Ravi Zupa


Interview conducted by Adam Gildar

 

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Ravi Zupa - Self Portrait

 


July 2nd, 2010.

It's past 1AM at Illiterate on the morning of Ravi Zupa's first solo gallery exhibition, titled appropriately, "The Pyre". Ravi and I are both working inside the gallery, with only a box fan for air conditioning, pushing around hot air in a room at temperatures condusive to bikram yoga. Neither of us will leave the gallery until well after the sun's rays are amplified again through the glass on the gallery's storefront windows, and then it will only be for a few brief hours before the gallery grows even hotter with a constant flow of body's belonging to Ravi's eager admirers and collectors. At the moment we're both focused silently on our respective tasks as we prepare for the opening that evening. He, in overalls and no shoes, makes the final arrangments on his menacing masked puppets, fixing their hair, adding machetes and rusted tools, patching and painting where needed, while I work at the front desk to complete the various last minute administrative and promotional functions that inevitably arise within the last 24 hours before a major exhibiti opens.

At 2:45AM Ravi, showing no visible signs of the fatigue that I'm positive he must be feeling, agrees begrudgingly to set down his work to conduct what I promise will be a brief interview for Illiterate's website, on the condition that we do so while walking to his house three blocks away to pick up more paint and a few beers as we settle into the hours of work ahead. As we walk down Broadway, in a rare baren state, a dialog consisting of formulaic questions and terse responses, quickly delves beyond shalow brevity into a sprawling conversation spanning Ravi's creative philosophy including the dangers of animation, why art school doesn't matter, liberal white people's fear of offending with symbolic imagery, children's art and why it's important when looking at a Buddhist tanka not to mistake an upside down skull cap with disembodied eyes and a tongue for a lotus flower.

 

 

 

 

AG: Why don’t we start with where you got started. How  did your creative process get to be where it’s at now?
 
RZ: Well I started the same time everybody does and just kept doing it. And my family is real creative, everybody in my family, and that’s it.


AG: What’s you’re family’s creative background? How did they inspire you?

RZ: Everybody in my family is artistic. I mean everyone when we were young was artistic – some people have dropped out and taken on other things – but it was always just part of the house. Art was like breakfast or something: everybody just did it.


AG: You've mentioned before that your brother was an artist, are your mother and father too?

RZ: My mom is a teacher, she teaches art to kids.


AG: Where did you grow up?
 
RZ: Littleton.

 
AG: How did you make it all the way from Littleton to Denver?
 
RZ: The bus.

 

 

 

 

AG: You spent some time in the bay area, how did that progression go? What drew you out there and what brought you back?

RZ: I wanted to be an animator. Well I didn’t even really know, but I thought I was sort of interested in animation so I just went out there and got a job doing animation and learned how to do it, and figured out that I didn’t’ like it very much. It was fucking murder on my body, and gave me a terrible injury in my arm.


AG: Really? Animating? How did that happen?

RZ: It’s really such precise work. You have to be controlled with everything you do. I was doing the drawings in pencil – they don’t do cells anymore where they use ink, instead, everything is done with a pencil super dark and crisp. The lines have to be brushstroke lines, so your putting very, very hard pressure all the time on your muscles in your hand and your back for eight hours a day, and it’s horrible work. I mean the subject matter is just so fucking boring and stupid that there’s nothing psychologically positive about it, so your body takes a toll for that…for me – I mean some people loved it, and I respect that, because they really get into the art of motion, but I don’t. I realized there that I’m more interested in variety of images. When you do animation you’re doing hundreds of the same drawing over and over again, and it’s horrible.

 

 

 

 


AG: In some ways it seems that it’s at least influenced your work now, in the sense that you still do animated music videos.


RZ: I mean I do that kind of animation still too, traditional style, but part of it is that I’m not doing Oompa Loompas or Colonel Sanders dancing the cabbage patch and shit. It’s interesting. It’s stuff that I’m interested in doing, which changes it. I mean I love movies. Putting time and dimension to your art and painting is great, but drawing Colonel Sander is fucking stupid.


