::: NEW RELEASE! :::

“Moment of Truth”

Moment of Truth by Ishka Lha

~*~OFFICIALLY RELEASED ON WINTER SOLSTICE OF 2015 ~*~

Take it in….develop your own relationship and interpretation of this piece…. and when you’re ready, feel free to read everything I’ve got to share below, from my perspective, on this new ART. 🙂

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This is my exploration of the dark masculine. These days, so many speak of the return of the goddess and praise her dark feminine qualities (i.e. Kali Ma, Isis, Aditi, Black Madonna, Hecate, etc.); and one day, I wondered, what is her counterpart? What is the dark masculine, seen through that same kind of spiritual archetypal lens? Who are the dark gods? The hidden gods? The wrathful gods? Those healing ignorance with a lightning bolt kind of gods? I wasn’t thinking of some weird black magic, but I knew they probably weren’t the kind that usually come with all light and rainbows. From my understanding of the dark feminine, I felt that the dark masculine must have shared similar traits, but I wanted to know who they were–I wanted to take some names!– and I wanted to get to know some of them as intimately as I could.
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Alongside a lot of reading, I conducted part of my research by asking everyone around me what the dark masculine is, pretty much just like that, pretty open-ended. I wanted to see what those words conjured up for people. A lot of folks thought of man’s follies, of war and domination, of greed and anger, and the sexual exploitation of women. I also asked people what kind of man, or symbol of a man could help heal these afflictions. What did man need to do to address these gloomy propensities and tend to them effectively? As I dove further and further into my investigation of this theme, I realized that this painting needed to display a few critical components: one, that man’s shadow exists and needs healing, two, that healing is indeed taking place, and three, what forces bring about that healing? The first was already implied by the second, and once I came across the description of a couple characters from our collective unconscious who could help with that healing, I began to paint.
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I will also add that as my focus narrowed, and my research expanded, my personal life experience quickly pointed to some very specific aspects of mans’ shadow that impacted my own world in a pretty personal way; and yet, it was really important to me to create a visual environment that could potentially hold and reflect a wide array of experiences of what those shadows might be–to maintain some crucial metaphor–so that it would have the broadest impact.
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With all this in mind, my brush first landed on a simple and noble man with dark features. One who, in this beautiful and wild jungle of life, finally chooses to take his destiny into his own hands–no longer a victim of his own afflictions, addictions, and vices. This is the moment, that Moment of Truth, in which he stands in the silent center of his own storm, and wields the mudra of Garuda (look at his hands), invoking within himself the Warrior of Outrageous. When I read Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior (by Chögyam Trungpa), I was metaphysically struck by the description of this beneficent being, the Garuda: half man, half eagle, who was born fully grown and soars into outer space, beyond any limits. It is said that when he was first born, his golden light was so effulgent that the gods mistook him for the sun.
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The Warrior of Outrageous moves beyond hope and fear. It does not mean to be unreasonable, or even wild. This Outrageousness is about true warriorship, in which nothing can truly obstruct one’s own unique essential nature. When this kind of awareness is sustained, there becomes a loss of anxiety about life, and there are no more comparisons. You no longer care about how far you’ll get, or if you should hold back, because you are giving all you have to the world by truly living it. You feel limitless in your capacity to handle anything with exceptional grace. That is what is so outrageous, because that is not an easy state of mind to accomplish, or at the very least maintain when things don’t go your way. It takes an immense amount of courage. But the Buddha believed everyone can achieve this way of being. The aim is to be at ease with our perfectly imperfect perfecting beauty, exactly as we are, knowing we are exactly where we are meant to be.
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I was also struck by the Mahakala (from Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions), whose name in Sanskrit translates to “beyond time” (or death). He is jet black with some serious fangs and claws, and a crown of skulls around his head. He reflects to us nothing but our shadow (our shit!) until we finally face it, accept it, and learn from it. At his core is nothing but love and benevolence, but he comes at your unconscious mind mess with a kind of focus and determination that can be pretty frightening if you haven’t made friends with him before. If you try to run away, that just makes things worse. He is a very shamanic creature. The fruits of his wisdom can only be received with unflinching eyes. He is often a guardian of temples in India. To face him before entering the sacred is to face what all our anxieties stem from–our fear of death–and surrender to the realization of that ultimate reality. I incorporated his crown of skulls as a halo around the the dark man’s head, with white feathers radiating out from in between them, to illustrate that this man has just now fully embodied the Mahakala as well.
