Devon DeJardin’s art is immediately discernible through his unique use of guardians as his subject: abstract manifestations of protectors that gaze out at the audience through orbs of purity and hope. He uses art to explore the delicate dance between darkness and light that is human experience. You can partake in his journey of reflection and understanding at his upcoming exhibitions at the Albertz Benda gallery in NYC starting in March and Carl Kostyál in Stockholm opening in June.
Hello Devon, thank you for speaking to us. Where are you answering us from?
Los Angeles, California.
The abstract yet deliberate figures of your art have been described as guardians, warriors, and protectors. What are they defending? What does a guardian mean to you?
To me, a guardian often times appears in forms we don’t recognise: challenges that force us to learn new skills, losses that teach us emotional resilience, crises that show us our inner strength. They aren’t necessarily defending any one particular thing. It is left to the viewer to decide what it is that he/she is needing protection from - or guidance to.
The multidimensional layers of your work are captivating, tell us a bit about the artistic process. Which techniques do you employ to create such complicated structures and paintings?
My creative approach involves a two to three-step process. Initially, I explore intriguing narratives, storylines, or subject matters that captivate me. Over the past five years, my focus has delved into my experiences with spiritual traditions, drawing inspiration from my travels and immersion in various cultures. Currently, my process involves sourcing literature, whether it be from biblical passages, mythology, or ancient stories. Within that context, I search for elements that spark ideas. The creation process begins with rough, loose outlines depicting the figures in my work. These initial sketches transition into more refined drawings, bringing them from paper to the computer to add three-dimensional and realistic qualities. The refined concept then returns to paper, culminating in a final draft of the envisioned work. Only after completing this three-step outline does the painting phase commence. This structured approach has evolved from my earlier method of spontaneously approaching the canvas, as I now aim to guide the painting through a more intentional and nuanced journey based on technical considerations.
Tell us about your studio. It has been compared to Andy Warhol’s factory in that it is a dynamic harbour where painters, artists, and designers alike are drawn together by the spread of inspiration. How would you describe this physical embodiment of your artistry?
Wow, I do not think I can accept this comparison - Warhol’s factory was a truly remarkable place! My hope with my studio is that it is a place where all artists, musicians, writers, and painters can feel comfortable. I believe in the power of community and the power in numbers. I’ve learned more about my work and myself through the interactions I have had in my studio with creatives than I have had being alone with books and music. There is a giant sign in my studio labeled DENK, which in Dutch translates to think. My studio is a place of fostering deep thought and authentic relationships, which ultimately produces narrative driven art.
Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person? If so, how has your spirituality materialised in your work?
I’ll answer it like this: I think there’s this innate human desire to want to know more about the world that we inhabit and ultimately where we come from as humans. There is also this pull to want to know what is next and what else is out there. There’s so much that science and mathematics can tell us, but there ultimately comes a point where there are still questions left unanswered. For thousands of years people have been trying to answer these questions, and I want to know as much as I can and I want to have the most well-rounded understanding of what other people think. If this search makes me a spiritual person then: yes. Spirituality in the sense of narrative is the driving force behind all of my work. It influences the themes, the aesthetics, and overall creation process.
Are there specific philosophies or teachings that significantly inform your artistic expression?
For now, the most significant teaching in my work is this idea of a guardian or a spiritual protector that you see amongst all major worldviews and religions. One of the core beliefs that is common across most religions is the idea of spiritual protection. Whether it is through prayer, ritual, or other forms of spiritual practice, people in different religions seek protection from the unseen forces that may harm them.
I think there’s this shared belief among humans that there’s a desire for safety and security and peace of mind. And that serves as kind of a testament. There needs to be spiritual guidance or a spiritual force that helps us. So much of my work now is trying to find a way to create this figure that ties everything together without being specific to one worldview. The goal is that ultimately the artwork starts conversations between opposing individual worldviews on what a guardian means to them. I don’t like to move on from subjects too fast, I don’t like to just spend one season working on something. For me, this is such a giant comprehensive matter that’s been standing the test of time for thousands of years. I need to make sure I can really push it as far as I can before I move on.
Your art boasts a mathematical aspect made digestible by the use of muted colours and smooth, organic shapes. Could you share some influences or experiences that inspired this unique fusion of form and concept?