AG: Do you feel that in anyway that influenced your work now, that’s it’s a reaction in anyway towards that commercial work?
 
RZ: No. I mean, probably not. I just don’t care. My stuff isn’t fighting commercial art really. It’s just trying to be what it is. I don’t think it is commercial art, but I don’t think it’s combating it. I mean it’s combating some things.

 

 

 

Ravi Zupa

 


AG: I was going to ask you about that. It seems like a lot of your work has a political component to it, but you can’t really tell if you’re in favor of something, that instead of belonging to a camp, you’re on the edges pulling up the stakes. Where does social activism play into the art?
 
RZ:  I mean it’s not really social activism, because it doesn’t really help anybody. It doesn’t hurt anybody, which is good, but certainly the art itself is not activism. It definitely is thematically about politics– I do self identify as an anarchist – but most of the art is not about some indictment or some specific conclusion.

 

 

AG: That’s one of the things I found interesting about your work right away: that it doesn’t fall into an easily readable, one-way messaging…

RZ: Yeah, well who wants that!? If you want to read a book, read a book. If you want to read a sentence that makes perfect logical sense, that’s what you should do. If you want to have the experiences and thoughts that come with art for me, I’d much rather see images and create images that have some kind of space between things, space between conclusions.

 

 

 

Ravi Zupa

 

 

AG: Looking at the show, you have a lot of words within the pieces themselves. Where do those come from? Are you pulling quotes, or are these things you’re thinking up yourself?
 
RZ: It’s a mixture. Half of them are probably my own thoughts, or reactions to the pieces, things that just come into my brain. Most often it’s that, like a reaction to the piece. But then actually in this case, half of them, maybe more in this case, are from the book (The Pyre). Probably a considerable amount in this show are Tim [Holland’s] poem, and I’ve just pulled pieces out of that poem and played with them, but changed them and taken liberties with them a lot.

 

 

 

 


AG: There’s an interesting connection between writing poetry and painting going back to the Greeks. Heracles said, “to the poet, so too is the painter”. I’m curious, working with Tim (Holland), how that worked out. Did he have all the poetry and then you took that and built off of it, or was it something where you had imagery and then he worked on the poem?

RZ: It just both. It was a real reciprocal process. It’s kind of an interesting book, because it’s not dominant either way, I don’t think. In my feel of it, it doesn’t feel like it’s a poetry book with art, or an art book with poetry. It’s its own integrative thing, which is really nice for me. And it was the result of a long process of going back and forth, and just being completely autonomous also. So the decision I made about images, which is sort of poetry in itself – making associations and building an image – that was autonomous, I didn’t have to get permission or anything, I just did it. And his was the same. He saw a lot of my images, or didn’t, and just wrote a poem. And then there was a process of going back and forth and joining it more and more and it becoming our cohesive thing.

 

 

 

 

AG: How did the project get started?

RZ: We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, and I’ve been asking him to do it for like five years. But since he’s now here in Denver, it was just the right time, because it’s now possible to sit and be dedicated to the same thing. Because you know, when I’m here and he’s in Spain, or wherever the fuck he was, it’s just not—trying to do it over the internet is just dumb… maybe I will go smoke now that I’ve earned it. Did you finish yours?


AG:  I did, but I’ll definitely be happy to sit outside, it’s definitely a bit sauna-esque in here. Maybe it’s just thematic. Maybe we’re just trying to stick with the Pyre theme.

RZ: No shit, people are going to burn.


AG: They’ll ignite! So getting back to it, how did you and Tim’s relationship come about? I imagine it happened at some point when you were in the Bay Area.

