Visionary Art: An Interview With Miles Toland

Miles Toland, art, artist , portraits

I’ve never met Miles Toland. As luck would have it, the visionary artist happens to be being sheltered by the wonderful folk of Vaayu who just happen to be old friends. When we first discussed the possibility of a tete-a-tete with him, I accepted fairly nonchalantly; his process sounded intriguing enough but I was in no way prepared for the profound impact actually seeing his work would have on me.

Toland, much like his portfolio, is made up of incessant layers; each stacking up to create a remarkable personal depth for someone who’s just twenty three years old. Every one of his paintings is a representation of just how many perspectives a single ‘inspiration’ can have and though I would love to spend your next three scrolls analyzing and assisting your discovery of his repertoire, it appears he’s almost as good at articulating himself as he is at creating brand new dimensions as he marries the worlds of light and music to roll out astounding results.

As he gears up for a live painting session in Mumbai a few weeks from now, we caught up with him to talk negativity & the grim reaper, activating our personal energy systems and the calming effects of a laundromat’s aromas.

[Yes, we're willing to vouch that you'll walk away with more than a few quotables from this one.]

I. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My first breath was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’ve made it 23 and a half revolutions around the sun, my fingers are perpetually painted, my front right tooth is fake, I use found shells as ear gauges, I have a jellyfish/nautilus tattoo on my left arm, I’ve never finished a whole Chapstick, skateboarding is my main transportation, I meditate on the daily, I love movies about aliens, I often dream that I am flying, I find the smell of laundromats very calming, I seek out mind altering and ego humbling experiences, I was named after Miles Davis, I play the bass, I’m addicted to breakfast burritos, and I’m a lover of life.

Miles at Vaayu working on driftwood

Miles at Vaayu working on driftwood

My zany Dad had colour changing LED lights shining on psychedelic fractal pictures in his music studio during the same time that I was getting into the electronic music scene. I would manipulate light on these prints to my favorite songs and was fascinated by the way they would warp my perception of color. I started making paintings that dramatically responded to a change in light color and gave the illusion of movement within the artwork. I kept wanting to do more with the light than just color morphing and strobing, so I created a video animation in an art school class to project on a complimentary painting. No one was merging these mediums at that time so I was developing my own work flow and learning through trial and error. The video projections and music became ways to explore my imagination of each static painting and breath life into their stillness.

III. You mention that as an artist you feel compelled to visually capture the transcendence of music. How would you describe the relationship between music and your art?

Music is the harmonious composition of sound waves. Paintings are the harmonious composition of reflected light waves. These two expressions bring me into a similar trance especially when they are enjoyed as a complementary pair. I prefer creating art under the influence of driving percussion, melodic build ups, and epic bass drops. Sometimes I strive to paint a certain sound in the way I choose my colors and build my textures. Other times I’ll choose to capture the expression of a person melting into the bliss of sound current.

IV. Your artwork is influenced by Hindu metaphysical themes and tantric traditions. Tell us a little about “LED Chakras”

I’m inspired by eastern spiritual philosophies. I’m cultivating my relationship with the various energy systems of my being that yogic cultures have referred to as chakras. The LED chakras were pieces acknowledging the energy of the body by symbolically portraying them through the medium of light. I cut holes into my paintings, inlaid stain glass styled plastic windows into those holes, and then illuminated these windows with LED lights behind the panels like a light box. I made it so the intensity of the light could be adjusted by the viewer which made it into an interactive analogy of activating our personal energy systems.

V. You make an interesting analogy between negativity and the Grim Reaper. How do you internalize your thoughts as an artist?

Negativity comes from some form of resistance. Resistance is alleviated by letting go. Letting go is the outcome of acceptance. I know what parts of myself I need to work on based on my negativities or what I resist, fear, and doubt. However, I rarely address my negative thoughts through my art because that seems to romanticize them and keep them lingering. Wallowing in negativity makes a person more attractive to the “Grim Reaper”, but regularly releasing negativity keeps the Grim Reaper well fed and a happy ally. I more commonly depict a positive path or peaceful state of mind to encourage growth in that direction. I believe that the positive content of art can be a prophetic guide to actualizing a more peaceful and joyous future self.

