Art editor Kristin LaFollette recently had this exchange with Issue #50 featured artist Austyn Sullivan. Here’s what Austyn had to say about how the intersection between music and art in his life, what he likes about collage as an artistic medium, the influence of New Orleans on his work, and more.
How did you make the move from musician to creative writer to artist? Do you see these identities intersecting in your work? Do you still write creatively?
Over the years I’ve just followed whatever feels right when it comes to different forms of expression. I like to experiment and try new things, it keeps things feeling new for me. I do see them intersect and influence each other all of the time. For instance, I might start on a guitar riff one day, the melody is stuck in my head and I start on a collage piece that night and the tone of the music I have in my head effects the tone of the piece I start working on. Music is a huge part of my collage work flow. I zone out to albums I am into at the moment while collaging and that usually influences the tone of the piece. I have been a drummer most of my life so there is a certain rhythm to my collages.
I do still write quite frequently. Over the years I have done more with screenwriting than anything. I have a lot of work I have started on over the years from unfinished screenplays, to novel ideas, to poetry collections, to short stories and even comic book and children book ideas! I have really put a strong emphasis on music and visual art over the past 10+ years but I have recently had an itch to put that energy back into writing.
Why collage as the medium for your artwork? What do you mean when you say you “found a new ritual in collage art”?
I never really sought out to do collage art, it kind of just happened. When I lived in Baltimore I liked to go to this place called The Book Thing. It was a warehouse full of free books. It was a nonprofit, opened 2 days on the weekend and volunteer ran. It was a special place and it became my ritual to go there. I started finding really interesting books and was basically hoarding books. At the time, I played in about three bands and would make collage show flyers every once and a while. One day it just clicked that I could make art with all of the books I was hoarding and I started collaging. It became a ritual, almost like meditation. I would start with a thought, work my way through it, more stream of consciousness style and the piece would be the visual representation of my thoughts at the time.
Where do you find the materials you use in your collage art? How do you determine the form a particular collage will take?
I grew a pretty decent collection from The Book Thing but since leaving Baltimore, I find a surprising amount of free books in New Orleans. There are free little libraries around my neighborhood and I find books in the trash and on the streets. Folk art has always been a part of New Orleans art world and a lot of people turn trash into art here. I like to look at what I do as upcycling. Taking a book out of the trash, using its images to turn it into a surreal collage piece. Only recently have I bought a used book for certain imagery I needed for a piece. It was for a tarot piece I was working on. As for my free form collages, I just kind of roam through books in thought until something catch my eye.
Do you see the pieces in this particular portfolio as being connected? What common themes do you see coming through?
Three of the pieces are newer and were made during my current confinement and the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an evolution of thought and emotions. The piece titled ‘Jungle of Primal Fear’ was the first one I made in the early stages of confinement. I was thinking of the fear that was so present around me and seeing society starting to deteriorate, I felt a real primal fear. When our reality began to feel like a jungle, fear seemed to be at the forefront and the primal nature of humanity seemed to be on it’s fringes.
The second piece I made is titled ‘Connectedness of Our Beings.’ I was starting to really feel how fragile the human body & how connected we all are to one another. How what ties us together is Life & Death. How we all stretch across these cosmos and we all complete a bigger subconscious outside of ourselves.
The third piece I made is titled ‘The Three Wisdoms of Absolute Death.’ Death was becoming a normalized headline and a certain desensitization was beginning to lie behind it. I was thinking of the mystical realms of death and thinking of the stages of Death and how the more absolute if becomes, the bigger it feels.
I do see all of these pieces being connected by the introspections of life, death and the spiritual realms inward and outward. They’re all a sequence of thought and emotional responses to what’s happening inside and outside of me.
In your artist statement, you write, “In dream-like states I let my emotions and thoughts take over. Each piece I create is a mental puzzle helping me hold the mirror to my inner worlds.” This reminds me so much of the Dada and Surrealist movements of the 1910s and 20s, which are the movements collage art developed out of. Do you see your work as being connected to these movements or any specific artists within these movements?
I first learned about Surrealism and Dadaism while studying creative writing at NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts). It had a huge impact on my writing style. The visual art and cinema that birthed from that movement influenced me as well. I definitely use images in my collages that reference that era and certain artists of that time so I’d say my work could definitely be connected to that movement. I guess you could say my collage process is similar to the “surrealist automatism” that birthed from that movement.
You mention that your experimental work explores “the mystical nature of the universe and the enigmas that exist within the human consciousness.” Can you talk about that a bit more?
