Leigh J. McCloskey | Creator Wave Vol. 43
Leigh J. McCloskey is a modern day polymath or more commonly known as a Renaissance man. Having worked in the film industry for over 30 years and artwork that is revelatory on very deep levels, he has come to influence and touch pockets of culture in a collective way nobody else has. I was first introduced to his works through the collaboration he took up with Warp Recording artist and owner of Brainfeeder Flying Lotus and particularly the Comsogramma LP artwork. Diving into the world he has created and continues to create everyday proved to be one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks we have taken on. Through email exchange, we were able to communicate with Leigh about many areas of his creative approach. Included is a gallery that includes almost 200 pieces of work from this prolific artist. He is truly one of the best and we are very proud to present this new entry in our online art gallery Creator Wave.
Creator Wave Volume 43: Leigh J. McCloskey
Interview conducted by Xavi Vii
Sound Colour Vibration: First off, it is an honor to be able to have a Q & A with you. Your work is something unparalleled and almost prophetic. Again, it’s an honor and thanks for doing the interview. I’d like to start off by asking you how you got involved with the Tarot system, astronomy and spiritual, ancient beliefs?
Leigh J McCloskey: My fascination with all things arcane and hidden has been a keynote of my life. I never felt that the official version of things was very deep nor meaningful, but simply codes that sought to teach conformity to existing beliefs and the self interest of vested organizations. I was fortunate to grow up in a home that valued creativity, imagination and independent thinking. I began in my late teen years studying metaphysics, philosophy, religion, folklore, alchemy, gnostic beliefs, Sufism, the roots and origins of Christianity, Western and Eastern Mysticism, Qabalah, indigenous traditions and the arts of the world. I felt remarkably privileged to live at a time where we were given access to so many hidden wonders, so I studied, read and explored everything I could get my hands on. Across the years this has lead to my cultivating a remarkable library and for over thirty two years I have held twice weekly philosophical salons in my home, Olandar, in Malibu.
In 1985 I was asked by the late Edwin Steinbrecher if he could use some of my drawings to represent the archetypes of the Major Arcana of the Tarot for the 6th edition of his book, The Inner Guide Meditation, A Spiritual Technology for the 21st Century. It was based upon Jungian active imagination, natal astrology and the Tarot archetypes. I had found this form of active meditation an effective tool for accessing and developing communication with my inner self and the theatre of the psyche. I told him I thought I should try to create new images directly based on the Tarot system and its tradition. At the time I remember thinking how hard could that be. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, if I had I probably never would have done it because with a little more knowledge of the journey ahead I would have thought it impossible. I stepped into the process of revisioning the major arcana of the Tarot that would take me seventeen years to complete but during that time I created an entirely original set of 22 pen and ink drawings. I also wrote, created and illuminated my first book, Tarot ReVisioned. I modeled the drawings and book upon the renaissance ideal that a thing of beauty reveals far more about the subject than any amount of explanation or illustration. The book and drawings are a thing of beauty, and as far as I am concerned a joy forever. My text is from direct creative experience, not simply intellectual metaphysical speculation. I know that its archetypal and psychological insights are profound and deeply important to our growing understanding of the psyche and soul. Without a mythic perception of our human wiring and purpose we are simply time dwellers living in a world of reaction suffering from a lack of any real meaning. This is why this work is so valuable for those seeking to know themselves beyond the boundaries of social agreement and wishing to connect with their ancient inheritance of the whole of creation and archetype. Tarot ReVisioned is a true labor of love. We humans are far more vast and interesting than the salesmen of fear and the accountants of the imagination will ever let on.
SCV: Do these principles guide you in discovering new languages within your art? Is the “watcher language” you used on your astonishing Hieroglyph of the Human Soul your creation or is it an older language?
LJM: Yes, because all inner traditions and esoteric philosophy teach that we are each a microcosm of the macrocosm meaning that it is not from without but from within that we will come to know ourselves and our true human purpose. This core value has been the touchstone from which all of my art, writing and visual philosophy has emerged. The root of my Codex Tor illuminated books and the Watcher language all emerge from experimentation, spontaneous creation and imaginative play, meaning that just as an actor must learn how to get out of the way of the energy of the character he is expressing and allow its truth to flow, so too I learned how to finally to get out of the way of my creation energies and to trust their mentoring as they energetically revealed their character to and through me. If I had to bring it all back to one simple seed idea that began the journey that my art now expresses it would be the question I asked a long time ago which was simply how does one bypass the need to make intellectual sense out of a creative impulse.