 

 

 

 

RZ: Uh uh. I never knew any of them when I was there. I was there for two years and didn’t know anything about their music, and then when I moved back here, probably a month after I moved back here, a friend of mine gave me a mix tape that he had made, and on it was a Dose One song, and I had never heard anything like it. It was just the most amazing shit. It was like,  “What the fuck is this?! This is so amazing and inspiring and wonderful!", So I was a fan for about a year of cLOUDDEAD, and I didn’t’ know Sole’s stuff really, and I didn’t know Why? – I was just really into Dose. Well I knew cLOUDDEAD, and Why? was in that –  and then on their Mush tour they came and did an in-store performance at Independent records and I just gave them a copy of a bunch of movies I had just finished – I gave them to Yoni, [aka Why?] and said, “If you ever want to do any projects let me know.” And then  he called me like a month later. They flew me there, and I did two videos for Themselves and one for Tim, that’s when I met Tim–  and they were stupid videos, when I look at them now, they’re so fucking dumb – Actually, I shouldn’t say that– I  actually really like the content of them, I like the images and the theme of them, but I was totally, manically trying to figure out how to do shit, and I was fucking up shit all over the place, so they’re low-fi and dirtydirty in a bad waylike just ugly shitty videos, but I like the content of them, and I’ve actually kind of revisited them in the last two years and made them something that I’m really proud of.


AG: Do you feel that way with any of your other visual work? Do you look back on it, and it’s not what you like?

RZ:  Definitely. I’m sure if you talk to me a year from now, I’m not going to like a good portion of the shit in here [Illiterate]. Maybe, I don’t know. I do feel like now I feel more happy with my artwork than I ever have, definitely. But you know, it’s not worth shit if you still like it a year from now, then it’s fucking trash.

 

 

 

AG: Do you feel there’s a certain amount of dissatisfaction that fuels your fire to continue to push your style?

RZ: Yeah I think anything is like that. I mean science is like that. Everything is like that. If you’re not building and figuring out what to do new and interesting, then you’ve failed totally. You know if you’re like, “Oh, this is my thing and I’m just going to stick to it,” it’s just boring, with everything. Like a theory of child development or something like that, “Oh we’ve figured it out. Here it is. We’ve got it,” that’s so boring. Like Jesus, figure out what’s next then!

 

 

 


AG: What’s interesting within science, and maybe it holds true for art, in science I think of people making theories and then someone picks up the torch and improves on it. It’s this constant collaboration based on competition to a degree. I’m curious if you’re in competition with yourself, or if there are people that you’re looking to and work off of. Is it a communal process of competition or something more hermetic?

RZ: I like art so much and there are so many ways to draw a face, I mean millions, infinite ways of getting across something, and infinite things to get across, I don’t really like the competition model. I think it’s going to be a component of anybody, like you said about science, but it’s kind of a horrific side of things most of the time. Sometimes maybe it’s cool, but mostly it’s just a mess because it’s so much ego– and I certainly have that. I’m not going to tell you that I don’t have a competitiveness, but I don’t’ respect that part of me, and I try not to give it any credence or accentuate it, or definitely don’t let that fuel anything because it’s just poisonous. I mean it doesn’t even make any sense, especially in something like art. I mean it does when you’re running, or if you’re a mountaineer and you’re trying to be the best ice-climber.

 

 

 

Ravi Zupa

 


AG: What I get from your art, is that it’s not something that your just doing as entertainment. It seems that it contains some level of philosophical pursuit. What is the thing that gets you up saying, “These are the things I’m going to create”?

RZ: For me most often it’s the opposite of competition. For me, I’m so excited about art, so many kinds of art, I don’t want to defeat art or defeat anything or anybody. I’m so affected by art so often and my way of feeling excited about it is to want to do it. So if I see a painting that I love, it’s rare for me to love it in a really disconnected way. The way that I love it is to say, “This is what I want to try.” If you’re really being affected by a piece of art, it’s going inside your body and it’s having an affect on you and it’s becoming a part of you. It naturally does every moment that you look at it. If it’s something that’s really exciting, it’s exciting because it’s something that’s becoming you, and then you can use it. I’m biting art all over the place, because I love it so much. I don’t just want to like—I want to just pull things in and find out how they are me, the ways in which these kinds of art are me, and then give them to you for you to have the same experience.

 

 

 

Ravi Zupa

 


AG: A lot of the images that you ‘bite’, the styles, a lot of them have huge significance to groups of people and traditional symbolic imagery. What are your relationships to those cultures and what level of investigation goes on with them?