Well I do like to explore the folklore that fuels human nature. It seems since the dawn of man, we’ve been at war with ourselves and our minds have been our hero and our enemy. We’re too scared to live while also being too scared to die. I find the universe is full of enigmas that our mortal minds can’t comprehend and we attempt to express them through our limited ways of expression. I like to explore human’s ideas of life and death and the forces which we can’t explain.
Your website talks about your Soul Glimpse and Eternity Eyes projects. Tell us more about these and your work as a musician.
Soul Glimpse is my solo project. I’ve been composing and writing my own music since I was 16. I used to release music under my name but I took on the moniker when I was 20 and first moved to Baltimore. Soul Glimpse is a very personal music outlet for me. I call it Soul Glimpse because when I work on music under that moniker, it feels like a taking a glimpse into my soul.
Eternity Eyes is a project of mine more based around my drumming. It’s usually pretty aggressive free form drumming with electronic compositions based around the drums. But out of the two projects Soul Glimpse is what I identify with as an expression of who I am.
I have been a musician most of my life. I first started drumming when I was 12 years old. Joined a band when I was 13. There was a hardcore scene in Louisiana at the time. We would go play all age hardcore venues in Metairie and Baton Rouge. I eventually picked up guitar and started teaching myself piano, bass and began singing. I started composing my own music on a cheap macbook I rented from NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) when I was in high school. I went to college very briefly in Olympia, WA. I was still writing and releasing my own music at the time. I dropped out and decided I wanted to focus all of my energy on music.
I moved to the East Coast and ended up in Baltimore where I became super involved in music. Baltimore’s music and art scene is experimental and there aren’t really boundaries when it comes to creativity. So I felt like it was a good place for me to explore my musical expression. I was 20 when I moved there. I first drummed in a shoegaze band but realized I was more of an aggressive drummer at the time and needed something more challenging. I ended up playing in an atmospheric black metal band called Barbelith. I drummed in a couple of noise punk bands, drummed in an experimental hip hop project and did guitar and vocals for a band called Alter. Was in Baltimore for about 6 years, toured a lot, played more shows then I can count. I am still musically active but mainly with my own music at the moment.
I see you are also a photographer and filmmaker. How did you become interested in so many creative outlets? Which one(s) do you enjoy the most?
I have dabbled with photography for a while. I grew an interest in photography and cinema when I was about 16. Photography has never been a main focus of mine, just when I feel inspired to capture an image I pick up the camera. I have been a part of some films. I’ve mainly been the screenwriter and written the score for films. But I do have film ideas I want to direct eventually.
I have become interested in all of these outlets over time. All of these creative outlets harness different emotional parts of myself. It’s hard to say which ones I enjoy the most. If I had to pick three I’d say drumming, collaging and Soul Glimpse.
I’d say drumming has always been a physical release for me, almost a more primal part of myself if you will. It allows me to access parts of myself on this pure rythmatical and physical level. I like what parts of my mind I am able to express visually with collage art. It’s become a very important outlet for me to express things I otherwise have difficulty expressing. Soul Glimpse is a very important music outlet for me. It allows me to dig deep within myself to work through my emotions and translate it through the vibrations of music.
We had a featured artist a few issues ago who also lived and worked in New Orleans. How does living in New Orleans (and Louisiana) impact who you are as a creative and the work you do?
Well growing up close by New Orleans, I used to go to parades and the French Quarter as a kid. I was always inspired by the unique energy that existed in New Orleans. When I studied creative writing in New Orleans, I would roam around the city after school. I’d say New Orleans shaped my imagination a lot at that time.
New Orleans has a tragic and glowing spirit of resilience, pain and distressed beauty. Time moves in a strange way here. I find time can pass you by or a moment can stretch forever. There is the constant movement of the major waterways yet there is the stagnant energy of the swamps.
The nature of Louisiana influences me a lot. I have always found it has this hypnotic beauty that lures you in yet everything is out to get you, especially the swamps at night. So I’d say the environments here influence me greatly. It seems like life and death very much coexists here and it seems there’s always some kind of metaphor spelling itself out to you here.
I’ve always felt a deep mystery lies here, some things that are unexplainable.
Who (musicians, creative writers, artists, etc.) inspires you? What projects are you currently working on?
I draw inspiration from a pretty vast range of artist but I draw a lot of my inspiration from my own life, experiences and inner worlds. All of these expressions and things I do have always been tools for me to better understand myself. I look pretty deep inward for inspiration.
But here is a short list of artists/bands/writer/musicians who inspire me: Sun Ra, Max Ernst, E.E. Cummins, Guy Maddin, Zach Hill, Kenneth Anger, Blonde Redhead, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Devonte Hynes and a million other artist!
I just finished a new Soul Glimpse album, I have been working on a collage art tarot card series, I have a couple of new music projects in the works, started working on a stop motion collage art series and working on a screenplay!