Ed Ruscha recently called Dani Tull one of "LA's brightest new talent and truest voices," so you should be listening up.
In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. From yogis, to psychics, to witches, City of the Seekers examines how creative freedom enables LA-based artists to make spiritual work as part of their practices.
On the surface, visionary and conceptual art are very different. The first seems more organic, while the latter requires a certain amount of intellectual deliberation. But as artist Dani Tull shows, visionary and conceptual art are actually quite similar. In conceptualism, the presented idea can strive to be more important than the product, while the visionary process of practicing spirituality through art can be more important than the actual object, too. In this way, Tull converges two superficially separate modalities—the conceptual and the experiential—revealing that any genre of art can be visionary, and vice-versa. But Tull isn't fond of the term "visionary art" or any other self-identifying labels he believes overly stylize and fetishize their own cultures.
"Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an art snob. I participate in and position myself in the contemporary art business fully aware of how shady it can be," he says. "But I would take the sanctity of a well-lit white room to experience a work of art over the hoopla of the dusty Burning Man playa any day."
That's not something you'd expect to hear from most mystically-minded artists in Los Angeles, but thankfully, Tull has shattered the stereotype with art that reflects the true complexity of someone brought up in the SoCal sprawl.
With an MFA from Stanford University and a BFA from The San Francisco Art Institute, Tull was recently singled out by in Wallpaper. In 2009, Tull curated Aspects of the Archaic Revival, a group show featuring international artists inspired by allegories, psychedelics, and magic. Its title was inspired by Terence McKenna's 1992 book, The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History.
But over the course of the last two decades, Tull's art has been conceptually-based, though he's always worked from a place of personal experience. Lately, he's aimed to create work that transcends that, though, examining areas of consciousness that are beyond the limits of identity.
"The path and process of my work has never been linear," Tull says. "I used to worry about it, because there’s a general desire to brand artists, but for the most part, I have chosen to follow my interests as they unfold. Now, with some years behind me, I’ve got a better view [...] and see the way past bodies of work and ideas circle around and are in fact interconnected in elegant and unexpected ways."
Right now, Tull is working on several different projects including a series of sculptures called Convergences—tripodal forms constructed from carved cast acrylic and wood panels, joined together to create an axis. These forms appeared to Tull in his "liminal zones," or within the periphery of his field of perception.
"For a few years I just kind of felt the presence of this thing while bringing it closer into focus," he says. "When I could finally see what it was, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. It felt familiar and connected to nature and natural processes. I recognized it as an archetypal form, but not one in the common lexicon of archetypes. I sensed this form was articulating some complex ideas in a nonlinguistic way and that it could make the leap physically as a sculptural form. I began to build these sculptures by hand while trying not to overthink their meaning. As exotic as their arrival might seem, I kept the process engaged with formal and aesthetic concerns while keeping a footing in historical context. This is really interesting to me, navigating through and straddling that place where mystical experience intersects with formalism and contemporary art issues."
Throughout his life, Tull has had a variety of mystical experiences. As a youth, they were tied to typical SoCal pursuits such as skateboarding, surfing, and playing in bands. "They brought my awareness to the theatrics of ritual and ceremony; something I am still very aware of both my participation in the current spiritual renaissance of LA as well as the pomp of the art world."
More recently, however, Tull has participated in community gatherings for consciousness explorers that have a strong correlation to indigenous and Amazonian traditions. "The experiences are extraordinary and deeply profound," he says. "But as much as I am in pursuit of authentic spiritual experiences, I am equally interested in the histories and mechanics of fringe spiritual movements and 'guru' personality cults. I like where the lines get blurred from total theatrics to something real or at least real enough: it confirms my belief that creativity and imagination are viable and legitimate tools for accessing mystical states and to transmute energy."
Though Tull says he enjoys drifting between being an atheist/agnostic and a theosophist/gnostic, he's ultimately anti-dogmatic, with a strong allegiance to nature. "But it’s funny, somehow people seem to think that I have a disciplined spiritual practice, and I don’t," he says. "If anything, my practice is my art, and I have total devotion to making my work. Outside of that, I might be a dabbler of self-curated esoteric pursuits."
In terms of a connection between LA and visionary art, Tull says there's the danger of a stigma that arises from the so-called New Age movement, which can be kitschy. He prefers to pay attention to the actual geography of Los Angeles and California, which he believes is literally and spiritually on the fringe. "For artists, the city’s geographical spread fosters a maverick sensibility and meditative space," he says. "For artists, I think LA is the most interesting city in the world at possibly the most interesting and important time in human history. Something is stirring here and it’s kicking up some of LA’s eccentric histories—it’s soupy and iridescent, a vortex of shifting gradients, cross-pollinating our creativity and dreams in unexpected ways, like a hazy cosmic jive.
"And while California has long been a hotbed for consciousness exploration and fringe spiritual movements that have intersected with the arts, I believe the current global state of embedded technologies, hyper-connectivity and information-driven culture is evoking a deeper subtext that can be seen as an impulsive return to analogue systems: the handmade, abstraction, mystical experience, and an exploration of esoteric modalities. I see my work as both an interface and agitator within the interplay of these analogous fields."
Visit Dani Tull’s website here.