RZ: Well, you know, people are interesting. Especially religious imagery that you’re talking about, and large cultural forces are something that everybody is involved in, always, and there are infinite ways that those things manifest, infinite ways of talking about forces, and they all take on the names of gods, or they’ll take on the names of political ideas, or whatever it is, and then we— for me, like I said, for me it’s a way to feel connected to people so much. All of those forces are coming from us, we are so complicated as people, not just the artist, but everybody is creating these complicated forces, or communing with these complicated forces and then... I’m getting too complex… I mean ok, a more kind of direct and explicit answer, my mother was raised protestant and then for the last 40 some years she’s been part of a religion that’s sort of a derivative version of Sikhism, which is a form of reformed Hinduism, it’s like monotheistic Hinduism, but her specific spiritual path sort of, it’s hard to explain, but she’s still a Christian, but she’s also this Sihk who meditates. She lives on an ashram actually, a religious community of other Satsangi’s they’re called. So it’s this Hindi thing from India. So I’m sort of raised in that, my mom is very religious and very connected to that tradition, so I’ve always been around Asian philosophies and arts, and was raised in it and connected to it in a philosophical way in some point, but at the same time I’m also an American who is white, and I’m living in this culture which is predominantly Protestant, or whatever it is— it’s own American Protestantism— and that’s, you know, just all these different things. A lot of it is about where those two things meet here— eastern religion and philosophy meets western religion and functionality— and where those two things meet, and sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s really horrendous.

 

 

 


AG: I’m curious about some of the use of imagery and words in the pieces. In some ways I see that colliding aspect occurring, and I wonder how much of that is you, your personal experience, and how much of it is at a distance or observational on a societal level?

RZ: I don’t know. Its for me, how do you feel connected to people. I really like religion as a force, I think it’s really interesting and great, and it’s coming from somewhere that’s really wonderful and really horrendous, and whatever, it’s all these different things, and the things that are described in religion and religious art, and iconic cannons, they are a communion with really complicated parts of everybody. I’m certainly an atheist, I don’t believe in some literal existence of any god, that’s true, but for me, I don’t feel that’s what’s interesting – I don’t think atheism is interesting. What’s interesting, is figuring out how god does exist, not how he doesn’t, or how it doesn’t.

 

 

 

Ravi Zupa

 


AG: Would you find yourself to be somebody that has a level of spirituality even though you’re an atheist?

RZ: Yeah absolutely. I mean everything is spiritual, but there’s just no magic. There’s no magic and there is no god, and there’s nothing like that, but there’s obviously a lot of complexity, and we are fucking incredible complex things. That’s what it is.


AG: The conflict inherent within the work is one of the things that sticks out most to me: trying to reconcile how we deal with symbolic imagery, and figuring out what our own value system is. You’re utilizing a lot of militant weaponry and violence plays a large aspect within the work, do you feel that these are modern symbols as iconic as religious imagery, that these are objects from an American spiritualism or religion?

RZ: This is a really common and ancient process, of people taking things and… It’s funny that we’re living in a unique age where it seems strange to do that, to take images and objects that are modern and put them into historical context, or profoundly significant historical mythology. But if you look at religious art of any period, it was always— you see like Mary and Joseph wearing Medieval garb. They’re wearing clothing from 1000 years later, which is the equivalent of dressing Joan of Arc up as an insurgent, and that, at the time when it was happening, it was just like, “this is normal,” it was like “oh that’s what Jesus looked like, Jesus wore that shit, because that’s what I wear,” you know? And that made sense. And then there’s this strange thing that’s happened more recently, maybe it’s this broader understanding of how history does evolve, or maybe they were totally aware of it, they said, “shit, there’s no way they were actually wearing this shit”

 

 

 

 

 

AG: What seems shocking about it now, is that we live in an American era, though we could say it’s Protestant, which in some ways is fairly existential and skeptical, in which the church is not what it used to be, and the main form of communication doesn’t necessarily utilize religious imagery. I can’t say that I know of a lot of prominent religious painters in a western context…

RZ: There might be just as many actually, but there are more people. There’s more integration. Globalization has changed the way we think about it.


