::An interview of Visionary Artist Randal Roberts by Cosm Media & Event Coordinator Jon Ohia::
Upon seeing the work of Randal Roberts, I was immediately transfixed on the intricacies of patterning, beautiful use of color, light, and shading, and his amazing capacity to interweave layer upon layer of sacred symbolism seamlessly into his work. The time, care, and mastery of technique can be seen in every brush stroke…as he creates an inspirational tapestry that provokes the mind and stirs the heart. I was then exponentially overjoyed to find out the artist behind these incredible visions was a humble, compassionate, and genuine soul. A person whose light emanates with a gentle grace that fills the whole room. That was my first encounter with Randal at Rootwire Music & Arts Festival, in which I immediately realized that his is a story that needs to be told. And who better to tell it then his dearest visionary friend and ally, media and event coordinator of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Jon Ohia.
::Introduction By Jon Ohia
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]andal and I met because of Alex Grey. When I was in my early 20’s, I was skateboarding on a summer day with a friend in NJ. The friend had mentioned that Alex was at this holistic retreat center called the Omega Institute, located in the Catskill Mountains region of the Hudson Valley in New York. We decided to take the 2 hour journey for a chance to meet Alex. Long story super short, I ended up staying, and worked there for about 8 years in the media/event production department. After forging a close relationship with the family, I had the blessing of later becoming the event and media coordinator for Alex and Allyson at Cosm.
My second year there, I had the great fortune of running into Randal and we instantly became bros. Alex and Randal were the two people that opened me up to visionary art. For all the years I was there, Randal and I took all the Alex & Allyson’s Visionary Art Intensives we could and shared in really powerful illuminating experiences. We also had an opportunity to make many wonderful connections with talented artists. It felt like we were experiencing heaven on earth while in the sacred space of the workshop amongst the Cosm community.
Jon: When I first saw your art, I remember recognizing your interest in pencil drawings and sketching portraits of your friends. Can you talk about the roots of your craft? Where did it all start for you?
Randal: I’ve always liked to draw, and always loved art. As far back as I can remember there as always a crayon and paper in front of me. I loved books, movies, and monsters, and always thought about that secret world behind this one, where I envisioned all those beings came from. It’s interesting, because all little kids are artists. We never meet a four year old who “can’t draw.” Something seems to happen later to take art away from people as they become grownups. I wish it weren’t this way… As art would have a chance to remain one of the primary ways people communicate in this wonderful creative world. It’s an open pathway for everyone to journey in their own unique way.
My mom was always supportive. She liked to put our drawings up on the fridge and celebrate our craft, which we loved. There were some really cool and caring teachers in grade school who encouraged art as well. That encouragement was incredibly meaningful. Art has always given me a peaceful way to navigate and engage with this world, especially as a tender child who sometimes found the world to be quite a scary place. The consistent positive encouragement of my craft has allowed this blessing to flourish in my life over time.
Jon: When did you first make the transition from sketching and drawing to painting? What inspired the shift in approach? What experience or inspiration made you decide to become an artist as a profession?
Randal: Deciding to “be an artist” (and to start painting) came much later, when I was about 30. I never attended art school or made any paintings, and hadn’t received any serious art training as a youth. My girlfriend at the time was really creative and had pushed me a bit to get some paints and get started. Around the same time, a friend introduced me to Alex Grey, who lived nearby. I went and met with him and his wife Allyson, and took an intensive workshop with them that just totally blew me away. Working with them (and the other amazing people who attended their classes) revealed that being an artist was not only possible, but perhaps what I was born to become. Just engaging with other artists felt like home. This was coupled with the concept that art could be a vehicle for spiritual practice, and a legit way to express some of the mystical experiences I’d had solidified its sacred place in my path. It was such a gift to be given that perspective.
Upon leaving that first workshop with the Greys, I kind of got down on my knees and asked the universe to help me to “become an artist”. I didn’t consider myself a very spiritual person at the time, but if there was a God, I had officially submitted a heartfelt and sincere request. Practically on cue, my girlfriend broke up with me and I was pretty devastated. Everything kind of went to pieces and all of a sudden art felt like all I had left. It was a powerful thing, to experience first hand what we might call ‘manifestation’ like that. Prayers are indeed answered, yet sometimes with a huge profound twist. During that period, things just kept coming at me like comets, one after the other. The world was in my face – alive, hot and loud, in an extremely vibrant way. It made me aware that at any moment we are capable of shaping our very lives, and that the Universe is alive and working through us. The spirit of this world searches for us as fervently as we search for it. “If you call yourself an artist, you are one” – you just have to do your best and back that up with your actions and work.
