Psyked in the City

Exclusive interview with Jonathan West: The inspiration is contagious

The first time I met Jonathan West was in March at Altered States. It was the grand premier of the Psychedelic Dream Temple. I’d never seen anything like it; a mobile art gallery showcasing the works of fifteen visionary artists including Aumega, Jacqui Van Staden, Liquid Faeries, Flowmotion, Sean Ravenhill, Rossi Toltech, Franny Erasmus, Brad Briscoe, Jake Grayham, Hakim Hasan, Raphael Araujo and Pixel Pusher.

After chatting to Jonathan for a short while, I began to understand that The Temple however was not just an art gallery but rather a platform to inspire and expose concealed creativity from the core.

Psyked in the City 

Hi Jonathan! Let’s start at the very beginning; how did it all begin?

I’ve always been into art, ever since I was tiny. I was born in Joburg and started attending the National School of the Arts in grade ten. After that I went on long-travel journeys for a while. Then I decided to move to the UK with my girlfriend at the time – about ten and a half years ago – where I met an amazing group of people and began rigging at some festivals.

It was through Liquid Faeries that I got involved in the whole psychedelic art scene. That’s what opened all these doors for me and made everything possible. Check them out on Facebook (here), they are mind blowing. Another friend I made was Richard from the Extradimensional Space Agency; a talented visionary artist who creates amazing raw organic analogue video. No purchased loops or anything computer-generated, everything he did was filmed raw; so we did crazy things like build massive kaleidoscope and analogue situations with infinite loops. Then we started projecting that content onto structures which we built at the festivals – that’s kind of where the whole VJing thing came in.

Psyked in the City

What inspired you to create the Psychedelic Dream Temple and what is your vision for this project?

Gabi from Altered States provided the initial platform for the Temple. But I’ve always wanted a platform to showcase my work and the work of my friends because I have a lot of really talented friends who have never exhibited. When I first went to the UK, I attended a festival which had a small gallery and it made so much sense. For me, the expansion of the whole psychedelic scene is not just about music, it’s about the entire culture and that has potential to have a real impact and cause fundamental change.

As far as visions for the future go, the Temple is going to be touring Europe this summer. It’ll be doing a few festivals in England then Tree of Life in Turkey. The first festival in England – which I am really excited about – is Noizily Festival; it’s going to be incredible. We’ve been given a really nice big space there in a beautiful area. We’re going to feature a lot of live art.

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So where to from there?

I’ll be back in South Africa before outdoor season starts next summer. I plan to build an incredible space for the Dream Gallery, so I’m focussing on expanding it more into an actual Temple. There’s going to be yoga workshops and talks on psychedelics and the effects on the brain, stuff like that. There’ll also be plenty of analogue and live digital art on projection screens. I’m going to have people drawing and painting too.

The aim of the space, beyond having an area to showcase, is to inspire other people to start creating their own art. The inspiration is contagious. I’ve seen it already; I’ll go to a club and someone will stop me on the dance-floor and tap my shoulder, then they’ll pull out their phone to show me the stuff they’ve been making since they saw the exhibition.

Next year, I would very much like to incorporate a coffee shop kind of vibe, and an extensive seating area with projection screens. I want people to just come in, relax and appreciate the art. I’ll be building a huge geodesic dome with a big sculptural entrance. It will be open during the day and have massive space out front. It’s going to be lovely.

Psyked in the City

The psychedelic culture spans over such a broad spectrum. Do you feel that there is a void between art and music in our local psytrance scene?

I think the whole culture needs to expand rapidly. I believe that there’s space for everyone who is creative to showcase what they are doing at parties. To only be showcasing music and DJs and their incredible talent is really focussing on one aspect of the entire culture. In Europe – mostly due to licensing realities – if you want to throw a dance party for a weekend, it’s never going to happen but if you throw a festival of art and culture, you’ll get the licence. Dance music is an element of art and culture but so are all other forms of expression.

Look at what the Flow team are doing with poi, fire and LED; they’ve turned it into fine art. That’s a perfect example. The Gallery is another example of what people are doing with video mapping and VJing. It all integrates, and delves into the whole philosophy of the culture.

What I’ve noticed, in the UK at least, is that a space at a festival becomes a thing, then you build it up and up; you get a crew and it gets bigger and bigger. Then it’s easy to turn into a small production – and an event of its own – once you’ve already built a name and trust.

I’d love to have a Psychedelic Dream Festival of psychedelic culture, where in order to get a ticket you have to bring something creative to display. So every single person there would have contributed creatively. If a thousand people attend, you’ve got a thousand works of art or poetry.

Psyked in the City

The Temple features a number of works which you created under the alias Pixel Pusher; tell me a bit about your journey as an artist – is this is your first time curating a gallery?