AG:  Maybe not the numbers, but maybe it’s just the idea that it’s not as powerful as it once was.

RZ: I agree. Or maybe it’s just transcribed onto other things. Like the power of some scary demon, if you think about it, if you see images of Saint Theresa being haunted by these demonic things then, they took on the significance of that time. Now, we still have these demons, but they look weird. They look different. They look like aliens or ghosts, but we still have them. There’s still something scary that’s haunting us, a supernatural bully that’s after us, which is really just aspects of us, and that’s why it’s always changing. Now it looks like Freddy Kruger, but it used to look like some bird/insect/elephant/whatever, that was a horrendous scary thing and now it looks like Freddy Kruger

 

 

 

 

 

AG: The difference I would notice is that it’s now viewed as an entertainment item, you might be truly afraid of Freddy Kruger, but now we relegate that to something that’s clearly not real.

RZ: Sort of, although, that shit is still at play, it will never go away, our symbolic relationship with things. These unconscious echelons of reality are always at play, and that’s how they come about. And they are horrendous and scary, and they look like entertainment, but it’s really a way for people to commune with them. And not to say that it’s great, because sometimes people are communing with really bad things, that are really not helping them, and they’re useless and bullshit. They’re not reality, but they’re still parts of us, and it’s still that religious process. And children, don’t have entertainment in their mind. When they see Freddy Kruger they don’t have those filters in place that we do where they’re like “this is fun fake shit”. They’re dropped into that dream world that’s horrible. I remember that happening to me, and not being able to sleep for weeks after a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

AG: Me too! Getting back to the dissatisfaction aspect as a major motivator to create. It also seems that there’s this level of dissatisfaction in your work of whatever the current paradigm is, whether it’s this sense of denial, and exposing that, or something more political, like calling attention to the flaws in capitalism. With this particular show and the book being called The Pyre, do you see that there’s something in need of burning or that is burning already?

RZ: Everything is burning. In any kind of fire things are stuck together and burned, and all of their matter is integrated with the matter of everything else in it, and then it’s disintegrated and pulled apart. The Pyre is the name of the book because it’s the same process, Tim is going through this process of burning shit and putting it all together and letting shit happen. Often it’s not conclusive. There’s no like, “Here’s how we should do things” or “here’s what’s so horrible” or something like that, it’s more like, “Here’s how things are burning together.”

 

 

 

 


AG: That’s an interesting way of putting it. Rather than a destructive force, it’s in some ways a purifying or bringing together of elements…

RZ: Yeah, and nothing is lost. There’s no energy loss or matter loss in a fire. Everything is just changed profoundly. This shit just sounds too pretentious to me!


AG: Well then, let’s get off of tangential philosophical investigations. Let’s talk about technique. You didn’t go to art school, but you have a very technically exacting style. Where did that come from? How did it develop for you?

RZ: I’ve just always liked to draw. My development as a technical draftsperson was like any suburban white kid. It’s all connected to comic books and cartoons – what we were exposed to – the kinds of art that’s there and appealing and marketed to kids. So I learned how to draw comic books and I learned how to draw cartoons, and shit like that, like everybody does, and that’s what’s so pervasive right now: cartoons, comic books and graffiti art, and that’s what everybody does, and it’s cool. I don’t know, I don’t’ like it. I don’t find it moving or exciting at all anymore. I think there was a time when I did, but now I’ve just had this long process of thinking I don’t want to be good at comic books, because I don’t want to make comic books. I’m just not that interested. And it’s been really hard for me to get away from that, and if I were to sit down right now, and someone were to say, “Draw a man walking down the street in no particular style”— if I just sit down and go with what my default is, it’s just really boring. It’s just boring comic book, cartoon bullshit—I mean I don’t want to say bullshit, because I don’t want to disrespect other artists who are really moved by that, but I don’t like it, and this process has been like, “Well, what else is there?” and it turns out, “holy shit, there’s fucking everything!” and there’s people in all of these different cultures that have been doing art in a way that’s moving and not ironic – I’m really bored by ironic art, if you look at Mayan art it’s not ironic, it’s not a joke, it’s wonderful and it’s fucking amazing and you can pull from it, and that’s what I’ve wanted to do— and so much of my process has been, to answer your question, just the technical craft of developing that craft, has been looking at art— and not just the masters, which are great and amazing and I love it, but it used to be that art was just totally integrated into life. It wasn’t like these guys are the artists and these guys aren’t. It was like people sit down and make art everyday, and in some places in the world it’s more like that still.