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Surrounding the masculine archetypes in this painting are feminine ones, and one might ask why. The main focus of this piece is about the dark masculine and healing its shadow aspects, but this process is impossible without certain elements of the feminine. Each does not exist without the other, for all occurs in our world as a magnificent dance of the contrasting yin and yang–masculine and feminine–creating friction, harmony, and balance.
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Above the Garuda is the universal Mother, who made Her appearance very quietly and unplanned. Of course, She is beyond planning, She is everywhere and for all time–beyond time. I was laying out some initial lines on the canvas after roughing in the man and the Garuda, and there She was, represented by the dark vast and starry reaches of space. See if you can find her breasts and hips (remember those ancient Neolithic stone carvings of the goddess?); and, well, I couldn’t help painting a nebula spiraling out from Her infinite heart. Her arms are outstretched, over the top of the canvas, as if to say that no matter what scene could be playing out below, She always has us in Her eternal embrace.
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To each side of our leading man are the Nagas, perhaps the most controversial characters of all in our story here. In Hinduism, they are mortal enemies of the Garuda, who is the slayer of Nagas. They are typically half woman, half snake or fish–sometimes dragon, or all snake. As dragon, in Chinese Buddhism, they rule the subterranean water worlds of our earth, which I interpret as a most powerful symbol of the strength of our collective unconscious, which could lead us all to many a strange fate, if left unchecked. In most Buddhist texts they are depicted as angelic creatures, in Hindu ones as demonic ones. By some accounts they supposedly only wreak havoc on the human race if they have been mistreated. And then, of course, in European lore we have the sirens of the sea, with their sinuous sultry songs.
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I drew my inspiration from Buddhist sculpture by painting the Nagas with a traditional cobra headdress and a hint of blue wings (see them?). You cannot, however, see whether they have a snake or fish body below the torso. You’ll just have to wonder. These magical beings appear as if they were brass statues come to life. After all the stories I read, I had this sense that the Nagas are neither angelic nor demonic, they simply represent a relationship to the subconscious; and, depending on this relationship, our life can play out quite terribly or beautifully. I imagined that perhaps the Nagas in this painting represented a poor expression of the mans’ sexual self, for a good part of his life, which lead him to confusion and deceit many a time, but finally things are taking a turn for the better. Here, the Nagas are neutral observers of the man’s transformation from the chaos and whims of his desires to a place of peace and clarity of passion–no more a slave to lust, or hiding his true nature. The Nagas are brimming slightly with tears; they are filled with a deep joy and wonder at the sight of this great metamorphosis, knowing how much he has suffered; and now, to witness this moment where he steps into his true power–a magnificent sight to behold.
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There is so much more I could say about this piece–how it deeply affected and manifested in my life in ways beyond synchronistic. It was pretty synchro-mystical really, as all my paintings seem to have become. It has very special relationships with two other paintings that the universe apparently prescribed to me to complete before this one so that I would come to it with the right frame of mind. There is a lot in here about forgiveness, too, rising above any kind of betrayal, whether self-inflicted or caused by another. And then, of course, most everyone sees Jesus in there. He’s someone who was able to subdue his shadows, I’d say. My friend said once, “Hey, it’s ‘Jesus goes to Peru.’ ” I like that… And, oh yes, those are ginger flowers, symbolic of strength and passion, nestled in between the leaves of the luscious monstera deliciosa–that’s right–monstera deliciosa!–I don’t think we need to look that up to garner a small smile.
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I also had a special ritual I did each day before sitting down to paint, to help guide my creative process. A new ritual is born for me with each new painting, in order to bring it to life. That’s how myth becomes animated in our everyday, through ritual, in taking those base notes of human experience and putting them to work. They always make an impact.
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Ultimately, I don’t have to tell you any of the things I just told you about this piece. That’s why it’s art, after all. But hey, I love this stuff. I love the symbology, the philosophy, the underlying structure of existence, the universal, the archetypal. We can learn so much from story. And I love sharing my creative process stories with you, too. And well, just maybe all this imagery, imbued with so much meaning and intention, will have some affect on your life in a profound way. Maybe it will crystallize an experience you had similar to the man in this painting, and could act as a reminder to embody the Outrageous in every moment thereafter. In any event, I hope it will inspire you in some way to contemplate what the dark masculine means to you, and how it manifests in your own life.

