Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Allard.
Tony, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
–Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz
What was tattooed on my soul before I was born, has been revealed to me over a lifetime of unseen influences dissolving the boundaries between my conscious and unconscious mind and between my art and my life. I came from a family of eleven children in Kansas and like Dorothy in the musical fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz, I made my way out of the ostensibly black and white, superordinary world of the plains of Kansas to the cinematic, Technicolor world of Southern California. I now live in Normal Heights, teach in the School of Arts at Cal State San Marcos and continue to reveal through a hybrid, nomadic art practice what was indeed tattooed on my soul many treetops ago.
I did not arrive here to Southern California by way of a tornado as Dorothy did when she was bonked on the head by a Kansas twister which lifted her up out of her black and white world—house, dog and all—spun her around and dropped the whole shebang magically down into a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Technicolor movie set in Los Angeles. I arrived in San Diego rather prosaically by car in 1997. Like Dorothy, however, I have traveled the unavoidable, perilous, musical, beautiful, mundane, bizarre road of the hero’s journey out of childhood and into adulthood. I could have never guessed from the start of this journey at the age of five or six when I began showing a vivid aptitude for drawing, where this path would lead me today.
All along the way and quite emphatically my “soul’s code” has given me clues and has insisted that I follow a meandering nomadic path away from the center and out to the edges of experience. This path has transformed me from a traditional, realist painter into a performance artist, video maker, shaman/trickster, poet, bio-art maker and the unofficial mayor of Normal Heights. I did not receive this path or the directions on how to follow it from my culture but rather I have received it from an unknown, unannounced muse writing instructions in archetypal code directly onto my soul. Along with this sacred text/code, I have received warnings that there is hell to pay if I don’t pay attention to these fully formed artwork downloads to my psyche.
So what happened between growing up in the breadbasket-bible-belt-tornado-alley of Topeka, Kansas and now, where I live in a highly contested, ethnically diverse west coast border town in a neighborhood enigmatically named, Normal Heights? For sure, lots of art and life happened in that span of time. All through undergraduate school I had been painting realistically and toying with abstraction but became increasingly aware and agitated in my subconscious mind and dreams that I would not be a painter all my life.
My first real encounter with the demand to authentically read the code tattooed on my soul was my first year in grad school in the Art Department at Kansas University in Lawrence. About three months into the program I stopped painting, dabbled in making conceptual art jokes for a semester and then began a high dive into the world of performance art, industrial noise music, poetry slams and the literary scene in Lawrence. What tipped the balance for me away from painting and into the video, writing, music and performance art were visits to campus by the performance artist, Laurie Anderson, the benevolent trickster and avant guard music composer John Cage and the beat writer, William S. Burroughs. It was my encounters with Burroughs, his writing and his moving to Lawrence in 1981 that set me unconsciously but squarely onto the path of hero’s journey for many years to come. This journey has involved among other things, devil’s bargains, multiple dark nights of the soul, art lawyers, fussy literary agents and two attempts to make art out of Burroughs’ DNA.
After undergraduate school and to this day, I continue down my chosen path of the artistic nomad, not settling definitively in one artistic medium but rather developing trans-media, time-based, solo and collaborative works that take on the urgent but frisky conversations of our time. Like a nomad who is compelled away from the center and out to the nervy edges of town, I have become a trickster compelled to street level to scramble genres, to put things where they don’t belong and to playfully blur the all-too-serious line between art and life. I have had the good fortune over the years to explore the edges of experimentation in many places nationally and internationally–Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Germany, Mexico, among others. Hands down, the most transforming experiences have been at street level, right here in the Normal on Adams Avenue at all times of the day and night.
So what about that Burroughs DNA and making art out of it? This is where my hero’s journey and my soul’s code took me to places in my psyche and artistic career that I could never have imagined as an introspective, quiet, young painter from Kansas. So here we go! In 1996 I attempted to get the writer William S. Burroughs’ DNA sequenced and make art out of it. Then in 2010, I once again attempted to make art out of Burroughs’ DNA. In both these attempts, the muse and/or author of my soul’s code arrived as usual unannounced in my subconscious mind in the middle of the night in both 1996 and 2010 to deliver these two fully formed artworks to my psyche. The question is, where did these ideas come from? This question remains one of my great inspirations to continue making art because it cannot be logically answered and therefore can be fully trusted as the creative way to go. And go I did at top speed.
I came close to pulling off both these attempts to make art out of Burroughs’ DNA, but especially in 2012 when my bio art collaborator and I extracted two vials full of Burroughs’ microbiome DNA at a genetics lab at the Kansas University Medical Center. After extracting the DNA we stored it in a minus 80-degree freezer for use later in an interactive art installation in Kansas City. We were getting set to create a transgenic mutation or if you will, a genetic cutup by shooting a BIO-RAD Helios gene gun loaded with Burroughs’ microbiome DNA and nanogold dust particles into the nucleus of umbilical cord cells. But, as is typically the case in a hero’s journey, a dark night of the soul and/or devil’s bargain took hold of the “Mutate or Die” project and it abruptly ended.
