Angelo de Augustine on the interweaving power of music and painting
words by guia cortassa
artwork by angelo de augustine
Angelo de Augustine is a man of many talents. Besides making soft, dreamy folk music, the Californian has a gift for drawing, creating coloured, kaleidoscopic images. After releasing the animated video for “Crazy, Stoned, & Gone,” in close collaboration with Sufjan Stevens, Angelo shared with us some of the original drawings he made for the clip and answered a few questions about his art.
Your songs have an ethereal and rarefied atmosphere, while your drawings are painted with solid colors and thick outlines: do music and painting come from the same place in your mind or are they the expression of two different sides of yourself?
I almost feel as though I am being divided in half when switching between the two mediums. Music is so transportive and yet incredibly mysterious because it does not actually exist in a visible form within our physical realm. It is akin to communicating with everything there is in the universe and nothing at the same time. Visual art seems to be more defined by physical boundaries, and the nature of its presence is unmistakable because it often exudes a certain kind of permanence in its inherent tangibility.
Every time one plays a piece of music, one is re-creating, The original creation of a song is often never documented exactly as it was when originally expressed. I believe that the reason for that is because we are constantly changing beings and are unable to travel back in time. In that way, we are invariably being eluded by that phantom, making it a medium that is difficult to understand.
When I’m drawing or painting, I notice that I feel a sense of comfort and grounding within the boundaries of the page, and it brings me back to my body and its presence in the physical world.
Your painting reminds me of surrealist automatic drawing: what’s your approach to the image and the color?
My approach to visual art is very similar to my approach to making music in the fact that it is instinctual. My expression of color has always been the same since I was a child.The same willingness to follow instinct and impulsivity have always been constant companions, as well as being imperative to both my visual and musical works.
In both your music and your drawings, it feels like the audience is invited to take a trip into you own mind, as if there were no filters between your inner self and the listener/viewer. Is this what you’re trying to achieve with your art?
That is very perceptive. All I can tell you is that I don’t really believe that music can be pre-meditated or forced into existence. This relates to attempting to achieve something. We cannot control when, or if a special idea comes to us, or what that idea will be about. We can only be patient and observe and choose to be there to help welcome it into reality.
Another sensation shared between your songs and your images is that of an altered state of mind, a lysergic trip materializing in music and drawing. What’s your connection with this kind of experience?
The phenomenon of being alive is quite a strange and surreal experience in itself. We are constantly cycling through the inevitability of change as we perceive it. Our molecules in our bodies and the neuronal pathways in our minds are part of some great internal universe that has its particular order, but also lacks permanence.
At the same time, it’s obvious that most beliefs we have adopted in our culture are socially constructed ones, and are therefore subject to speculation and also change. This lack of overall certainty and stabilization seems to be the only constant in our lives. We can often experience altered states through many avenues including dreams, natural compounds found in plants and elements, and even chemicals found naturally in our own brains that are normally passive, but can reveal themselves and decide to switch on and off when it so chooses.
This is another strong link with California, the place where you were raised and are still based in. What’s your relationship with your homeland?
I am aware of the social influence that one’s homeland can have on one’s life, but I am guessing that I most likely internalize it in a subconscious way that may perhaps be based more in genetics or an influence from a pre-disposition to being born here. I can’t claim to know for sure… I do know that I experience a strong feeling of home in California, and in many ways can’t imagine finding the same exact feeling in another place.
The album was entirely recorded using analog equipment and production. Is it the same with your drawing? Or do you use digital softwares and devices to draw?
Yes the album was recorded using a 4 track 1/4 inch reel to reel tape machine and an old P.A mixer. In regards to visual artwork, I draw and paint by hand and usually use pen and ink, or pen and watercolor.
Many of your drawings become organic creatures with the addition of a set of eyes next to geometric conglomerates. The eyes are also a key image in the “Crazy, Stoned, & Gone” video. What do eyes mean to you?
I’m not really sure… Sufjan made the most of the eyes in the music video, but it is interesting that my drawings in the video also contain those similarities. It’s almost as if we were perhaps unknowingly communicating in a visual way to one another.
The same video was created in collaboration with Sufjan Stevens, who also own the label releasing the album. What’s your relationship with him? Has he been somehow involved creatively in your new release?
I have known Sufjan Stevens for a few years from my visits to New York City. He has been an incredibly supportive and encouraging presence. As well as animating the music video, he helped me with the sequencing of the tracks. I was having trouble with how to make a particular section of the album’s track listing flow more fluidly and his suggestion was something that I had not thought of and it did exactly what I was looking for.
The Moon, the archetypical symbol of impalpable and ethereal things, dreams above all, is another recurring figure in the album. What’s behind this presence?
There is a certain high that anyone who has given themselves permission to be creative, has had the privilege of experiencing. It’s incredibly intense and addictive…
In my mind, the moon and its oceans that reside inside of it are a sort symbol for that place of complete creative freedom and a lifelong journey towards an unknown goal.
The album has a peculiar sound you obtained recording in an exceptional and unique setting. I read you worked for years to find it: what exactly were you looking for? And how are you going to present the new work live?
I have mentioned this before, but I was looking for a sound behind the voice. For a number of years I had tried to realize my songs in professional recording studios and had failed to do so by my own standards. I learned that the reason for it was a combination of a few things.
One was that I found out that I didn’t like other people to be around when I recorded my songs. So I decided to buy my own equipment record myself in my bath tub. The bath and the microphone technique that I implemented gave me the ability to capture the original source of my playing and singing, and also the reflection of my voice and guitar against the walls of the tub. This sort of companion voice was fascinating and comforting to me so I decided to fully pursued it.
Maybe we should purchase a luxurious porcelain bath to cart around the world and wheel me out on stage in haha. I am currently brainstorming how to logistically bring certain ideas of mine into fruition within the live concerts. I have a few that I am particularly fond of implementing now and in the future ahead, to help make the concerts feel even more inviting and special as an experience. It will be a surprise…
Swim Inside the Moon is out August 25, via Asthmatic Kitty Records