 

 

 

 

 

AG: When you say it was integrated into life, you mean in a tribal sense, that everybody had a hand in it?

RZ: I mean it still is. If someone draws something on their window to advertise their special on burgers, they’re being an artist, and that’s interesting, but it used to be more interesting subjects. Like somebody would make an alter for their own connection to greater things, and nobody would look at that and say, “Wow you’re such a good artist!” It was like, “Yeah alright, you’re living,” and that’s great. I like the everybodyness of art— anybody can do it; everybody can do it; everybody wants to do it; everybody does it, but there is this bizarre boring perception that there are the smart guys who are the artists and the dumb guys who are there to watch it, which is just stupid— and that’s what I want to connect to more, and you can find that in cultural art all over, and you can find it when you sit down with a young person and draw with them, or anybody. You can sit down with anybody and draw with them and they’re going to commune with those things, and that’s so much more compelling than like art school, which is boring. I mean I don’t care; I don’t want to bring down the institution of art school, I just don’t give a shit about it.  It’s like, “Sure, you can go to art school if you want, it just doesn’t mean shit.”

 

 

 

 

 

AG: At the same time I look at your art and it’s specialized. It’s not just throwing paint onto a canvas, you’re obviously thinking very deeply about the movement of your hand and the weight of the stroke, careful consideration goes into it, and it seems that there’s a certain amount of mystery when you walk in and see your work, where people say “oh that must be photocopied.” People just assume that someone wouldn’t put that much time into a piece of art. Is there any level of surprise that you’re shooting for?

RZ: Not so much with the technical shit. I mean, I don’t need people to feel that, because I don’t. If I look at a piece of art that’s not technical like Robert Rauschenberg, or Jackson Pollock, I mean that’s technical in it’s own sense, but is also chaotic, or children’s art is a better example. If I look at a five year-old’s drawing, I can be deeply moved by it and so happy and excited about doing it, in the same way that I do with a Rembrandt, and it has nothing to do with the technical side, because that’s just one possibility. It’s just another element, it’s like anything: you can do it like this or you can do it like a five year-old. I saw this kid who did this drawing of a snake coming out of water, and the snake was looking away from me, and what he was looking at was a burning building, and it was like, “Sheesh, this is incredible!” And you can look at that, and it’s not technically good, the kid’s not trained or anything, but the heart of it, the substance of it, is way beyond anything you would see in the most technical boring gallery shows, because this kid is communing with something very complex, and that’s awesome. It was sad too, his parents were saying like, “He loves snakes!” That’s how they view it. So they get him a bunch of books on snakes, and then he’s psychologically molded to think he loves snakes. I mean he does probably on some level, but he also is loving his own mind and what snakes are doing inside him. I mean it’s just as ridiculous to say, “He loves burning buildings!” you know? I mean he’s a very complex person. So again, I don’t look at technical art and think, this is like…it’s just one of the things, you know, it’s just one of the ways, and I like to use it. I like to use that as a tool to impact people, because I am impacted by that, if it’s fitting to something else.  Somebody who draws a picture that is just such a perfect human face, it’s like, “Alright, you could’ve just taken a picture.” I don’t find it that impacting. But if there’s something more to it, there’s such an experience that can be had.

 

 

 

 

 

AG: I remember you telling me about one of your favorite artists being somebody who you didn’t know if he was trained or not, but it was not from the school of technical ability, but that it had an essence, or that there was something that he was struggling with within the piece. And that seems to exist within your work. They’re not just technically good drawings or paintings, there’s struggle inherent in everything, There’s some level of depth you’re revealing about yourself.  Going back to what you were just talking about, is that an internal struggle that the little kid is having, or in this case, that you’re having, or is it something that is being observed going on outside of the self?