Like Dorothy and her posse of misfits stumbling their way to OZ through Dorothy’s own dark-night-of-the-soul woods, I eventually made it to the other side. But along the way, I encountered the equivalent of shape-shifting good witches and bad witches, charlatans, hybrid beings, wayward alchemists, black magic and a seemingly endless circus parade of edge workers. Ultimately I failed to deliver, as Burroughs would say, these two “immortality blueprints”.
What remains of this part of my hero’s journey are these stories, a few bizarre artifacts and a film I am now making about my attempts to launch Burroughs’ genetic code into the future. The stories and the film will become part of a three-act, operatically enhanced live cinema performance entitle “Mutate or Die”. This epic strangeness will be “set” appropriately in Normal Heights and unfold inside The People’s Opera House. Yours truly, the unofficial mayor of Normal Heights will be building this nomadic opera house over the next year with the Normal Heights community. What follows is a press release for the launch of The People’s Opera House project and details on how you can get involved.
Press Release for The People’s Opera House Project Launch.
The People’s Opera House project is a social experiment in crowd-sourced creativity that engages audiences in the urgent but frisky conversations of our time. At the core of The People’s Opera House project is an operatically enhanced, live cinema film I am making entitled “Mutate or Die”. This film chronicles my entry into the “directed evolution” conversation by way of my two attempts in 1996 and 2012 to make art out of the writer William S. Burroughs’ DNA. This evening at Lestat’s West Venue you the people will be introduced to the project and creatively brought into the “directed evolution” conversation.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I create solo and collaborative, time-based art experiences that playfully question our habitual commitments to consensus culture, while at the same time generating non-ordinary states of mind. These extra-ordinary states of mind can free up personal and collective creativity, which is ultimately good for my/our mental health.
The creation of these consciousness-raising experiences comes from my life-long desire to put things where they don’t belong. I start with play and instinctual expression and begin combining materials, mediums, situations, music, movement, texts, drawings, video, etc., in order to activate the new but hidden language in the work of art I am attempting to make manifest. I call this new language BEYONDSENSE.
I create these BEYONDSENSE experiences too, as I mentioned above, question the juggernaut of consensus reality that we have collectively built together. It is now universally agreed that we humans use only a fractional amount of our cognitive abilities and trace a very narrow data path in our daily lives.
Which means that there is an astounding amount of our reality that is available to us if we could only dispense with these habituated thoughts, actions and speech. I create these BEYONDSENSE experiences as a personal and public service to get the hell out of my/our own way and experience the truly transcendent beauty of creative consciousness that is always there waiting for us.
The sterotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
Throughout my teaching career, I have encountered many students who let the financial boogeyman stand squarely in the way of their calling as an artist. This seemingly real pressure from parents, partners, peers and the society at large should not hold a candle to this calling but it does and there is a price to pay for not “following your bliss” as Joseph Campbell once said. It takes something to first shut out all this chatter about money and making a living and then become very still and really listen to what is calling you forth. It can be done but it is rare and takes tremendous focus and discipline.
I have witnessed remarkable transformations of students who simply would not take no for an answer, plowed right through the boogeyman of money and fully tapped into their creativity and passion which, ironically, propelled them into a job that actually fed their creativity rather than robbed them of it. Creativity knows no class and if you are struggling with financial concerns this is the ideal situation to tap into your creativity and generate solutions. In amidst all the turmoil of concern don’t ever stop playing!
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
My work is available online at these links:
-FOSSIL MEDIA – http://fossilmedia.net/
-Tony Allard on Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/user6347458
-A nomadic center for creative consciousness – https://www.facebook.com/further.furthermore
-The People’s Opera House Project – https://www.facebook.com/thepeoplesopera/
-The Artist Odyssey – https://theartistodyssey.com/library/
-The DOWNSTREAM Collective at Cal State San Marcos – https://www.facebook.com/downstreamcsusm/
-Digital Drawing Curriculum Development Symposium – https://www.facebook.com/digitaldrawingsymposium/
The quickest way that people can support my work is by participating in the launch and creation of The People’s Opera House Project in Normal Heights. The next opportunity to participate will be at the project launch on July 28th at Lestat’s West Venue in Normal Heights from 3 – 5 PM.
If you are interested in jumping into the mix please contact:
-Tony Allard: firstname.lastname@example.org
-The People’s Opera House Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thepeoplesopera/
-FOSSIL MEDIA: http://fossilmedia.net/
The People’s Opera House project invites you to further participate over the next year in the creation of the “Mutate or Die” film and live cinema performances. Please consider the list below, which is by no means final but is open and evolving!
- Website: https://public.csusm.edu/fossilmedia/index.html
- Email: email@example.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tony.allard.58
All photos are credited to Tony Allard.