What’s all this about the Flower of Life anyway?

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THE FLOWER OF LIFE:

Many people love the Flower of Life. Many people like it, but have no idea what it is. Many people in the tribal/visionary art community think it’s so cliché. I personally LOVE this pattern and embrace it whole-heartedly for countless reasons. I continue to educate people about this amazing geometrical form whenever I can, and remind others why it is held so sacred, lest they forget.

I think sometimes it’s easy to take for granted the beauty in something so simple. But I think that’s because most of us take life itself for granted at some point. We wake up, we eat, work, sleep, and we do the whole thing over again everyday until we die. If we’re not careful, we can be on auto-pilot our whole lives. Sometimes we need a reminder, a wake up call to existence. Luckily, as easy as it is to forget ourselves, it’s just as easy to come back to presence. When we take a moment to observe the smallest simplest things in our surroundings, we discover immeasurable beauty, as well as immense gratitude for it all.

The Flower of Life is held sacred because it represents all of creation. Its beauty is both simple in form as well as profound in its implications. On paper, it is pleasing to the eye as a balancing mandala of dynamic symmetry, and looks like what it’s named after: a flower, with six petals, based on many overlapping circles. From this six-fold geometry, in three dimensions we find the structure from which all animated and organic life forms on this earth are born. It holds the geometrical framework for minerals, all those beautiful crystals humans regard in sparkling revelry. It contains the shape of a multi-cellular embryo in its first hours of life, a new baby. It carries the fundamental expression of sound, music, and even language. It literally bears the template from which all Platonic solids spring from, the building blocks of all life!

For thousands of years, many cultures have revered this exquisite design, and have derived much spiritual expansion from it, knowing even without the aid of today’s modern technology exactly what it represents. I believe the knowledge of this map of creation was given to us long ago through deep meditation and shamanic practices, ways of perceiving and communicating beyond the everyday. Today’s science has given more people immediate access to understanding our world and how it works, hopefully expanding our amazement of it all, and in retrospect, developing a greater appreciation of the spiritual mysteries of yore, as well as of today.

Our innate curiosity and fascination with life and all its creation is discovered and propelled by the information that sacred geometrical forms, such as the Flower of Life, transmit. They are maps. They are keys. What joy to hold them in our hands, crystallized in a painting, distilled in our minds.

Note: Image above is from part of a painting commission I did last year, showing only a piece of the Flower of Life.

What is this wilderness inside?

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Keep me sane, keep me connected, keep me satisfied.

I’ve seen great cathedrals, rays of sunshine, fingers of light gliding through rows of your kind. You always make the best of it, in whatever conditions, the grandest of life with the lightest of provisions. You are smooth, you are rough, you are swaying, you stand tough… Sometimes I’m jealous of you.

Sometimes I can’t hear you…

Sometimes, the cars and trains, and the visions of tomorrow are pulling on me and I am wondering how to be a better person. There are so many mysteries, and ways to have a look at it, voices of yesterday, the patterns of today, habits to change that can all get the best of it.

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But there you are anyway.

Fearless, beautiful and strong. Features vast and wise, silent and powerful.

I begin to think you and I weren’t made much differently after all.

But still, I am me, and you are you, made unique.

Maybe I will just rest here a minute in the shade of your branches. Maybe we’ll have one of those magical moments when a piece of you falls perfectly into the palm of my hand as I lie here– listening to the wind as it romances the everything in between, all the elements dancing in electric particles of light –at first, I might jump at the touch of you on my skin, but then I’ll smile foolishly as I glance at the sight of your invitation to dance.

To dance… Yes, like dancing particles of light, we will dance.

Like Sufi mystics: You and me, without moving we dance, we are danced, we are the dance.

Without speaking, we fall in Love…

Soon I cannot even see you anymore, but the sight of you is not where we are now.

I do not want you now, and I can’t resist you. But that’s because you are everywhere, and I am there too. Here, in a wave of my own heart, rippling into soft open rings of why I came here in the first place, the rhythm takes my mind into currents of all these wide open spaces where names go unknown and territories have faded.

Once we have learned to listen to you, we reach that consummate joy, that happiness of knowing we are in our perfect place, in the midst of it all. In the center, there is this kind of sight that breathes color, a rainbow liquid life that radiates the passage of time. Every year, another circle. Every year, growing outward and upward with maps of stars and suns and moons guiding our way. We will build temples to house our excitement, as the sun births flowers, seeds, and trees inside spiraling ladders that bring forth new dreams. What a view, what reverie! The clouds fly effortlessly. Smooth blue rivers swirl by, seamlessly sewing the gravity flow of friction and grace. Finding what is profoundly commonplace.

