CVLT Nation Interview - Samaritan Press

CVLT Nation Interview

Posted by David D'Andrea on

Can you describe the process of developing your personal aesthetic/style? Was it an intentional, focused
path or did it take a lot of experimentation?
It has been a very natural progression. I’ve led a life obsessed with art and design. This obsession has been
fairly focused but also habitually morphing. As a visual artist I believe it’s best to play the long game, to
develop a style and body of work over decades. Any working artist will know that this can be tricky
because once one is known for a particular style it can be difficult to break free.
The experimentation becomes increasingly important as an artist moves on because at first the influences
might be apparent. With experimentation a more unique style is developed. Riffing off of contemporaries is
great but there comes a point where an artist should consider the authenticity of their work. There can
certainly be broad art movements or schools of style, but since today’s culture is prone to misunderstanding
or disregard for originality in exchange for instant recognition or income, I try to stay true to my vision.

Being someone who is primarily a visual artist, but also steeped in the music scene, how do you see image
relating to music? How can art intensify or compliment a piece of music?
I’ve always recognized the connection between visual art and music and it was a role that I took on once I
realized there was an actual niche to fill. At a young age I noted that somebody painted the cover of Kiss
“Destroyer” specifically to enhance that experience. Better yet a more interesting example, the sleeve of
Cream “Disraeli Gears”.This artwork encourages an interactive experience of tripping around the image
while the music plays. The maze in the Rolling Stones “Their Satanic Majesties Request” gatefold even
more so! On my father’s copy somebody had actually drawn along the maze path with a pen.
Unfortunately there is a reason these examples are all from certain time period. We’re living in the wrong
era for full on immersion. Album artwork has largely been reduced to a 300 pixel image or whatever. This
isn’t the fault or preference of bands and labels, just a symptom of the industry. There seems to be very
little money in the budget for art. I’ve been able to do a few album covers that I am proud of but even in my
time as an illustrator I’ve seen a shift.
I’ve created the antithesis with the means and budget available to me by collaborating with Al Cisneros on
a Samaritan Press 7 ”. Al created two tracks specifically for the project. I made the artwork to coincide with
the music without any art direction or digital print methods. Using my letterpress, Risograph, and rubber
stamps I sought to create a very tactile and specific package, an art object if you will. The edition of 1000 is
just about sold out.
I’ve been working on the second release in this vein , a 7” by another one of my favorite musicians Steven
R. Smith. Steven was previously in the Thuja/Jeweled Antler Collective which I greatly admire. His current
work is under his own name or various monikers (Ulaan Khol, Hala Strana, Ulaan Passerine, etc).
Screen printed posters have been my main medium within the music world. I think this is largely because
posters can be self published easily and I enjoy the analog printing methods. Posters enhance the live
experience as a commemorative piece of art and they’re generally affordable, at least at the shows. Once on
the wall they make for a nice inexpensive piece of art and people tend to collect certain artists or bands.
I’ve read that you were reluctant to pursue formal art education, but found it to be hugely beneficial to your
work. How did your education push you to transform?
It’s impossible to know what paths would have been available to me and where they would’ve led. I’m ten
plus years in as a “professional” and haven’t looked back since art school. Success is subjective. I haven’t
found any practical benefits to having my name on a diploma, which would be the paradigm that’s upheld
by the older generation, and I’m not sure it has ever applied to art unless you want to be a teacher. I was
able to study with the great illustrator Barron Storey and a few other Bay Area teachers who were good at
sharing their knowledge and experience.
I suppose a formal education should introduce some crucial aspects of an illustration career such as
deadlines and working under pressure and an intense focus on work. It might create a sort of dedication to
your work and role in society.
Can you describe your general process for making new illustrations?
It can be distilled down to the traditional illustrator/client exchange with some variables. Everything begins
as a sketch which (if a client is involved) is refined until approved. I make a more refined preliminary
drawing and then move to ink on board or paper. The next steps would depend on the print medium.
I begin with whatever the band gives me, be it music, lyrics, or visual references. Whether that material is
helpful or not, I develop preliminary sketches which take into account my vision and what I perceive to be
theirs. If neither of us holds too tightly onto our preconceptions the process is usually fruitful. The end
result is a third entity. The ship is either steered towards the horizon or crashes into the rocks, but either
way I have to push through and create a piece of art. Album art should be collaborative, inspired, and really
unique. It’s a difficult task these days.