Yes, it’s my first time curating a gallery. It’s exciting. I mean, I’ve always been involved with art, as I said. I started studying fine art when I was twelve. I have a background in painting, drawing, design, sculpture, illustration and jewellery manufacturing. When I got towards the end of school, they brought in a computer graphics course which I did. Outside of school, I took a Coral Draw course and that’s when my interests in graphics began.

The truth was though, back then, I didn’t want to have to earn my money through advertising. I saw graphics at that stage as being financed by the ad industry and web design which didn’t really excite me at the time. So I focussed more on oil painting and sculpture.

I was also inspired my partner at the time – an enormously talented graphic designer – to start playing around on Photoshop again. The psychedelic visions I’d had on the dance-floor influenced me in a big way and I realised I could create effects on Photoshop that I couldn’t do by hand, and that really appealed to me.

Luke Brown (Spectraleyes) is another great inspiration of mine; his art is simply awe-inspiring, and so is Carin Dickson’s (Artescape). I’ve been invited to exhibit my work at Ozora Festival this year, and to do live art there. It’s a huge accomplishment and I can’t wait.

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Will you be travelling alone or do you have a team who will be accompanying you?

At the moment I’m building a team; it’s very much about having the correct group of people. I’d like a small team who can just run with it. I am looking for inspired and dedicated individuals, if anyone wants to get involved.

The psytrance scene is really unique in that it merges organic elements of living – such as dancing, music and love – with high-end technology and the new age, which is also what you do to a certain degree?

For me that’s really important and it’s another aspect of the Temple that I want to get into; an outreach community project. We’re trying to get funding for something like that in the UK because I really believe that the combination of art, mathematics, science and computer science – which are effectively the four things we’re using to create digital visionary art – is really, really important. I think it’s essential for children to understand that all these subjects are cool, as well as financially viable. Especially in a place like South Africa where there is so much raw talent and very few options.

Psyked in the City

So what would you say your biggest triumphs and challenges have been so far with regard to the Dream Temple and its creation?

For me, it’s been an amazing experience. The Temple unites all the random experiences and connections that I’ve had in my life. I’ve done a variety of interesting things, and I’ve always wondered how it would come together in the bigger picture. It’s been amazing how it’s all come to a head in this Temple.

In the future, I’d love to take the Temple around the world and into galleries. I’d like to showcase at events like Design Indaba to bring it more into the mainstream too. I can see a really bright future for the Dream Temple; I’m talking about taking it to Australia next year and eventually Japan.

As far as challenges go, it’s finding the quality of print; bringing out the resolution and the quality of designs through print is incredibly difficult. It’s been a massive learning curve and, at the cost of each canvas, it’s been quite an expensive task. Also, with taking a delicate, beautiful thing to such a rough environment like a trance party, there is massive wear and tear.

Helping people view digital art as fine art has also been a challenge. I’ve had a lot of people say things like, “this is all so pretty, did you just download it off the internet?” I think that some individuals are under the impression that somewhere out there, there is a computer that just churns out visionary art. That’s why I’ve been playing with printing on different mediums such as stainless steel, Perspex, wood and nice stretch canvases, or framing the prints, just to make it look more like fine art to the outside world.

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I think there’s a definite need for an accessible and interactive space for young people to showcase their work, especially those who are maybe hesitant to climb out of the creative closet so to speak. Can up and coming artists get in touch if they’d like to get involved?

Absolutely. One of the goals of the Temple, or something that’s really important to me, is to showcase South African intentionally. If I can build the careers of South African artists, that’s amazing and what I’ve noticed is by showcasing art and changing it, and watching the patterns and what excites people and what sells, I’ve been able to give feedback to the artists as to what’s working and what they should be focussing on producing.

If you would like to display a piece, please email or contact the Temple via our Facebook page.

Psyked in the City

How does one go about purchasing a piece of artwork from the Psychedelic Dream Temple at this stage?

The website is live at Soon, you’ll be able to buy all of the art from the online store. Until then, I will be leaving my catalogue and stretch canvases with Earth DNA – an awesome shop in Plumstead that sells crystals, poi, fire toys and all those wonderful goodies. So if people do contact me while I’m abroad, I can just put them directly in touch.

Psyked in the City

Before we wrap things up, is there anything you’d like to share that we haven’t covered?

I just want to say thank you to the artists. Without them, none of this would be possible. I’d like to give special thanks to Jaqui van Staden, my print consultant, for providing me with her endless knowledge. The quality of print has really helped to bring these visionary works into the realm of fine art. There are too many people to list by name, but I am grateful to each and every one of you who has been involved in the experience.

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