Creator and Creation are One

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Each painting has a spirit, and as the sketching and roughing in smooths away, its pulse entwines with mine. There comes a point when it is no longer dependent on me for its sole sustenance. Yes, I am the one who ultimately spreads all the paint around and adds that finishing touch, but once it reaches a certain point in its gestation, it’s as if we are feeding each other, and the creator and creation become one and the same.

What’s Your Flow?

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What do you enjoy rubbing up against?

And no, this is not (necessarily) a sexual inuendo. 🙂

I’m literally asking what is it that you absolutely LOVE doing that is just challenging enough to push you to the max of your abilities? Something that, once you are fully engaged with, takes you into a sort of time warp, and your chatter mind disappears. This experience demands your full attention, and in turn, the aliveness and intensity within it eliminates the space in your mind to dilly dally with self-consciousness. You are at your most heightened awareness, and it is profoundly energizing. It feels like MAGIC!

This is also what is referred to as Flow. It is a state of complete concentration with oneself, where we are at one with our passion, and it is the key to any creative process, and well, life itself. Whether you are painting, studying, climbing a mountain, raising a child, writing, fixing a car, washing dishes, if you are fully involved with what you are doing because it FEEDS you, you are in a state of Flow.

So, what’s YOUR Flow?
Do you know it intimately?
Do you long for it to happen more often?

Take a moment right now to recognize what gets you there. It can be more than one thing. Even if it only happens once in awhile, put your finger on it, and sit with the warmth and excitement you feel in your heart to be with that. It’s a great place to be isn’t it? Relish in it. Linger in it. Let it consume you and take hold of your life. May it be a blessing to all the world for you to be in that state of Flow as much as possible, for it will bring you into a way of being that is entirely contagious and worth living for.

::: Peeling Back the Layers :::

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This piece of material I’m hiding behind represents most of the peel off my palette from painting the Bliss Camp mural. Peeling it all off and holding this beautiful swirly thing in my hands makes me happy. It’s funny to think that THIS represents one strange unique aspect of my entire journey of this latest painting project…

(To visit the painting I speak of, click HERE)

::: A Lil’ Sompin’ Sompin’ :::

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These last 21 months, I have experienced incredibly sweet and sometimes exquisitely excruciating growing pains as an artist with an entirely new kind of creation: a BABY. Yes, a real life baby! Biggest art project yet. Best times ever. Best challenges. Best lessons. Best rewards. Best tears. Best smiles. Best everything… Holy wOw!

It is hard to entirely imagine what this world of parenting is like until you are actually IN it. It is as equally hard to describe. It’s full on. It’s full on spiritual, full of paradoxes and the ineffable.

And to think I was busy before having a kid. Ha!

So how do you mom it AND art it up?

Life is a journey, with many twists and turns, many choices made along the way that make MY journey different from YOURS. En route, I have made the effort to share my experiences as an artist as genuinely as possible… my hopes, my fears, my successes, my failures. Now that I am a mom, I am looking at all this with an even deeper view, one filled with the ups and downs of being a new parent. The underlying foundation seems to be the same, but with greater responsibility and considerations in mind. What it still always boils down to?

The Art of Perseverance.

Art is my life.
I make it.
I share it.

And, what have I learned with this latest mural project?
How to keep painting and stay disciplined and “do my thang” WITH kid.

Painting is a very focused, one-pointed meditation. That means I do not paint when Aiza is awake. For this project, I painted about 3 hours every other night for 3 months, AFTER I put Aiza to bed at around 9pm. There were so many nights when I just wanted to PLOP and ploop out after a looooong day of baby snail trail clean up, but I grabbed my brushes anyway.

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How do I keep at it?
Like a dear friend once told me, “You got to WANT it.”

I mean reeeeeeeally WANT IT! To paint is to love. My unfolding body of work is my lifelong lover. How do you keep the fires burning? How do you keep things fresh and joyful? How do you get through the shit storms? These are the same questions I ask with greater fervency every time I feel like maaaaaybe today I won’t paint. Like, what? Like, maybe today you won’t kiss the love of your life, even if they piss you off sometimes? I don’t think so!