So just like that, I quit the computer factory where I’d worked at for years and decided to sell all my stuff and drive across the country. Some of my friends were worried and thought I might’ve lost it, but I’d never felt better. I’d never felt more free. Tom Robbins has a line in one of his books that I love – “Listen, I’ve been sick ever since I started working here, but today I’m well and I won’t be in anymore.”
I became an artist. It being a profession is a kind of side-effect of embracing that truth within myself. It’s amazing when we get paid for what we do, but it’s also has an inconsequential element in a way… Art is something that we can offer that lasts forever. It’s a living conversation with life, and it transcends the temporal nature of money (lucky for us starving artists!).
Jon: What did you like to paint most in your early years? How has your art has evolved since then?
Randal: For the first few years (beginning around ‘04) I was just trying to learn how to paint, to figure out how it worked. I did weird portraits of friends… and girls sticking their tongues out. At first this was an attempt to make something sexy or provocative, but it led to a genuine and ongoing investigation into the divine feminine… Kali, the great hindu Mother, is often found sticking her tongue out after all. Whenever it was possible I continued to study with Alex & Allyson, taking in a lot of their philosophies, such as what it means to do your best as an artist and as a human being, and to treat art as a devotional practice. A lesson even more prominent now is that there’s an inherent obligation in art to be altruistic, and that it is important to strive to create harmonic universal emblems for everyone to use and explore.
Jon: It is clear that entheogens have had a really powerful effect on your creative process. Can you speak about how the spirit molecules have affected your life and work? What were your most powerful and transformative experiences with entheogens, and how have they molded your creative lens and spiritual life? What has come from these experiences?
Randal: When my younger brother turned me on to LSD in the 90’s, we started having what I would call “spiritual” experiences, which is to say they were more powerfully engaging with the universe then what we culturally accepted as religious resources. We were always very close, and he was into the rave scene then, going to NYC on weekends and hitting those classic gritty parties in warehouses and underneath bridges. I was pretty resistant to trying any “hard” drugs, but he was like, “Hey, I really think I found something here,” and I listened. It was huge for us. Back then there seemed to be a small wave of awakening for many people. It was the birth of electronic music scene in the states, and there was a slight yet perceptible shift happening for our generation. We would go out into the woods with our good friends and trip out around the campfire, and those times were really important for all of us to explore and find ourselves. Like “Stand By Me” with acid hehe.
“What does all this mean, and what is life; Who or what am I?” and “What is consciousness?” These were the first times we attempted to explore these very real important questions. When we simply became aware of the lens of our awareness, it’s life-changing. That was what was happening for our group of friends, along with some epic laughs.
The fun times eventually evolved into less frequent and more intentional, sacramental uses. A short ‘prayer’ at the outset of an entheogenic adventure these days seems to go a long way. It can still be fun, but it I think eventually it becomes a kind of holistic supplement, used in conjunction with other teachings, practices, and pathways of healing. When you and I met, we were lucky to be exposed to a lot of meditation and different wisdom traditions at the time and (thinking of our shared experiences with dimethyltryptamine) experimenting became an undeniable spiritual step.
Those experiences hold overwhelmingly ‘real’ and valuable information, of the most intimate kind… strikingly tangible wisdom about life and death. In the case of DMT, information is literally relayed in telepathic conversation, with what I consider to be angels (for lack of a better term). It has continued to hold a lasting effect on my perception of the world and is something I think about every day. The “Divine Messenger” portrait (always a work in progress) attempts to document some of our shared mystical experiences.
The kind of information available with DMT is scarcely obtained elsewhere first hand – at least in my experience – and so I’m compelled, as many are afterward, to keep referring to it though the art. As artists, we try to find important things to speak toward in our symbols. We’re looking to retrieve authentic information that can speak toward a certain truth that resonates whether the viewer has used psychedelics or not. So hopefully we’re going into these experiences with some reverence, and remembering to bring a sketchbook and take notes.
Jon: Your tasty, visionary dance with color and composition is beautiful to behold. My eyes are always hungry to feast and journey into your newest creations. Can you share a little bit about your creative process, technique and personal style?
Randal: Thank you for the kind words! I’m quite surprised sometimes that the images have arrived where they have. At one time, I’d dreamed of a career making monsters for video games, and now here I find myself making these crazy entheogenic paintings… We may choose to make art, but then life swoops in and takes over, and our art in many ways finds us. In his wonderful book “The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho writes, “When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” Committing to art is definitely like that.