Miles Toland, art, artist , portraits

VI. Your work is layered with introspective depth. What inspired you to create a five panel series exploring the stages of pain? Was it a direct outcome of introspection?

The five panel series illustrates how human attachment can turn into dependency, escapism, and imprisonment. I made the series for an apartment complex in Seattle called Boxcar and their request was to make murals with freight trains. The figures interacting with each boxcar are of my ex-girlfriend that I had just broken up with. She was incredible, but like many of us, she struggled with an anxiety and addiction. I saw her slip into self-created containers that deprived her of her own light. That series of paintings helped me process our relationship and understand her struggle.

VII. When did your fondness for art turn into a profession?

When I realized that I was rushing through my schoolwork and to-do lists to make time for art. It made more sense to prioritize what I loved. I also have a problem with authority and ultimately wanted to be my own boss.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 3.18.11 PMVIII. Who would you say has had the most profound impact on you?

Amon Tobin’s Isam Live show had the most profound impact on my art. That night I saw music and heard light. The fully immersive synesthetic experience is where I am headed with my paintings and video projection installations. On a personal level, I’ve been struggling with acne for the past five years which has inspired many positive lifestyle changes. I have improved my diet, become more physically active, non-identified with my negative thoughts, and most importantly, learned to love myself even when my image is not what I imagine.

IX. Could you delineate why you identify with the Greek word “telos”?

Before I got into the finer side of art I was into graffiti. I chose random names to tags based on letters and phonetics. It wasn’t until I came across the word “telos” that found a word with purpose. The word itself means purpose, or the ultimate reason for a cause. This became my written mantra that has encouraged productive introspection and self growth. It prompts the most basic questions, why am I here? what am I doing? where am I going?

X. You are scheduled to perform live visual gigs with KRUNK this February. What are we expected to see in terms of the visuals? Is there ever any element of predictability in this?

Painting live is like jamming with friends. I start with a general concept of what I will paint, usually a photo reference of a friend, and the rest is left to spontaneous tangents and improvisational movements. Of course I have my recognizable vocabulary of visuals and a bag of my customary spices, so there will be some overarching consistency. But the majority of the painting is guided by the energy of the music and people.

XI. You are also heading over to Goa for a residency at the Vaayu Collective Art Gallery–what exactly will this entail?

I’ve been in Goa for a little over a month now working on my upcoming exhibition, “Driftwood,” that is opening at Vaayu on Feb 28th and showing until April 1st. All of the paintings are on scrap wood that I’ve found or bought from the reject piles in wood yards. The character of the wood brings forth the characters in the paintings. The subjects of this series are members of the Vaayu Waterman’s Village of Goa, India. They are water sportsmen, environmentalists, musicians, and artists who embody the spirit of creation. The figures are merging with various geometries, squids, staircases, and drippy textures which give the pieces an inter-dimensional aquatic feeling. And when I’m not painting, I’ve been surfing, SUPing, kiteboarding, and sustaining myself on fish thali, charras, and psy trance.

XII. Finally, what’s next for you?

After “Driftwood” opens, I’ll be adventuring through northern India until May. Then I’ll fly to California to paint live at Lightning in a Bottle in late May and exhibit a couple of my video projections on my paintings at the Currents New Media Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico in early June. In the mean time, I’ll be adventuring through India with my backpack full of paints sniffing out what smells good. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing but I do know my experience will be shaped by creativity, beautiful people, loud music, and laughter.

Take a look at parts of Miles’ ‘Driftwood’ collection which he completed during his stay at VAAYU this season:

Catch Miles indulging in some live painting at Krunk’s new arts and music property on March 6th at The Daily. More details on this soon.

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