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And sometimes, you just can’t find your groove for 3 goddamn hours straight, and it just feels like wrestling. The point is that you show up anyway, and that includes taking small timeouts. It takes a LOT of focus and discipline to do what you love and not to mention– be your own boss! 🙂 Eventually, after doing something for so long with some kind of schedule, things do become routine. Choosing regular paint time becomes habit. And hopefully you don’t fall off it. And well, if you do, you just gotta get back on it. No shame, and no excuses.

We humans tend to glamorize something we think is cool, like making art, or music, or *fill in the blank*. Just because it’s “creative” doesn’t mean that it’s all FUN. Sometimes it’s really challenging! Sometimes being in love has its crappy moments, but if you’re committed, if you’re willing to work on things, the reward is infinite.

Happy creating!

 

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Strike a Prose

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This laboring woman takes a break. I look at the progress pics–the progress PICKS– back and forth, back and forth, and back again. Searching for a clue, a hidden feature that I didn’t see before… What a relief to see how much this painting has grown! These pictures, capsules in time of the gestation period that is hard to imagine or remember as it nears its end.

I ask my friend for the story, for a symbol, a place to rest and get a new view.

“I’m not an artist,” she says, “not like you!” The astonishment shining in her eyes that I would beseech her grace in finding my way with my paint!

But this is how I continue on, in the heart, the ART of everyone’s song. If there is truth that I can find in the “master of canvas,” and they can show me the way, tell me where to find her. But for now, I ask all the world at my side, “What is the next step?”

Sometimes, all I have are questions. The vision stream takes a long pause, eddying round a bit. And while I toil over the next move, I take a breath. Sometimes, when I walk into the room, and the painting and I raise our gaze, my heart starts to race. I get nervous. I wonder intensely what do I say? It’s clear we have so much more to do together, but sometimes I am rendered speechless by the immensity of our partnership… and mostly simultaneously, I am also deeply comforted by the knowledge I have as creator — and so, I must take the stage. Act Three, scene 1. Curtains raised:

Some Soul Advice

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It’s true, you cannot “make” creativity happen, BUT, if you show up, and dedicate a certain amount of time to your practice as an artist, the Muse will see your commitment and grant you with beautiful works of art. Even if that means sitting in front of the canvas for 1.5 hours without painting and just tuning in with the piece and really feeling into what it wants to be. Sometimes that is all is needed. And then you go back the next day, and the clarity of vision from your visit the day before will pour through with some paint. The point is, we, as artists, need to “show UP” for true inspiration to come through. If you have another job, commit to 30 minutes a day to working on your art. See what happens. Promise to show up and focus your energy on just art for that 30 minutes, and I assure you that something good will come from it.

Good Times Magazine – The Art of Awareness

 

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Below is the Good Times article “The Art of Awareness” in which I am a featured artist.

(And yes, that is a picture of me with a butterfly on my face on the cover of the magazine…)

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A community of local visionary artists is making higher consciousness visible

As I step inside a cave-like structure on Soquel Avenue, a burly, tattooed man glances up from a laptop computer. He’s heavily peacocked in exotic jewelry and space-age gypsy/tribal rock star clothing, and there’s a sizeable splash of blue-green dye in the punky plumage erupting from his scalp. It’s an impressive look: Picture a Road Warriorcharacter whose battle gear has been given a lysergic acid patina.

“Are you the guy from the magazine?” he inquires.

I answer affirmatively, scanning the profusion of otherworldly images on the walls. This establishment is called Constant Creation, and the name is no hyperbole: The entire building is abuzz with nonstop artistic activity. Upstairs, a nude young woman is having her body airbrushed with what looks like astral graffiti, and in the back of the studio, a striking mural-in-progress gives off the smell of fresh paint. All told, the place has the feel of a subterranean shelter where a small band of utopian artist-anarchists is waiting out the apocalypse.

The galactic warrior introduces himself as Rio Gordon. His appearance has accurately told his story: A former Navy serviceman who fought in the first Gulf War, he went through a major metamorphosis after being accidentally dosed with LSD at a party—an experience that he says opened his eyes to “what a dangerous thing the war machine was; the commodity of war; war culture.”