In the early seventies when I was studying acting at The Juilliard School in NYC I was impressed by a Japanese calligrapher talking about his craft. He was revealing that his art was capturing breath (chi) and letting it flow as life and ink onto the paper. I thought that the ancient calligraphers art and its relationship with breath, gesture and emotional connection was perfect for physicalizing the actors craft as well. The paint gave me a tangible emotional medium to experiment with. I began using art or the tools of creation to explore the energetic truth of characters I was playing. I had no interest in being an artist per say especially in this culture where the artist was often like the actor all about celebrity and sales. I kept my artist side deeply private for most of my life. I found very few interested in the ideas that so excited my creative imagination which meant I worked privately and would share my work with my discussion groups and those that cared about such things. This inward turning focus I now see was essential, it freed me on a profound level simply to explore creation and consciousness without needing to convince anyone why they should care about my art or that they should be compelled by the questions I have been asking all of my life.
** I bound blank books in a book binding course I took and began my Codex Tor illuminated books that would span 21 years and would consist of over 500 hand drawn and painted images. The great composer and musician, Flying Lotus. Steve Elison selected works from these books for his album, Cosmogramma. There is a short video that he shot of me called Cosmogramma: Inside the Codex. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsRnaaR-r3k)
SCV: How do you correlate L.A. Television/Movie life with the necessity or transcendence into spiritual and universal principles?
LJM: I have always felt very fortunate to have been able to sustain a professional acting career in Hollywood for over four decades, but early in that journey I realized its rules and bottoms lines and ways of doing business had its limitations. In 1980 when I began playing Mitch Cooper on the hit TV series Dallas it became obvious to me that celebrity and the world’s equation of success was not enough. I felt grateful for my good fortune in Hollywood in that it had allowed my wife, Carla, who was an assistant director and a director, and I to buy our home, Olandar, in Malibu. We purchased a home near where I’d grown up as a boy. I realized as much as I wanted to be in control of my actor’s life that it was more as if I had put my boat in the waters of the film industry and that those waters ultimately determined my journey. My frustrations with those inherent limitations lead me to simply take a page from Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Transcendentalists which embodied the truth that one must cultivate for oneself that part of the conversation missing in the world. Since I had been fortunate enough to have a home I wanted to share it and utilize it for creative and philosophical gatherings. I have held twice weekly discussion groups at Olandar for over thirty years enjoying quite literally thousands of discussions about everything you now see in my art and writings. Every question for me becomes one of integration rather than rejection. Hollywood and TV were just the setting and what was missing I have brought to the table. The contradictions have proven quite effective as an alchemy that sought to find reconciliation between many worlds through my willingness to interact and not over identify with any of them, but to enjoy each for the unique story, opportunity and journey that they expressed and contained.
SCV: Is there a certain thematic evolution to your books, paintings and projects? It must be quite the process to remain working on a project for over 20 years. When looking back on Codex Tor Illuminated Books, is it easy to see your growth process or is it something ambiguous and unconscious?
LJM: In my art and visual philosophy my work can be viewed as various expressions happening at once. Not so much a direction forward, but wheels within wheels of implication. The wheel is the tangibly reoccurring motif in the stories told through my art. The Tarot is a wheel, the mandala/medicine blossoms created from my painting Phoenix Arise are wheels. The Hieroglyph of the Human Soul, my painted 3D studio that began on 9-11-01 is indeed a cave painting. Meaning it completes the wheel. Here we return to the beginning, because the painted library and wonder study is simply paint, story telling and imagination, our first and most ancient language. I think that my works should be like rings in a tree and that they are a technology of beauty and imagination, meaning trust where they take you because the unique story within each of us is what this art form seeks. This is why in the last volume of the Codex Tor:Book Two: Equinox: Mysterium Magnum, (pub.2008-Olandar Press) I wrote this short explanation,
“Enjoy the journey of the Codex Tor and let the entity of its images reveal their deeper meaning and trigger your ancient knowing. The Codex Tor are the initiating handbooks of the coming technology of beauty and creative sciences. Only Love may open the ways of Love and true vision is always the open eye of Love. Codex Tor is born of Love and its gnosis is revealed as beauty and illumination. We are the garden that we tend and we become that which we cultivate.