I enjoy the layout and design work you do. Do these factor into the original artwork or do you work the
practical design elements in around an illustration?
Approximately 90% of a poster is usually one hand drawn piece. I collect ephemera which I scan and later
incorporate into the layout. This includes lettering, borders, and misc bits. The energy of my hand drawn
illustration can be killed by a clean border or type. I put an incredible amount of time into a drawing, so if I
spend no thought on the layout or design elements it will look out of balance.
Have your sources of inspiration changed significantly since you were younger? Do you find yourself
going back to certain works over and over again? If so, what are they?
Yes, they’ve shifted over the years though I don’t discount anything because it’s all stepping stones. I
suppose the most notable difference is that pop culture based work isn’t really my main point of reference
at this point. Instead, I try to gather inspiration from nature, self study, dreams, poetry, or spiritual texts.
I still go through phases and love to discover gems of art history. Some specific favorites are the book
plates of Rockwell Kent, biblical illustrations of Dore, painted poetry of Basquiat, mixed media madness of
Rauschenberg, the Pre Raphaelite haze of Rossetti, and on and on.
A psychedelic aesthetic is visible in your work and also reflected in the sound of a lot of the musicians/
bands you work with. Did psychedelics and music orient you towards meditation and spirituality? Do they
mirror each other in your experience?
Whether meditation/entheogens/spirituality meld is a personal opinion. For me, yes, it is all one.
Everything is a tool in achieving some sort of truth or inner peace. I simply believe in a life long path of
inner work with no limitations.
In my mind there should be a better term than “psychedelic”. Entheogen might be a better term to use. The
term “psychedelics” so often makes people think of their experiences as a kid, often chaotic and sometimes
terrible. Your adult mind is (hopefully) more at peace, more creative, and less prone to bad stimulus so all
types of experimentation are valid. We all need to cultivate an open mind!
I see that you are a student of ashtanga yoga. Can you describe to readers what an ashtanga practice
consists of?
Simply put, Ashtanga is a moving meditation. We use breath as a foundation and move through a series of
postures. Each posture is a mudra (gesture), an infinite extension of the body into space. Ashtanga is an
incredible and bountiful method of yoga. It requires hard work and discipline but can be a life long study
like no other.
Ashtanga means “eight limbs or branches”, of which asana (physical posture) is just one branch. This is an
important point because people often equate yoga with the physical practice only. The eight limbs are as
follows: Yama (moral codes), Niyama (self study), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath), Pratyahara (sense
withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (union with object of
meditation). All of this makes up a vast hidden universe of things to learn and unlearn!

How did you find yoga and how does it inform your life and work?
My nature is very contemplative and spiritual so my early exposure to yoga just felt right. The physicality
of the asana was (and is always) a struggle, but as my teacher David Garrigues says, yoga is not an athletic
pursuit. There are no requirements other than effort. You can devote yourself to an intense Hatha yoga or a
seated meditation or something in between.
A yoga practice gives strength, perspective, and direction to a person. If I’m going to be a seer to the world
and convey it through my artwork then I need a method.
In the beginning I found that there’s a community of like minded people who have come to yoga as a
practice. The Yoga Punx movement started by my friend Khristine Jones is an amazing thing. There are
chapters in San Francisco, Portland, Philadelphia and more. There is also alike minded group in London
called Do-Om. These groups celebrate the very tangible link between underground culture, music, and
The best advice is just to get yourself through the door. Find your local shala and keep an open mind. You’ll
soon realize that yoga is not what you thought. Seek out a Yoga Punx chapter or someone doing a similar
thing in your city. It is a potential gateway into a lifetime of self study and insight.
Yoga quickly reaches beyond societal hang-ups as your surface identity melts away. A yogi cannot fake it.
There’s no irony or self glorification inherent in it.
How are you influenced by religious iconography of various traditions?
Composition, design details, color palettes and vibe are all things I gather from religious art. I find great
inspiration in its usage as a tool for conveying specific ideas on which to meditate. The specific tradition
isn’t important to me. Japanese Buddhist composition, Hindu colors, and medieval Christian borders or
lettering all provide a wellspring of ideas.
If I use a Hindu figure as I’ve done with Indra, Surya, and Siva, I take directly from existing renditions of
these deities. You can see this in a lot of religious artwork, an elaboration or variation built upon an ancient
depiction. I find this framework really fun to work with and try to add my own style and environment
without corrupting the scaffolding of the original ideas.
It’s a tricky path to navigate because it can easily be seen as a vague reappropriation. It can also be argued
that these ideas and myths are there for humanity to enjoy and express again and again. You do not have to
be a Christian to make a painting of Christ.
It seems that many aspects of your work (meditation, religious iconography, music, psychedelic art,
illustration, printing) fit into an overall inner landscape for you. How do you balance all of your interests
and focus them in your art and career?
Thank you. I feel as if I have ten lifetimes worth of ideas and aspirations. I’ve always cultivated intense
interest in a certain undefined realm of ideas. The goal is to dissolve boundaries between my interests and
artwork, to make my visual expression a direct extension of what I’m into.
Can you list five or so of your favorite record covers?
Glyn Smyth : Ashborer “The Impassable Gate” : Glyn’s sense of design is so studied and simultaneously
atmospheric. The Impassable Gate is an awesome example of what an album package can be.
Benjamin Vierling: Joanna Newsom “Ys” : I can’t imagine an album cover made with more attention to
craft and detail. Vierling uses a traditional method of egg tempera and oil painting which involves a
tremendous amount of time and vision.
Daniel Higgs : “Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot” rorschach special edition : Using an original piece of art as a tipon
album cover is obviously not viable on a large scale, nevertheless I love objects like this and managed to
buy one years ago. I feel that this packaging signifies the spontaneity and creative spirit of Higgs.
Current 93 “Earth Covers Earth” : Classic era of C93 referencing The Incredible String Band with an
incredible cult-like band photo printed in full bleed.
Tanya “Nacht” Stene : Ulver “Three Journeys Through the Norwegian Netherworlde”: I’ve always liked
the consistency of aesthetic through the three albums, Bergtatt, Kveldssanger, and Nattens Madrigal.
What music are you currently listening to? Maybe list five or so artists/albums.
Elaine Radigue “Trilogie de la Mort” : This is an epic tonal journey inspired by The Tibetan Book of the
Dead. I listen to it often via headphones during very long drawing sessions.
Sukumar Prasad : “Pioneer of Carnatic Electric Guitar” : A cassette via obscure label, Bio-Vita, which I
discovered at Mississippi Records. Everything on this label is excellent and this one is a standout.
Sarah Davachi “Let Night Come On Bells End The Day” : Sarah is one of my favorite contemporary
Robert AA Lowe “Kulthan” lp on Latency recordings : Rob’s entire catalog is an inspiration. He is a great
friend and one of the most prolific artists I know. Cosmic light, color, and sound.
Six Organs of Admittance “Dust & Chimes” : It’s mossy, fungal, and personal at the same time. Everything
early 6 Organs is wonderful. Dust and Chimes is just one of the last ones to see vinyl.
Zola Jesus “Okovi:Additions” : Zola Jesus exudes talent and emotion. Her voice has a certain resonance
and honesty that speaks to my soul. This addendum to the album Okovi is made up of remixes by various
Daniel Higgs “ Fool’s Sermon” lp : Pure poetry.


