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Recognize yr mother in all beings
Going rare-crystal-drip mode and exploring "TEMPLE FRIENDLY" mindset with Devendra Banhart
Devendra Banhart: He’s cool as s**t, his music is popping, and he gets off big radiant fits like it’s NOTHING — that’s 3 of the highest-ranked qualities on our official list of “Top Blackbird SpyTraits” !!
Devendra started putting out albums in 2002, and his chunes have only gotten vibier with time — here at Spyplane H.Q. we’ve been known to throw on the super-posi video for the song “Taking a Page” and enjoy the pleasant sensation that the room around us is somehow getting WARMER and SUNNIER…??
Devendra shot the video during a trip through “Kathmandu, Muktinath, Ranipauwa, Pokhara, and a few remote parts of upper and lower Mustang” AND in a few scenes he pairs a SHERPA jacket with wild facepaint, cementing this as a BLESSED-GORP FILMIC ACHIEVEMENT …
Devendra just opened his first-ever solo show of paintings, at L.A.’s Nicodim gallery, and the work is fantastic — we hit him up to talk about art, reincarnated mothers, yaks, “TEMPLE-FRIENDLY” fits, PLUS a jawn so rare it had to be SMUGGLED around the planet …
Blackbird Spyplane: Tell me about the “Taking a Page” video real quick. You shot it in Nepal while you were acting in a movie about the 8th century tantric master Guru Rinpoche, who helped establish Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet. There’s a moment in the video where 12 yaks are liberated from slaughter, which, since we are earth’s pre-eminent pro-animal-rights dope-joints newsletter, we loved. What’s the story behind that trip and those FREED YAKS?
Devendra Banhart: “Yeah, the yaks were liberated by my friend and teacher, Neten Chokling Rinpoche! I was there shooting probably the only film I’ll ever be in, where I play an author who has his career totally destroyed and goes on a crazy sci-fi adventure and learns about Padmasambhāva, Guru Rinpoche. We mostly shot the movie in Tokyo, but also Kathmandu and Muktinath, in really sacred sites, so it was fascinating to be there.
“So during the trip my teacher paid a thousand bucks a yak — you pay to liberate them, and they get marked so no one can ever hunt them. It’s beautiful, because he’s basically freeing a person, the butcher, from the karma of having to slaughter these yaks. And he paid quite well.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Speaking of liberation, I read an interview you gave to a Buddhist publication called the Tricycle, and a concept the writer brought up stayed with me: That we can liberate ourselves “from the hell of taking everything personally” by “recognizing all beings as our mother.” That’s fantastic…
Devendra Banhart: “That idea was one of the first things I found very attractive about Buddhism in general, because it didn’t really require belief — I don’t need to believe in reincarnation and don’t need to believe that everyone was my mother and I was theirs: I just need to have that attitude, and it makes it easier to put up with how angry I can be, or not angry, but how judgmental, and how easily annoyed. ‘This person is annoying me — but they were once my mother, and me theirs.’ That concept was very, very attractive.
“That was an initial, ‘Oh, okay, this is interesting, let me look into what this is all about…’”
Blackbird Spyplane: Another thing u practice is CRUSHING THESE FITS day in day out. Does Buddhism intersect with and inform your interest in fashion? Some people might think the 2 are opposed, but are they in conversation for you?
Devendra Banhart: “Wow, well, on a fundamental level, they’re not related. But in the way you’re putting it, they are — there’s something about minimalism and elegance and functionality that some of the great designers, particularly Japanese designers, or a great like Dries Van Noten, think about. They consider these things. Milarepa was clad in a white robe, you know, that’s something maybe Issey Miyake might design.
“But also, at a certain point, when you’re into clothing, you might have a sense of, ‘I’m going to buy this because I feel cool in it, I look good in it’ — but once you get deeper into spiritual stuff, you start to pick up clothing and say, ‘Is this beautiful? Does it feel good? Is this temple friendly?’
“And, you know, our temple is our body: we can do retreats in our homes, and what we wear can encourage sitting and encourage practice and encourage consciousness.”