The question of “who am I?” is pretty fascinating, so I try to steer things there often through my visions. To ask this sincerely is to instantly be in a meditative and loving state. We live in this amazing time where it feels like we’re right on the edge of a major evolution in consciousness, and yet it’s also a frustrated place where the human spirit isn’t quite sure how to take the next step. So as an artist, or more so a citizen of the world, I’m concerned with finding quick, no-bullshit ways to help envision pathways into the heart of this evolution. In many pieces, I’m trying to create a kind of road map for the journeying viewer. Mandalas to be used, hopefully bringing them somewhere good inside themselves. Something to remind them of our true home, or true Self. There are usually accentuated “destination” points, centering on something symbolically uplifting, which I hope is recognizable to anyone of any background or culture. I also often find myself trying to paint music, which is rich in frequency, symbolism, and all spectrums of color.
Using all the twirlies and paisleys has come from looking at how our ancestors described the ineffable, and attempting to respectfully step into that lineage of art. Throughout human history all cultures seem to have used ornaments, and we see lots of this inspiration in nature. It’s also fun to try and reproduce the moving, ectoplasmic patterns of the psychotropic realms. I nterestingly, these can look a lot like the art and fabrics from places like India, where some of the oldest devotional practices originate.
Jon: The “Portrait of Homer Simpson” and “Fawkes” paintings have really made their way around the sub-culture, on blotter paper, posters, and viral internet threads. This has surely brought your work a great deal of exposure! I understand Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons sent you a video message! How did that go? Can you speak about the transformational power these paintings have brought to your life? What message were you trying to convey through the iconic images of Homer & Fawkes?
Randal: Yeah, that message from Matt G was such an honor! He said they loved it and told me to keep up the good work. My girlfriend and I were giggling and danced all over the house on that one. The blotter art world has been really good to me too, it’s been really cool to get to be part of that. (*Many thanks to our dear Shady Backflash and Greg Burbank.)
I feel like The Simpsons is one of the pinnacle achievements of modern society, honestly. It provides a wonderful way of laughing at ourselves and everyone can find a connection point through the archetypes of humanity they share. In some ways, they are everyone’s family. I’ve watched it religiously since the first episode. So when making that painting I was just plugging away and working out my own shit in the process. Going full board with Mark Twain’s “write what you know” philosophy. I was working through my romantic relationship and trying to integrate the divine feminine and masculine in nostalgic ways. I wanted this guy, Homer, who I knew and loved to be looking back at me, saying, “Come on buddy. Who do you think you’re kidding here? Let’s get down to it!”
At the same time I was also trying to relay that everything is part of this beautiful, intelligent pattern, and hoped too that it could be a map to help people see into how holy they are. That it would somehow be a portrait of the viewer. So it was very personal, reaching for this universal oneness yet through an iconic image that touches also upon the great humor inherent in life.
The Fawkes painting used the same approach, with the intent of appealing to others (snagging passersby if you will) and putting love on a public discussion table. The challenge and inspiration behind the symbol of 2012 was swelling up. The concept of Anonymous as not just a hacker group, but a global cloud-like moral entity was also a very intriguing concept I envisioned. I live in Oakland, and during the height of the Occupy movement here last year, there were lots of altercations with the police and it was really heartbreaking to witness, so I was attempting to lend a voice to the chorus of the good and invite people to experience themselves as Fawkes, or as the little man in rapture among the dancing crowd seeking profound evolution.
(read more about this painting here)
Jon: Visionary culture has been on the rise with many transformational festivals sprouting up all over the world. After doing a mini tour of the festival circuit including Symbiosis, Lightning in A Bottle, and Rootwire, what are you reflections on this phenomenon and the role of visionary art as an ever increasing presence in this evolving subculture?
Randal: Transformational Festivals are great. It’s wonderful and unprecedented that artists are bringing the act of creating out of the traditionally private studio and sharing that process with live-painting. It creates an openness, a vulnerability. Many of us live in a very lucky time and location in our history where food and shelter are more or less squared away, so – putting aside sustainability issues for the moment – what do we do with all the free time? What is there to really “do” together while we find ourselves in this more or less beautiful circumstance? We look around, and the answer seems to be that we either go to war with each other or we can celebrate. The festival is the opposite of a war. It’s celebratory, and there’s also this potential for it to be something even far more. It kind of functions as a makeshift way-station on the modern spiritual journey.