You’ve mentioned that you read a fair bit, can you list the last few books or so that you’ve enjoyed?
“Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm” by Stephen Harrod Buhner : Life changing work by Gaian
earth poet Stephen Buhner. Inspiration to cultivate a direct perception of the living world by spending time
in nature.
“Brion Gysin : His Name Was Master” Text and interviews by Genesis Breyer P’Orridge : The old
REsearch and Rapid Eye publications of the mid 1990s were a huge influence on my life. Genesis’
enthusiasm for Gysin played a big role in that material. This book is basically composed of the raw
recordings from those interviews.
“England’s Hidden Reverse” David Keenan : A reissue by Strange Attractor of a book I’ve wanted for a
decade. I am a huge fan of Coil, Current 93, Nurse with Wound, and their surrounding mythologies.
“The Art of Vinyasa” Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor : This is a fantastic book on the Ashtanga practice.
I realize it may be specific, but I’m answering this interview section by referencing the book pile beside my
bed, and this one is certainly dog-eared.
Can you list a few contemporary artists that you would encourage people to check out and support?
Benjamin Vierling is one of my closest friends.We both began as kids who were interested in the graphics
of underground punk and metal, travelers who dwelled in the universe of our ratty sketchbooks. At one
point (circa 96-97) we even hung a fledgling show in a Minneapolis cafe. Our paths have run parallel in
many ways.Benjamin has done a handful of album covers that readers might be familiar with but his oil/
egg tempera paintings are the crown jewels of his work. He recently wrapped up an extensive body of
illustrative work for a book on Three Hands Press.
Glyn Smyth embodies the spirit of the early 1900s, an apparition alongside Dante Gabriel Rossetti and
Harry Clarke. His study of art and design combined with an uncannily intuitive hand makes for some of my
favorite work out there. I recently visited him and his partner Sarah (who is also a fantastic artist) at their
Belfast studio. It was an incredible and inspiring time.
Jondix is a tattooer, painter, musician, illustrator, and father. I greatly admire the fluidity of his lines and
also his open mind, crucial qualities which I strive towards every day. His energy and enthusiasm, whether
tattooing or painting, is contagious. We’re currently working on the second installment of our collaborative
show “Astral Mind” which will take place in late September in London.
Kiki Smith is an idol of mine from the older generation of New York City artists. She came from an era that
I greatly admire and still produces amazing work. I model myself after her treatment of high (etching) and
low (photocopies) as the same. The mark making and print process are equally as important. Kiki is a major
inspiration for me.
Arik Roper will be familiar to many readers. His a soulful approach to hallucinogenic fantasy illustration
has been key to the underground music world. I’m happy to call him a friend after a few decades of
I could go on and on. Jesse Draxler, Monica Canilao, Takato Yamamoto….

Any future goals or projects you would like to mention? Parting thoughts?
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by
removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will
lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really
touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This
is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a featherbed.” ~Terence


Interview by Carl Cordtz


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