Thursday, July 21, 2011

Art and Spirituality Interview - #1 "Where does your art come from?"

Last year my friend Ellen Hammond interviewed me about my career, art, and spirituality. Over a series of 9 posts, I will be sharing the interview here. It contains a lot of ideas and explanations that are central to my approach to art, expression, and life in general.

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Ellen: Where does your art come from?

Alex: Where it all comes from is something that I have learned over the years. When I was beginning, maybe in my early twenties, my art and my music felt like they came from different places. I would generally make art about what seemed like fantasy and visionary sorts of themes, whereas music was about my feelings and emotions and relationships - they seemed very, very different. And then over the years as I explored them both pretty equally, as they both became more spiritualized, as I dug deeper and deeper because I loved them so much, they became closer, and closer, until it was clear that their source was not different. At some point, it dawned on me that all the ideas that I'm having and loving are coming from a source that is not me, because I'm not making up a thought. It's more like I'm receiving a thought. Even if I'm the first person ever in the world to think it, it's not that I made it up. Rather, I innocently received it. Things became much simpler when I realized that they weren't separated, the music, the art, the poetry, whatever - making jokes in a conversation – I began to see that it is all coming from the same good place. And it works best when I'm not afraid, when I'm not concerned about how I appear to others, when I'm just working, just listening. And that felt really profound to see that all my favorite ideas came from the same place. At that point I started to feel like making a song is effectively the same thing as making a painting except I'm using a different way to express an idea. Outwardly they're different but at the point I see that I'm just dealing with ideas, it's all sort of the same.

E: Can you pinpoint why you were initially drawn to making pictures?

A: Well I had never painted a mural until I was 23 years old and I was making stuff years before that. As a kid I was drawing. I started to feel like something really wonderful was happening around the age of 17. I remember walking around my little suburban hometown late at night. I started going on walks and it just seemed like the whole world was beautiful. You know, the street lights coming through the leaves in the summer. That's one of the first images in the world that I noticed was beautiful - electric street lights illuminating these green leaves in the summer night. And to my little 17 year old high school heart, I was like “Wow that was beautiful!” and so I started making drawings of it, and of myself walking underneath them. It was really an exploration of “Who am I?” I liked depicting my own life and thinking about my own life, and making a record of it in drawings and paintings, marker sketches and such. I had just started playing guitar a few years before that. The exciting thing was to explore what my life is about – "Who am I?" and "What are these feelings that I'm having?" And so that was sort of the beginning of the path. Art was very important to me long before I ever made a mural.

Then, years later, when I started making murals it was for no better reason than that I didn’t like the idea of pleading with a gallery to show my work.

E: Like for the process of being approved or rejected? Like trying to conform to what you think that gallery is looking for?

A: Exactly.

To me, this creation, this creativity is the purest thing I know of in my life. At that point, there is nothing I love more than that. I thought there's got to be a way for me to do this and have it remain completely pure and not immediately submit to this thing to commerce and what felt like impurity. I knew nothing - nothing about galleries or anything like that, but it certainly has a reputation of being not the most supportive community in the world. It's obviously a really broad community and there are good experiences and bad experiences. My thought at that time was, if you put your stuff in a gallery you may get a show, and you may get a smattering of people who come and see your work, but how many people actually go to a gallery on any given day? How many people actually go to a museum? It's not really that many!

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