Before delving into this fascinating interview be sure to read:
You saw your first dead body when you were only 4 years old, at 7 a man died in front of your eyes, other traumatic events followed. Are those events, that happened a long time ago, still shaping your artistic path today, and is some emotional trauma necessary for an artist or an actor?
Sure, those events made me see life the way it really is. It’s a cycle of life that we all go through, that all life goes through, and one day, I will go through it as well. And yes, I do believe that trauma is necessary to create the best possible art, but I also believe every single human being has their own traumatic life experiences. We are taught at a young age not to share it with anyone else. When someone talks about their past traumas we are told to just ignore them because we must be happy first and foremost. This is wrong.
“Yes, trauma is necessary to create the best possible art”
I believe most artists never truly put their traumas into their art, and the ones who do, well, they tend to be the best ones in the end. Artists who don’t put all of themselves into their creations are just lying to the world. As I always say, the truth will set you free but your secrets will kill you in the end – so tell the truth!
Art and crime often go hand in hand. Many drug dealers are quite creative and even artistic people. When you were a middleman working for a drug cartel did you see any of this in yourself or those around you? Is an artistic mind an asset or a liability for a criminal?
Hmm, interesting. Maybe, because business is highly competitive, and competition does make most people want to bend or break the rules to win the game; so, maybe it’s the competitive, the selling, the business part that brings out the criminal mindset in all of us, including professional artists.
“I was too busy trying to take over the whole LSD empire for myself!”
No, I wouldn’t say that I saw myself as artistic or creative when I was selling drugs. I was too busy trying to take over the whole LSD empire for myself! I just wanted it all, but I was also playing a cat and mouse game with an undercover agent at the same time, which I knew was an undercover agent. So, for me, being a middleman in a drug cartel was all about power and control, and having fun playing games on people. Art to me is the exact opposite of all that, it’s about creating something that doesn’t hurt anyone.
Spending 5 years in a maximum-security military prison is a life altering event. What impact did this experience have on you and your art?
I just saw life for what it is. Psychological warfare and physical warfare all rolled up into one, and all being played on all of us, all at the same time. Just like our country’s politics and who should be in control, who should be treated as less than, meaning, who should have equal rights and who should not have equal rights. So, it got me to put the same exact storylines into all my art as well.
“The ones who think they are heroes tend to be the most vicious villains of all!”
Every story must have a victim, a villain, a hero, and then lots and lots of bystanders who do nothing to help the victim. Just like real life. And the ones who think they are the heroes tend to be the most vicious villains of all! History books are full of these real-life villains who thought they were the heroes of their day. So, that’s what prison taught me. That you must see the whole picture versus the two halves. The two halves are warring over each other for power, meaning, they are both wrong. It’s when the two halves become as one, well, that’s when power ceases to exist and the most spiritual parts of us come out and play, and that’s when we have peace in this world. Until then, we must expose them for what they are and tell their actual story: victim, villain, hero, and bystander, until we are One.
Were you thinking about art, and did you make any artworks while being incarcerated? Which of your current artworks, if any, are inspired by those events?
No, I was too busy trying to survive that ordeal without going mad and learning how to play psychological warfare games with the best of them. I also read two to three books a week to occupy my mind and to slowly figure out what is next after prison. Honestly, I didn’t know that I wanted to go to a culinary art school until I was on parole and took my very first cooking class … and fell in love with it!
“I was too busy trying to survive … I also read three books a week”
As for which of my artworks are inspired by those events… The films that I acted in, plus, the immersive video projects that I did with Paul McCarthy. From my fine art photography, The Rebirth, meaning how I transformed my life from being an ex-con to a movie villain to an international winning contemporary artist, reflect that life. The Phoenix Rising From The Ashes is part of my whole art story for sure!
The military is often associated with discipline, dogma, and rigid thought. At the same time, it can be quite an adventure for young men and women. How was it for you? Did your time in the U.S. Army have any impact on your creativity and artistic mind, and if so, in what way?
Ever since I was four years old, I wanted to be G.I. Joe, and I spent my childhood preparing myself for this adult adventure. Learning how to shoot, hunt, kill, camp, hike, learning how to survive in the wilderness on my own. Then I joined the infantry at the age of 18, and loved all of it until Desert Storm happened, then I lost my taste for it and never wanted to shoot a weapon ever again, and I haven’t since, well, besides the prop guns that I used on movie sets.
“I loved all of it until Desert Storm … then I never wanted to shoot a weapon ever again”
Movie villains are always hunting their prey, so I would say that my infantry skills now help my acting because I can play these villains realistically. As for my fine art photography, honestly, shooting a weapon is no different than taking a photograph. It’s all about aiming the shot as perfectly as you can and then pulling the trigger as softly as you can. It’s the same exact thing. But I would also say that my time as an infantry soldier, living in the woods or the jungle, like an animal, made my photography easier to do. Most times the urban and nature decay, or my landscape art pieces are in the middle of nowhere, either out in the deserts or up in the mountains, OR, they are in the worst crime ridden neighborhoods in the cities … so being a combat infantry soldier totally prepared me for being an extreme outdoors artis and photographer.
Jocko Willink, a famous U.S. Navy Seal, public speaker, and author says: “To know the light, you must know the darkness.” Many people, artists especially, struggle with this. You, on the other hand, appear to be in full control of your demons. In fact, your movie career, life philosophy, and now art seem to be all about the darkness of human condition. How are you able to control it without falling into the abys?
Haha, that’s a good quote, haha! 😀 Sure, sure, it’s the two halves that make up the whole. You got to see the whole picture, otherwise, you’re in a constant battle fighting the opposite half instead. Just like the yin-yang symbol.
“As for how I don’t fall into the abyss, well, by falling into the abyss!”
As for how I don’t fall into the abyss, well, by falling into the abyss! But at the same time by being in the light! It’s when we fight against it – the shit hits the fan! Instead we must embrace the light and the darkness, and let it live within us. But, and I say But, you also have to release it into the world in a very safe way! I would say the easiest way to do that is by releasing it into an art project or into a sport of some sort. Those two playgrounds are the most safe realms to release our demons without ever harming another person, including ourselves. One way or another you just got to release it into the world, otherwise, it’s going to release itself in more dangerous ways, traumatic ways, that will most likely harm yourself or others – or both!
While your art is dark, it’s not bleak or depressing. Your colors are vibrant and often have a warm shade to them. Is this intentional, and if so, what are you trying to convey?
Sure, sure, when I edit my photos, I’m trying to tell the story of the energy forces that are in front of me. I’m trying to convey what they want to say to this world. I’m trying to tell their story as beautifully as I can. And I do that by showing their true colors. At the same time, when I edit a photograph, I’m putting my personality, my life experience, my storytelling skills into the image as well. I want my artworks to show the spiritual world, the other dimension that I’m constantly seeing in death and decay, that everyone else just seems to walk by and not notice at all.
“I want my artworks to show the spiritual world that everyone else just seems to walk by and not notice at all”
At the same time, my art is realism that looks abstract. It brings awareness to our environmental problems, showing how we are littering this planet with our man-made objects, slowly turning Earth into an apocalyptic world. My photography, I hope, also shows that when our human energies are mixed with the energy of the earth and the sun – amazing things can be experienced! Especially at the macro/closeup lens level. I don’t know about others but I see faces of nature’s spirits everywhere I look and I feel their energies staring back at me, calling my name, and asking to be seen for what they are.
I transfer all my past life experiences, even the past life of my DNA, into my art. The good, the bad, the ugly, the yin and the yang.
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