Gordon is passing through Santa Cruz from his home in Hawaii, where he oversees Alchemeyez Visionary Arts Congress (alchemeyez.com), an annual three-day festival that he says is “fast becoming one of the benchmark enclaves of visionary artists coming together to create art and to celebrate our culture and our vision.” He describes the space we’re standing in as “the heart of visionary art in the Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay Area. I don’t think there’s anything this pointed, clear, visionary, directed, going on in the South Bay area.”

For those unfamiliar with Gordon’s terminology, visionary art can be understood as art that expresses mystic vision. Its cosmic imagery—DNA helixes, fractals, serpents, mandalas, light beings and other such spirit-stuff—will instantly strike a chord with viewers who have experienced visionary states via meditation, breathwork, shamanic practices, etc. For others, the work of wildly talented artists like Alex Grey, Luke Brown, Amanda Sage, Martina Hoffman, Robert Venosa, Kati Astraeir and Adam Scott Miller can serve as an introductory brochure.

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Snakes on a plain: Pierre Riche’s “Healing Eye” at Burning Man.

It should surprise no one that Santa Cruz, with its wealth of psychonauts and spiritual explorers, is home to a number of gifted artists keeping pictorial records of their journeys to the glowing interior realms. Recent times have seen visionary art cropping up in such establishments as Felton’s ArtisTree and Water Street’s DiviniTree Yoga & Art Center, as well as in arts collectives like 9: Circles of Creation and on the easels of such past and present Santa Cruz dwellers as Adrian Rasmussen, Matt Jones, Sara Huntley and Laurus Myth. Special mention must also be made of Boulder Creek’s Andrew Jones (a.k.a. Android Jones), who couldn’t be reached for this article, but whose work is, in a word, staggering. I defy you to view the entirety of his “Night Rainbow Series” without swearing.

Across the board, the local visionary artists who took the time to talk with GT proved to be caring, authentic, exceptionally positive human beings. What follows is a mural of colorful insights and stories culled from our discussions of that which is utterly beyond discussion.

Universal Pictures

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Clay Chollar

Clay Chollar, the founder of Constant Creation (facebook.com/Constant-Creationz), is an affable young airbrush artist, musician and graphic designer whom some readers will have seen creating freestyle paintings at music events and festivals. The urban-alien look of his art reflects his days growing up in Santa Cruz, when he cut his teeth by spray-painting images on plywood walls, under bridges and on couches.

Rocking a cheery grin and a casual street look—fedora, green hoodie, goatee, spectacles—Chollar (mindaltar.com) explains that he feels the act of creating art is a visionary experience in itself. “I think no matter what kind of art you’re doing, it’s channeling something through you into form,” he offers. That said, he believes that visionary art plays a particularly important role in a paradigm shift that humanity is presently undergoing. “These images—sacred geometry and these ancient images, goddesses and all that—are what we’re heading toward. Those are images that are re-linking us to our ancestors who were doing this.”

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Another tough day at the office for Clay Chollar

The notion of re-linking to our ancestry is near and dear to East Coast-bred, Chicago Art Institute-trained metal sculptor Pierre Riche, who moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Francisco approximately six months ago. A handful of Riche’s works can currently be seen in the Downtown Santa Cruz gallery Art du Jour, and his eight-foot-tall metal mask sculpture “Metaface” was recently displayed at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, enhanced by projected visuals courtesy of Clay Chollar. Burning Man goers may be familiar with his fire-shooting, water-dripping sculpture “Healing Eye”, an 11-foot-tall pyramid topped off by 18-foot-high copper wings. Adorning the front of the piece is a representation of rising kundalini (spiritual energy that many yoga practitioners believe can be raised from the base of the spine to the top of the head). Add some LEDs, video projections and various sound components, and the result is a virtual kundalini awakening.

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Pierre Riche

As Riche (richeart.com) explains, “Healing Eye” was inspired by an experience he had in the mid-2000s in which he himself became a burning man: Under the heady influence of ayahuasca, an Amazonian herbal brew with certain life-changing properties, he directed his awareness into his body in order to “burn off old, stagnant DNA and transform it into more evolved DNA.” According to the sculptor, “Our awareness is light. When we bring awareness into the cells, we’re bringing light into the cells—with the assistance of medicine plants, of course, because it’s very difficult to do that otherwise.” He likens this experience to that of turning on a light in a dark room. “It seemed like when that change occurred, there was a fire that took place: a transmutation; a turning over of what was there, and a replacing with something else.” Riche feels that this process was ancestrally linked. “And I think a lot of visionary art does that: It reaches not only within our own psyche, but into our ancestral heritage. We’re not only healing and transforming ourselves, but we’re healing and transforming our ancestors. We are made up of all our ancestors’ DNA, so when we change that, we’re really reaching back into our past and changing them, in a sense.”

