This is the fifth story in a series exploring the connections between art and magic. Click here for the first four.
At a young age, James Weigel, a.k.a., Astral Eyes found himself hearing voices and being confronted by strange visions. Rather than being alarmed, the artist's mother, a devout Greek Orthodox and artist herself, told her son that he was privy to the perennial struggle between angels and demons. Art, she said, was the best way for Astral Eyes to confront his own demons and heal himself in the process. So, that’s what he's been doing ever since. He creates mind-bending, kaleidoscopic digital collages that are heavily steeped in the artist's intense relationship with magic.
Astral Eyes (who's also gone by the moniker owleyes) had his dream-like work exhibited last year in a show called The Visionary Experience: Saint Francis to Finster in Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum, as well as another group show titled The Archaic Revival, curated by fellow Los Angeles-based visionary Dani Tull. Astral Eyes has published his art in a compendium publication called åstrally ¥rs, and, not one to be restricted to any one discipline, is also founder and co-owner of Goldnbones, a fashion label that brings unique artist prints to clothing. The one unifying factor in all of his projects, however, is magic.
"I have always viewed art as a sacred method of processing the psyche and focusing your will," says Astral Eyes. "My current art practice is centered around this concept still, and I believe it is what keeps me whole."
To Astral Eyes, one of the most interesting aspects of magic is how it can be interpreted so personally, thus holding a range of meanings from individual to individual. "For instance, someone may have associations with more traditional western concepts of ceremonial magic and immediately think of Aleister Crowley or Dion Fortune, while others may have a more ambiguous approach and see magic functioning as more of an open-ended code or divine law of nature," he says. "For myself, I feel that it is a universal codex for humans to access the unconscious part of ourselves, and it comes in various forms: in our imagination, in our language, even our technology. I mean, what is more magical than beaming images across the globe, or building computers based on the human DNA sequence? Magic is that access point where human consciousness leaves behind the third dimension, allowing us to unite with the infinite."
With such a strong belief that art is magic and vice versa, Astral Eyes feels that some people have become disenfranchised from the original purpose of art, which is to transform the mundane into a powerful and dynamic agent of change. "I think these days, people have forgotten the true nature of art and exactly what it is capable of achieving. The potential power that an artist has is extremely dangerous: it's the ability to change the way others see things, to shift their perception or rewire their brain software. That is dangerous, that is true magic."
Astral Eyes hopes to remind fellow artists that creative people have the power to influence the minds and spirits of other human beings. He says, "My work is about communication, reconnecting with my sleeping giant: that innate unconscious universal mind, these psycho-spiritual forces of transformation that function in an alchemical and metaphysical way to change myself and shape the reality around me."
Fundamentally, Astral Eyes' practice begins with the understanding that everything is connected, so the majority of his work focuses on found objects and imagery. "A lot of the times, I will go into trance-like states for hours, walking around the city collecting objects that have a certain resonating force around them. Or I will project a digital doppelgänger of myself into the internet to find images to work with, then I reassemble and decode the items or images I have collected to build what I think of as gateways or icons into new modes of perception. These collages are doorways for myself and others to enter and hopefully help heal or expand the psyche."
The biggest influences in Astral Eyes' practice are those who bridged the divide between art and magic. Examples include the pioneer of the cut-up technique, Brion Gysin, as well as performance artist and groundbreaking musician Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Other inspirations include art nouveau artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare, and Swedish mystic and abstract artist Hilma af Klint. "They all were using art as a means to chart the depths of their psyche; their art has a transcendent quality about it,” he says. “The key, I think, is to restore ourselves to the unified whole. Art and magic are the tools for this. Art is a shamanic force that is capable of transforming and helping the mind, body and spirit to heal and evolve."
These days, Astral Eyes believes there's definitely a trend toward embracing the occult, though many people don't have any idea what they're getting into. He calls these folks "Abracadablers," describing them as "basically people who jump into the deep end and realise they can't swim. One generation gravitates towards a more a scientific approach while the next leans on art and spirit, and so it goes. I think we getting closer to the point where the two will finally meet, though. Technology will be a bridge between the dual mind, where art, science, spirit, and matter all meet in the psychic crossroads."
As to what the future holds for those who see art and magic as intertwined, Astral Eyes says, "Hopefully there will be a point in our lifetimes when humanity will learn to engage with our higher being, through the alchemical furnace of life-heating, dissolving, purifying, casting, and recasting our alchemical divine self. The creation of art through a more intuitive shamanic and magical practice will help shape this reality."