The emotional and muscular abstraction of artists like Picasso, Nevelson, Duchamp, and Krasner has had a lasting impact on modern art and myself by breaking away from traditional representational art and exploring new forms of expression. Their focus on the use of colour, form, and texture to evoke emotions and ideas rather than solely depict physical reality has inspired numerous artists, including myself, to push the boundaries of what is considered art and challenge established norms. The impact of their work continues to be felt in contemporary art years beyond their time, with many artists still looking to their predecessors for inspiration and a sense of freedom to experiment and express themselves in new and innovative ways. It is fascinating and inspiring to comprehend.
Picasso was in a time when everyone had realistic portraits commissioned and he’d come over and flip the script. And they were often so offended, but creating something that’s not necessarily right before the eye was a concept that hadn’t been done yet, especially in portraiture. For me, that was so fascinating because it might have been a reflection of what was happening in society, but at the same time, he might have been seeing it differently. I don’t paint things you can walk down the street and see. You’re not interacting with these in real life, these are things that come about as a merging of fantasy, mysticism and beyond. Now it’s coming into this reality of what’s right in front of us, and I think all these artists did that really well.
There is something emotive and poignant about the opaque, spherical eyes of the figures. Would you say they are accusatory or encouraging? Are they searching for answers in the minds of the audience or in the world that surrounds us?
The eyes of his figures in my paintings will always appear lighter in tone, signifying a purity of spirit and hope for the future. I have chosen not to alter the colour of the eyes in any of my paintings to show the former innocence of the human eye. The eyes are constantly exposed to horrific and saddening imagery daily. I hope for a time where future generations can live with eyes that are filled with purity and hope.
You have upcoming exhibitions at Albertz Benda in NYC and Carl Kostyál in Stockholm in 2024. What sort of visual journey can we expect these shows to take us on?
For Albertz Benda, the cheerful themes of much of my earlier work have evolved into a darker, more limited palette, reinterpreting choices by many of history’s greatest artists, including Goya, van Eyck, and Rembrandt. The paintings will be conceptual reflections of the era in which I have lived, as my generation has never known life in a world without war—from the Gulf War and the War on Terror to the ongoing conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East. The work will metaphorically and physically mine the darkness in society, while using shading and light to subtly tease figures from abstract shapes. The orb-like eyes of his figures will appear lighter in tone, signifying a purity of spirit and hope for the future.
For Carl Kostyal, the work will portray the ongoing forces of darkness and light and how they weave a complex narrative that unfolds in the subtle moments of everyday life: shadows cast by adversity and challenges cloak individuals, yet within this obscurity, seeds of resilience are sown. It is a delicate dance where the interplay of these forces shape the human experience.
In the realm of darkness, individuals confront their deepest fears and trials. The shadows become a canvas for introspection, a space where vulnerabilities are exposed and strength is tested. It is within these moments of obscurity that the human spirit discovers its mettle, learning to navigate the labyrinth of uncertainties and emerge with newfound wisdom.
Conversely, light, in its myriad forms, serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration. Whether it’s the warm glow of success, the radiant hues of love, or the gentle illumination of knowledge, light dispels the shadows, offering clarity and purpose. It is the force that propels individuals forward, casting aside doubts and illuminating the path towards growth and understanding.
Yet, it is in the delicate equilibrium between these forces that the richness of the human experience unfolds. The contrast enhances the beauty of each moment, giving depth to joy and poignancy to sorrow. Just as a chiaroscuro painting relies on the careful juxtaposition of light and dark to create a compelling image, so too does the human journey draw its richness from the ever-shifting interplay of these elemental forces.
In the crucible of life, individuals are not mere spectators but active participants in this cosmic ballet. Through the struggles and triumphs, they contribute to the ebb and flow of darkness and light, shaping the narrative of their own existence. It is a continuous process of adaptation and growth, where the forces that shape us are also shaped by us.
Ultimately, the ongoing dance of darkness and light in the human experience is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It is an acknowledgment that, in the grand tapestry of existence, every shadow and every gleam of light is an integral part of the masterpiece that is life.
As time goes on, do you believe that both the role and representation of guardians will change? If so, how?
The paintings are ever evolving. As time changes so will the work. The narrative will always influence the hand and the hand will always influence the painting.