midwestern blizzard, I paged through an article about backcountry skiing in Colorado. I was a “flatlander” and had not yet forged the profound connection with mountains I hold today. In those images of the Colorado Rockies, I felt a yearning for that unfamiliar landscape. As the howling wind pummeled snowflakes against the frosted windows beside me, the pages before me took hold.

Cirque Dreams | music and video by Craig Muderlak

I experienced what would become a familiar feeling–a tingling in my heart and soul that would influence the trajectory of my life.

With the intrepid spirit of an explorer and the naivety of a young suburbanite, my compulsivity got the best of me. Thimble in hand, I tenuously began to persuade a needle and thread through thick nylon, intending to alter a duffel bag for carrying skis or a snowboard into the backcountry, something which I had no use for in Wisconsin, but I didn’t care.

Valley Saffron | music and video by Craig Muderlak

As I applied more pressure to the plastic thimble, my progress halted with a spontaneous pop. The eye of the needle burst through the thimble, puncturing the pad of my thumb and exiting the other side. Too startled to gasp, I hastily extracted the needle as rapidly as it had pierced the skin. Sitting on the floor of my bedroom, I turned my gaze upward and met the eyes of my mother standing in the doorway. We were both silent, my eyes wide open and telling.

I sensed my mom wasn’t overly concerned about the sewing accident; she knew I was ok. Her gaze took inventory of the mountain images before me, the duffel, the plastic thimble on the ground, the thread and needle in my right hand, and a bead of blood on my left thumb. I thought she would be angry, but instead her mouth and eyes formed a gentle grin. I think she was happy that I had discovered my passion. She was keenly aware that her little boy was going to spend a lot of time being creative in the mountains.

Diamond Dreams | music and video by Craig Muderlak

[To see more of Muderlak’s work, check out his Website, or follow him on Facebook or on Instagram–Ed.]