RZ: Or both. It’s like, “What’s a burning building and a snake looking at it?” It’s going to hit you somehow. And probably the ways that it hits you are deeply imbedded into what humans are, and I am probably getting hit by it in the same way, on certain levels. Absolutely. And somebody who’s had their house burned down is going to get it extra, or somebody who’s had their body fixed to a piece of wood using nails, that’s going to hit anybody. It doesn’t matter where they grew up, whether they grew up in America or Bangladesh— it doesn’t matter— that image is going to hit people, everybody, at some human level, in a very universal collective way. And not in a magic sense, just fuck man, here we are people made out of stuff that can be nailed to wood, and more than that too…

 

 

 

 


AG: Have you had any experiences with religious people looking at your art and reacting to it, and what did that look like?

RZ: Yeah definitely. It’s mixed. A lot of white liberal types are not into it because of this fear that it’s really offensive. And I don’t know maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not fair for me to take those things and integrate them into my experiences, but I think it’s alright, I think I’m a person, I’m pretty sure that I have those experiences.  But sometimes, some people really really don’t understand what these things are and these forces are. You know a gun, it happens to be that right now a gun hits you and conjures up this whole universe of things that’s really horrendous and violent, and a sword doesn’t do that. A sword can even represent something beautiful and friendly in very weird ways, and it’s because of where you are. And the fact that people think of swords as not violent images and guns as violent images is really confused, because if you were living in the middle ages, and you saw a sword in a painting, you would think, “This is a disturbing weapon,” in the same way that somebody looks at an M-16 and thinks, “This is a disturbing weapon,” and that’s appropriate. It’s like those images were meant to conjure those things then, and now they happen to conjure bullshit. And it’s because swords don’t mean that, swords aren’t the things that we use to murder people anymore, so it’s appropriate to put something else in there. Specifically with religious things, I went to this Napali bazaar down the block, and they had one of the tankas on the wall, and it was beautiful. It was like this Buddhist diety that was really wrathful, and I asked to look at it, and this woman was working there— she was this white woman working there—and at the bottom of the tanka there was this skullcap, an upside-down top of a skull, and out of it was coming two eyeballs and a tongue, and they were red and blood, and they were very stylized, so it wasn’t so instantly recognizable as that, but if you’re looking it’s clearly that, and if you’re familiar with Buddhist imagery, and you know that skull caps are very common in Buddhist imagery, then it’s obvious that that’s what that is. So I said, “Oh wow look at this, here, at the bottom of this is a skull cap with disembodied eyeballs and a tongue,” and she said, “Oh yeah, it does look like, that doesn’t it? No, I think it’s a lotus.” And there’s this idea that Buddhism and Hinduism in America represents like yoga and peaceful centeredness and happy blah blah blah, but the reality is, if you look at actual Hindu art, none of my shit comes close to the horrendous images that are happening in Hindu art. I mean there are really common motifs of different goddesses who’s heads are cut off and people drinking the blood, or Kali sitting on the corpse of Shiva fornicating with his dead body, and blood pouring from her fucking everything, and it’s like, “Holy shit, this is about bodies. This is about sex. This is about so many forceful things,” and Americans aren’t connected to that side of Hinduism and Buddhism, which makes American Hinduism and Buddhism nonsense. It’s just nothing. It’s like being connected to wanting to get the warmest, best blanket you can get at Target— it’s just comfort. But the reality is talking about forces that are here and we have to deal with. So that’s how I like to do it. I mean I’m not trying to say, “Hey my shit is doing that,” but that’s what I’m doing for me.  I like to be impacted by those images. When I see images like that in Hindu art, I feel such a charge, and I’m like, “Whoah, this is such an experience,” and I want somebody else to have that experience too. And if they’re looking at it and thinking, “Look, lotuses!” then I’d like to add something that’s going to say, “Remember, there’s also this in the world, there’s also guns. There’s also ‘ouch’.”

 

 

 

 

 

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