As we gaze at the sunset with our friends smiling around us, the music hits and suddenly we’re part of this revelatory, universal moment where a lot of profound understandings can take place. All around us other little tribes have come together to become this bigger community tribe. We’re so in love with our friends, and we bond with them as we make new great friends in the process. In fact, I believe we all become the oldest tribe there is; the Love tribe. It’s an experience that’s under the stars and part of the stars. It unfolds and happens and we get to experience it in the moment with great humility and wonder. That experience sure as hell ain’t for sale at the mall! There’s really something special in the primal nature of it all.
Dance-floor epiphanies are vistas where solutions to some of the bigger problems we face can present themselves. I think what we see when we look at these parties are the potential seeds of a Utopian ideal, though it’s a complex issue and all the pieces might not be there yet. Visionary art is important because it’s an observable component to this tribal dynamic. At it’s best, it tries to bring the viewer’s attention near that place of epiphany. It can work as a beacon or as a reminder. It’s also extremely valuable to get the literal visionary images of ascended potentials out there: of cities covered with living gardens, divine interaction with self, and open spiritual communion universe; to get those ideas growing in everyone’s mind through art is what I hope we see more and more.
Jon: It seems to take a lot of will-power, ingenuity, and inner resolve to make a sustainable living as a full time artist. Throughout your creative journey, what have you done to overcome the scarcity mentality that many artists struggle with especially early on? How do you find a way to keep a steady financial flow without compromising the true value of your work? Can you offer insight into a few steps one could take toward becoming a viable professional business?
Randal: Well, the first step is to work on the art… This may seem obvious at first, but there are many levels to it. I mean work hard, until tears of gratitude are streaming down your cheeks. If we want our life to depend on art, then we must work like our life depends on it!
The artist’s soul is in there, waiting, as a calm eternal Buddha – way, way deep down in the work. …in there, things like money are revealed for the scrawny concepts they are, and they wash away into a greater understanding of resources. It’s where we find the wellspring to drink from and the nectar to carry on abundantly in all life.
Someday, we will lose our teeth, even our eyes, our hands, our lungs. All our loved ones will be dust. We will lose everything. Ultimately, we are all “naked before God”… so (excuse me) fuck it, right? Why not go for it? Security is not a real concept. We really have to let it all go. It is, amusingly enough, from this place that one can begin to make a living and in the process oddly enough become fully secure.
Now on the other hand, we should do this responsibly and use our wits. The concept may be illusory, even sad, but the world has this money game going on and everyone’s playing it, and so its important we have to learn how to as well. There is a distinction between letting go and throwing it all away. I grew up really poor. My family doesn’t have a great deal of money, but we have a lot of love, passion, and a strong work ethic. I had to supplement my income for several years while building a body of work. The job at the holistic retreat center where I met you, was a wonderful way to pay the bills – and we learned a ton of valuable stuff there as well. I’ve worked at an art store and at several restaurants. This helped supply food and keep me afloat. But the whole time there was painting, painting, painting going on at every available opportunity.
Having gratitude for all that we have right now is so important too! If you’re reading this, you are probably wealthier than billions of other people. Gratitude is the attitude. …and perhaps no more T.V.! 😉
Jon: While creating new work, I’m sure you get the urge to immerse into all sorts of different creative projects. Some of your paintings require quite a bit of time to complete, while it seems you’ve also been able to finish a whole series of others in seemingly no time at all. How do you balance the task of needing to produce new work while still ensuring you are taking the time to craft, hone and refine a piece into its full mastery?
Randal: That’s a tough one… Truthfully, I don’t excel at balancing that stuff yet. I just go and go until I need a nap. I would prefer to just be working on the heart’s current vision, and making it as beautiful as I possibly can. Some pieces flow more than others. I can say that setting up art shows, and committing to that hanging deadline, is definitely valuable if you’re trying to finish paintings. But all in all its having a firm commitment to complete what you start, while also keeping a few pieces progressing at the same time to ensure the natural inspiration has a current to flow.
Jon: In 2012 you traveled extensively, on a mission to spread your artwork to the masses. During this journey you were live painting at events, selling your art at festivals, and also hosting numerous gallery shows throughout the year. How do you remain centered spending so much time on the road traveling?
Randal: The thing that brings me back to center, after traveling or any major event is actually sitting down and painting again. From experience I know that without coming back home to the art, I become drained or stressed out, just a lump on the couch. My art is my medicine, my therapy, and the fuel that drives me to share my journey with the world.
