Artist Charles Irvin came to LA for the art, and stayed for the yoga.
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.
Contemporary artist Charles Irvin's creative philosophy is simple: "It doesn't have to make sense," he says. "It just has to look cool."
His spiritual philosophy, however, is a little more difficult to explain. Irvin is a believer of the Hindu system of Lila, or the practice of living through play. The idea behind Lila is that God and the universe are one and the same, and that our collective evolution is not toward any kind of end goal, but simply to remind us to live in the present, enjoy life, and create.
"To our puny linear minds, there seems to be an agenda where lessons are learned through the process [of living]," Irvin tells The Creators Project, “but that’s not whole story, because the whole story is infinite."
Despite his spiritual beliefs, Irvin doesn't exactly identify with visionary art, not being too concerned with fantastic or mystical imagery. Instead, he finds himself more engaged with the legacy of conceptual art, specifically the materiality and the meaning behind his media, and the context in which his work is presented.
"I see things in my mind's eye, or in other words, I have ideas and then I try to manifest them in the material world," he describes. "Artists use both the rational linear mind and the intuitive, non-linear mind. You need both in order to create."
Irvin's main mediums are painting and drawing, but he also works as a multidisciplinary artist creating sculptures, videos, performance art, music, and installations. Originally born in Dallas, he earned his Master of Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and since 2000, he's called LA his home.
"LA is a hotbed of cultural innovation. That manifests in so many ways: spiritually, artistically, etc. People come here to create a new world," he says.
Yet while Irvin believes that the LA art world used to be a great source of fresh ideas as well as an alternative to the New York art scene in the 20th century, he feels things are now changing, with a growing influx of artists homogenizing both local and global cultures.
"But LA still has its own personality," he notes. "It’s a strange place, because it’s the main source of global pop culture. LA defines the global consensus reality. At the same time, it’s easy to drop out here and create your own little world or community. It’s easy to go within here. Just coming back from a week in NYC really emphasized that."
While Irvin initially moved to LA for the art scene, he says he always knew that LA had more to offer. After buying a house in the northeast neighborhood of Cypress Park and reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, he was pleasantly surprised to himself within distance of the headquarters of Yogananda's Self Realization Fellowship world headquarters.
Irvin is particularly interested in LA's century-long legacy of attracting spiritual teachers, and is a devoted practitioner and teacher of Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. "Having a spiritual practice has helped me be happier and healthier," he explains. "That has given me more energy to be creative. I think I’m a better artist because of it."
Like artist Dani Tull, who counts Irvin among his inspirations, Irvin is working as a conceptual artist within the trajectory of the fine-arts tradition. But his creative process as well as the nature of his art comes from a more profound place that can only be described as visionary, even if both Tull and Irvin aren't keen on the term because it's so often associated with artist Alex Grey.
Irvin tries to make art without an agenda, but just for fun. But then again, the idea of fun is kind of the “agenda” behind Lila. Either way, Irvin believes, "The key is to remember it’s a game and you’ll be back in the next life, so don’t stress out."
Visit Charles Irvin’s website here.