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Ishka Lha

While various mind-altering jungle juices and power plants have played a considerable role in the creation of much visionary art, they’re far from the only means of accessing mystical states of consciousness. For instance, Ishka Lha, a local painter who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from California Polytechnic State University, says that immediately after her fourth year of college, she was traveling through Portugal when “something happened.” At the time, she was “partying a lot, drinking every night—just kind of normal college whatever.” While staying at a hostel with 18 or 20 people from all over the world, she underwent a spontaneous spiritual awakening. “I felt like I was tripping for a few days!” she recalls. “I couldn’t even sleep. For the next month after that, actually, I watched every single sunrise except for two, I think. I wasn’t eating that much. It was almost like I was catapulted into a kundalini awakening.”

Her life and art were forever transformed. At that point, Lha, who had been drawing portraits and painting images from the outside world for many years, began depicting her inner visions. She’s since become an active contributor to the visionary art movement: On the day of our interview, she has just finished painting this year’s official Burning Man entrance sign (vimeo.com/47765828) with an artist named Mad Dog, and in June of this year, after placing in a contest presented by the organization Artists Wanted, her piece “Avatara” appeared on a 15-foot video screen in New York’s Times Square. “It was cool to have some of my intergalactic, alien creatures staring at thousands of people,” she says with a gentle laugh.

Though external chemicals didn’t play a part in her cosmic coming-of-age, and though she notes that visionary states can also be accessed through meditation and ecstatic dancing, Lha (ishkanexus.com) says that key experiences with plant medicines like ayahuasca have had a huge influence on her work.

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Kuan Yin connects with Green Tara in Ishka Lha’s “The Kiss of Motherpeace.”

“They should always be taken as medicine,” she stresses. “It’s not just a party drug. And not everyone is psychologically capable of handling them, because they are very powerful.” She emphasizes the importance of ingesting these medicines within the framework of a ceremony led by capable, experienced guides who can help the journeyer navigate through potentially rough terrain. According to the painter, when used in this way, ayahuasca “breaks so many barriers down that cause us to believe that we’re separate from each other, that we have to protect ourselves in everyday life. You’re able to really see the connection between all things: all people, plants, minerals, animals, interdimensional spirits, star beings and beyond.”

Chollar, too, emphasizes the importance of using psychedelics as sacraments rather than as party favors. “Art is sacred,” he notes. “When you’re doing sacred art, you need to use [these materials] in a sacred way.” He adds that tripping is not a prerequisite to becoming a visionary artist. “For me, the art is meditation, and that will take me to transcendental places on its own.”

While Rio Gordon acknowledges that psychedelics are of great value to him, he’s quick to add, “Let me be very clear—they are not the linchpin. They’re like a graphic equalizer for the music; they’re the fine-tunings behind the best theatrical presentations. But I don’t need them to make art at all.” A student of Tibetan Buddhism, he also gets mental images for his work by way of meditation, yoga, dietary disciplines, holotropic breathing, sound healing and other such practices.

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Ishka Lha’s ‘Avatara’ competes with NASDAQ for the consciousness of humanity

Local painter/graphic designer Jen Jenuine (jenuineart.com) says that much of her work is inspired by emotional experiences, deep breathing, meditation and connection with other humans. She recalls coming out of a particularly influential talk by astrophysicist Nassim Haramein “knowing that all points in space are infinite.” From that point on, everyone she looked in the eyes appeared to her as a limitless hole into space, God and all potential. “It’s hard, in the world we live in today, to maintain that level of inspiration and connection,” she says. “But if you have the mindfulness, through meditation, daily practice, connection with nature, connection with your kids, your cat, another person—all of those things can bring you closer to God.”

Don’t let the mention of God fool you, though—this isn’t your Father’s spirituality. In Lha’s words, “It’s not looking at some creator beyond us that’s not connected to us and is greater than us. It’s being able to see into the creator within as the Creator; as a miraculous being that’s also human.” Her mission, she says, is to translate this experience into art that allows viewers to feel the same thing in themselves.