Jon: Thank you for sharing these incredible insights you have acquired along your artistic journey. Do you possibly have any offerings of advice for young, talented artists who are rich in creativity yet struggle to make a viable living off their craft?
Randal: “The important thing is to do, and nothing else; be what it may.”
These words of Picasso’s were scrawled at the top of my “easel” (which was just a board with two nails in it) for several years.
Next to that, on the wall, was a note that I’d be sure to see every day: YOU ARE FUCKING AWESOME! SO ACT LIKE IT!
The same to you, talented young artist. Congratulations on finding your path. It will never, ever let you down. The important thing is to DO. Making good art is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. So if you want to make a living at it, better get started and understand that the journey is the blessing. Whenever you see your favorite music being performed, know that the only reason those people are up there is because they were booed off stage (more than once). They honed their skills, practiced, believed in themselves, and showed up again. Get your skills up. Always research. Get busy enough that you don’t even notice rejections or care. Remember that someone out there is making art right now that makes yours look like a joke. And it Is a joke, remember that. You never stop paying your dues. Simultaneously, you are the most important person who has ever lived, and your work is the most beautiful thing ever created. You are it. You’re Neo. When you’re ready, you won’t have to dodge the bullets.
Talk to artists whose work you like, especially those who live on their art. Go and meet them and show them your stuff and ask them questions. Travel. Think of people you love, and try to make something with them in mind, something that will completely blow them away when they see it. Take it to the next level and push further! Is the thing you’re working on the best you ever made? Why not? Get friends who are smart and good to you, and be sweet to them, cherish them. And sit with them in front of your work and get their opinions. No one finishes a painting alone, and when it’s done it doesn’t really belong to you anymore. You painting is an offering to the universe. An expression of gratitude. If you keep that in mind and heart, you will be successful and you will never work a day in your life. Although you will remain more deeply engaged then you ever imagined is possible.
Jon: Thank you Randal. This has been a really inspiring opportunity to connect. Thanks for giving us all a glimpse inside your personal process and evolution as an artist. What an honor it has been to have you and the Greys as examples and teachers on the journey of life. It has really helped to illuminate the deeper levels of the artist’s journey and show that when the community works together on a common goal, it can be a powerful transformational force in the world. Without having the community to observe and witness the art, it can only go so far. The viewer makes the work meaningful and gives it a true purpose. Alex & Allyson teach about Ken Wilber’s four quadrant model and show how you can make art for your own satisfaction, but the highest goal is to be able to create art that integrates into the culture to have the greatest possible healing effect. I have felt blessed to get an inside look at the development of a great artist in the context of studying with Masters.
Art has the power to be a signpost to the heavenly realms and higher ideals for living in harmony with each other and the planet. As we can see with Alex & Allyson’s work with the CoSM project, art done with the intention to raise awareness can have life changing effects for many people. I have had so many people tell me that they were feeling disconnected or lost in their personal and spiritual lives and after finding CoSM and the body of work associated with it, they found their path and a way to make sense of life. This shows the power of art done with the intention to uplift and illuminate the viewer and their consciousness.
It has been a special gift to reflect on these powerful and profound connections and the fruits that have manifested over the years. I am eternally grateful to Randal and the Greys for all the love, support and illumination I have received during all of our epic journeys and experiences. Having the visionary sub-culture as a constant visual reminder to stay conscious and move towards something higher is a great gift to our society. Thank you Solpurpose for creating this opportunity to share our story and continue to share the transformational power of visionary art with the world.
:: Call to Action
For those interested, things are getting continuously more exciting at CoSM as we move deeper into the development of our mission. We recently launched a kickstarter project to raise money to renovate a building on the CoSM property and bring back many of the paintings in the collection on view at the New York installation of CoSM, including the 21 Sacred Mirrors. It will be active for a month or so, so please spread the word and contribute if you can! The mission of CoSM is to create a sanctuary of visionary art to help uplift and inspire the community and leave a legacy for future generations to contemplate the human experience from the material to the spiritual.
We have full moon events and also an event called Art Church, where we typically have a drawing meditation and art making followed by a musical performance with more art making. As we move into the unknown, we will continue to evolve and offer more cutting edge and interesting events and programming. But please stop by, tap in, explore, and take an opportunity to engage with a thriving visionary community you were born to be a part of.
Interview By Jon Ohia
Feature on Randal Roberts
Edited & Curated By Ehren Cruz