CREATIVITY IS TRUE SCIENCE
IMAGINATION IS TRUE RELIGION
AND LOVE THE ONLY TRUTH.”
SCV: It’s interesting to see that most of your works began to flourish in 2000. How was it to dive head first into the visual world and commerce of it?
LJM: I think what initiated my journey and the advent of this remarkable Hieroglyph/Akashic library revelation is it really began as a seed sown with a sense of despair that we humans had made so little love out of life and cultivated such a dark and fearful palette with which to paint our humanity. . On 9-11-2001 something in me quit, just quit. I energetically and profoundly gave up on agreeing to agree with the world’s entrancement with doom. I realized we are all already dead, so lets back engineer the more interesting and generous story of our shared human purpose, give something to future generations that tells them of a worthiness that we fought to finally value within ourselves even if the world is damned. So I didn’t seek the art world or its hedge fund mentality of the assets based commerce of art. I had had enough of that as an actor. I sought to make some sense within my home of the sorrows of the human heart and why on earth it is so difficult to be human. In many ways I became a modern Noah. I realized that the last flood was water and this one information. I decided I would create an ideal ark and philosophical seed within my home. I would dedicate myself to telling the more noble version and vision of who and what we are as human. As a father I would leave to generation the story worthy of my children, my wife and those I love not simply in this time but across all time. I turned my back on everything that I had been taught to equate with business in Hollywood’s version of values and success, which was no different in the art world, or any of the other cultural institutions. This is why the domestic/home footprint of Olandar is for me an essential metaphor of the emerging renaissance because to heal the world we must begin with where we live and tell the intimate truth we know, not convince the neighbor his politics are wrong. The vision of Olandar and my Olandar Foundation for Emerging Renaissance (OFFER) heralds the truth that we humans are not little incomplete things grown from a cosmic mistake, nor sinful children cast out by an angry mean spirited male god nor a psychological basket case needing to dread its Freudian Id, but rather a species of consciousness, a heroic, dazzling art form of being, that comes from incomprehensible vastness to experience intimacy and the unique artistry of earthly consciousness. Olandar and the Hieroglyph of the Human Soul (THOTHS) reveal that to be human is a great gift, a great responsibility and a profound opportunity to be both oneself uniquely and yet human completely. This shift in self perception will open universes of implication. I use my art and visual philosophy as creation science meaning that this technology born through me of spontaneous creation or the life principle (Love) rather than simply theory or math (Thought) reveals that each of us are an art form, a unique blossom of creation and that we each, whole holographic and holy. We are the gardens we cultivate and Olandar says whatever seeds one plants will grow, so plant your garden with wisdom.
SCV: Were your techniques self-taught or an accumulation of training and practice?
LJM: I am the son of a painter who didn’t teach me how to paint as much as cultivated in me the capacity to see. He would always say don’t tell me what it looks like but how does it feel. Suggest don’t define. In the ways of my techniques I am self taught and have studied through observation and question. The medium is the mentor. The tools we choose train us to observe and attend in different measures. In my case I have discovered that the questions I asked stimulated the spontaneous growth of poly variant techniques becoming not one but many voices as an artist. My father, Joseph, would say when you can no longer talk about it, paint it. When philosophy and thought can go no further we paint. All true revelation comes from creation never theory.
SCV: An off topic question. I am a big fan of Suspiria along with Inferno, how was it working on the set of such a stellar horror movie and has the supernatural always been an interest of yours?
LJM: Working in Rome on Argento’s movie Inferno in 1979 was a unique and fascinating experience. Dario was an odd and introverted man who was uncomfortable with actors but when he saw my drawings which were dark and deliciously twisted in those days we had a common language. I had always been fascinated by the subterranean and chthonic impulses in the psyche and Inferno was a strange brew and dark alchemy that wanders through those nightmarish realms indeed. Being in Rome and on the set of Inferno was a turning point in my architectural, environmental and spacial sense as an artist.
SCV: Is there anything you are currently working on? What can we expect or not expect from you within the following years?
LJM: I continue to build Olandar Foundation for Emerging Renaissance (OFFER) and to hold weekly gatherings at my home Olandar that bring imaginative and creative people together. Please visit my website http://www.leighmccloskey.com, Olandar Foundation fro Emerging Renaissance on FB and watch the videos that are posted on my website and available through Googling my name.
SCV: Thanks so much for your time, Leigh, truly a mastermind within the modern day art community. I speak for many… I hope to see some more projects soon.