Gordon puts it a different way: “The mystical experience is our inheritance. It belongs to all of us. No one can consign it, and no one can define it. I’m not monotheistic; I think that there are 6.9 billion gods. I’m not into churches; I’m into temples. I want to create environments where everybody’s authentic spiritual experience is welcomed and has a place.”

Transfigurations

Though visionary art is inextricably tied to the sacred, you don’t have to be mystically inclined to appreciate its underlying message. Even the most hardened of hippie haters may recognize in these images the presence of something vast, familiar and important—an ancient, compassionate intelligence reaching out to a world that has lost its way.

As Pierre Riche observes, “So many people in the world today are lacking hope. They’re looking towards the media, the latest trends, the government, to tell them what’s happening. What are people looking for today as a vision of the future, as a vision of hope? There’s not a lot out there.”

He adds that art serves an important function at a time when traditional patterns are crumbling and new ones are being created. “It’s important to have a vision, because we are creating what’s happening; we are manifesting the future. If we don’t manifest the future we want, we’re going to end up with a future that the corporate elite and people in government or dictators around the world want this world to look like. I think visionary art holds a key for a vision that is supportive of the earth, the spirit and the heart, is connected to love and is ultimately peaceful.”

In the interest of helping manifest that vision, Riche has created aquaponic systems into which he’s incorporated original artwork. By pumping water from fish tanks to plant troughs, these systems enable their users to produce food in a way that requires approximately 90 percent less water than traditional farming. In making this technology available, Riche hopes to help empower people, including those in third-world countries, to sustainably grow organic produce “so that we don’t have to be reliant on Monsanto and these [other] companies that are poisoning the food.”

This fusion of art and permaculture exemplifies Riche’s view of visionary art as a window to a better way of life. From his perspective, this movement isn’t just about “pretty pictures and ‘Wow, I’m trippin’ out on this psychedelic imagery.’ That’s a good basis for it, but there’s a message in there: Let’s clear ourselves so we can be ready for what’s coming at us right now, and have the tools to implement these important technologies—organic food-growing technologies, sustainable technologies—so we can get through this mess.”

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‘Transfiguration of Sophia’ by Sara Huntley (sarahuntley.weebly.com).

Gordon, who is living proof that a warlike mindset can be transmuted into a peaceful one, is outspoken about the role art can play in helping humanity transition from one state of being to another. “I think visionary artists are the cartographers of a new era,” he declares. “As a species, if we were going to visualize where we were going to get to, how we want to be, what we want to sound like, what we want to look like, well, it takes visionary artists to create these maps and say, ‘This is how it will be.’”

Such sentiments are echoed by Patrick Sellers and Andrew O’Keefe, whom I encounter at the Felton collective ArtisTree. For the past year and a half, they’ve been touring with Ukiah, California’s Tribe 13 Gallery, setting up art installations at festivals. As a means of putting the visionary art movement in context, Sellers references a recent piece by painter Mark Henson, a former resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In Sellers’ words, this painting, “New Pioneers,” depicts a line of people “migrating from this dark, chaotic, hellish world on one side to beautiful green pastures on the other side.” He sees this as the quintessential statement of visionary art’s mission: “How do we, as humans, transcend the negatives of what our society has created and create something new? What is that new thing, and how do we get to it?” Visionary artists, he says, are “drawing that out for other people to understand and relate to, and giving people something to work towards, something tangible and visual that you can experience.”

O’Keefe, who is traditionally trained in video editing and production, observes that throughout history, art has anticipated developments in technology. “Visionary art seems to be speaking to more collective experience that humans are having, so the more that’s disseminated, the more people recognize that this is something concrete and is happening,” he states. “It almost becomes a language people can use to communicate experiences that couldn’t be articulated before.” He shares an insight from Laurence Caruana, author of “Manifesto of Visionary Art,” who sees works of visionary art as mileposts. “We’re all walking through the sand, and this art is serving to offer affirmation that we’re on the right path,” O’Keefe paraphrases.

As Riche points out, we have arrived at a point in history when human intelligence is exponentially increasing. “Technology is going so fast; humanity’s learning rate is crunching and doubling,” he notes. “That’s factually proven. The information that we’re getting and the discoveries we’re coming up with—human consciousness is going off the charts. And I think that’s the same with our spirituality: We’re expanding at an incredible rate. I think visionary art helps us incorporate and assimilate all these changes that are going on in a very profound yet practical way … and realize that ultimately, we are spiritual beings.”


Photo Credit: JEREMEY BOT