Though many of the deities in his paintings wear masks, DJEMBE & CANVAS does not. A mask would deflect, disown, and, most importantly, disguise. He disguises nothing. Instead, when we first meet him, we come face-to-face with bleached, blinding honesty. And with this radiant honesty, he inspires us to shed our counterfeit identities and transcend the living masquerade.
Oftentimes, he does not speak of himself in the finite I, Me, My but in the infinite We, Us, Our; thus, in his presence, illusionary boundaries between the self-in-here and the world-out-there collapse. And once these boundaries collapse, we experience what the Lankavatara Sutra calls, “a turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness.” In short, when DJEMBE & CANVAS says, “Collectively we can move forward as one,” he awakens our understanding that universal consciousness manifests not just in his life but in ours as well.
DJEMBE & CANVAS translates as: djembe – a hand drum, and canvas – an instrument of expression. Simply put: his paintings represent the fusion of rhythm and expression. Instead of signing his paintings with his personal name, DJEMBE & CANVAS evokes the metaphor of a drumbeat, articulating his long-term vision and philosophy: to establish schools around the world that would teach children music and art, and nurture and guide their infinite potentials.
The following are excerpts from my recent interview with DJEMBE & CANVAS:
Fra Angelico never picked up a paintbrush without saying a prayer. Do you employ a special ritual before commencing to paint?
I’m very humbled to be mentioned in the same breath of such a legendary artist. I don’t think I belong in such a conversation, but, in terms of ritual, I really try to meditate…I almost feel it just applies to everything in my life…You know there are times that you do maybe get caught up in the moment…You lose your sense of balance, and, whenever that time comes, I quickly remind myself to meditate and to breathe…as long as I breathe properly…I always seem to calm down. My sense of balance comes to place…Then the music turns on and I start painting.
The music turns on because, he affirms:
I really love to create art especially under the influence of music…I really can’t do what I do without it…A lot of my art comes from listening to music and how it affects me and makes me feel.
Let’s talk about process. Several of your paintings contain white patches. Are they starting points or ending points?
I paint in layers actually, and I let each layer dry. I blend layers of colors with splatters or drips, different techniques that create accidents…It gets to a point when you can learn to create accidents in controlled ways…I myself can’t control it, but I know it will look a certain way…I don’t really think about a starting point. I just go where the percussion or the rhythm takes me.
Teaching children “intuitive art” also informs his creative process:
One of the things I did in the past that also made me more determined is teach children art. I like to teach in unconventional ways…I tell the kids to draw with their recessive hand the first class and that’s it. No problem. The kid can adapt seamlessly. At first they’ll still feel uncomfortable, but they’ll do it. They’re not thinking so much even if it doesn’t look perfect…[which] could play a tremendous role in their art later on…they don’t always necessarily listen to me. That’s when the magic comes in…they’ll do something that’s…Wow. When that happens, I’m learning…That definitely improved a lot of my improvisational skills. And I don’t think as much now.
What spiritual traditions influence your work?
I feel the subject matter comes naturally to me, and I just paint what I experience and what I come across in life. I like to paint a lot of fish and koi fish. In particular because it’s a sign of longevity and also fortune…For me, koi definitely takes a long time to master. I’m nowhere near it. I’ve seen many gorgeous koi out there by many great artists, which makes me want to work harder and practice more.
Gauguin once suggested that to understand the subject matter we should search for what has been left out. Do you agree?
We have to see what’s being left out because it’s the only way to understand truth. You have to see life in a multifaceted way. You can’t just see it through one person’s perspective. You have to see it not from my perspective but our perspective.
What is the story being told?
If I could say one thing to the world…I would say: “we’re all better than we were led to believe.” Hopefully I can convey that through my paintings…They empower the viewers and give them an uplift. Like a spiritual lift. So that despite all the tragic things that do go on everyday, I still think we could guide our children to a place and time of more peace and balance. But we have to do that today. And if we guide our children to the right place, I think they’ll clean up a lot of problems our ancestors have created.