Blackbird Spyplane: “Temple friendly” is a great concept.
Devendra Banhart: “I wish it was mine, but one day I was wearing cream-colored sweatpants and a matching hoodie, and my friend said, ‘Oooh, temple friendly!’ And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re describing so much of my wardrobe, that phrase just nails it.’”
Blackbird Spyplane: You did a fun interview with GQ where you listed yr all-time style icons, like George Costanza & Georgia O’Keeffe. Who’s someone contemporary whose style you love?
Devendra Banhart: “Simphiwe Ndzube — he’s a South African painter who incorporates clothing into his paintings. It connects to Swenka culture in South Africa — these men who wear incredible tailored suits cut from traditional African patterns; it’s this dandyism and celebration of individuality that’s not unlike the ballroom scene in New York.”
Blackbird Spyplane: People can see yr first-ever L.A. solo show, The Grief I Have Caused You, between now & March 20. I love the GORPY surrealist vibes of “Twilight Hiker,” and the title painting is intense… very stormy and murky, with thick applications of paint. Why did that work become the show title?
Devendra Banhart: “That one expresses my working through the realization that, just as much grief as I have received, I have most likely caused as well, so trying to get to that place where it just neutralizes my bitterness — because I’ve been hurt by so many people, and it doesn't feel good to be hurt, and I’ve held on to it.
“So I’m trying to paint this repulsive thing — a melting-ice-cream-cone-bent-penis person screaming — and there’s an expression of agony, and as I’m moving towards that, I’m thinking, ‘All this suffering I’ve received, I’ve given it as well,’ and it gets to a place where, ‘Okay, we’re even.’ That space where agony and ecstasy intersect. That’s why these faces are either having an orgasm or they’re weeping in despair.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Which artists’ work bangs around your brain? In this show I see some Fernand Léger, some Philip Guston maybe??
Devendra Banhart: “I love them very much, particularly Guston, and Léger is amazing, but in my mind I was thinking about a lot of Tibetan and Bhutanese thangkas; Hokusai prints; Judy Chicago is a direct influence; a lot of the Hairy Who, Chicago Imagists, Karl Wirsum, Christina Ramberg... I’m also influenced by the Mission School, people like Barry McGee, Alicia McCarthy, Chris Johanson — when I was at school in San Francisco we were the generation right behind them.
“In terms of old-school stuff I love Rufino Tamayo. And I’ve always been into the classic outsider stuff: Augustin Lesage, Henry Darger, Bill Traylor… And of course, as a kid, I was obsessed with Agnes Martin and Joseph Beuys, and I love Louise Bourgeois. Who else… Ken Price. Cy Twombly! I don’t know if those influences are in my work, but the thangkas are. Oh and someone like Sadamasa Motonaga. He’s one of my favorite artists. I see his work and I’m moaning, I go nuts.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Ok so what’s up with these beautiful crystal beads a.k.a. the crystal mala you chose to talk about?
Devendra Banhart: “So, a mala is a tool: There’s nothing wrong with wearing one around your neck or a smaller one around your wrist, because it’s very beautiful. But it’s a tool — a device that’s used to count mantras or simply count your breath.
“It can be really helpful if you’re on a plane, or in a long line, or in traffic. There are 108 beads on the standard mala, and you can hold a bead between your fingers and breathe in, then move to the next bead and breathe out, or, it’s up to you, you can breathe in and breathe out with one bead. You choose. And you’ll see it’s the equivalent to having a timer on your phone, except it doesn’t run out of batteries, and by the time you get to the 108th bead, you’ll see a result. It’s like an hour-glass for your breath, and you can use it for the myriad number of mantras that exist, too.
“This mala was given to me by my teacher, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, and it comes from the crystal cave of Guru Rinpoche in Tibet, which is totally inaccessible to anyone but a few lamas, because the Chinese government has completely blocked it off. Imagine what a treasure it is, this cave in Tibet that’s all crystal inside — so this was smuggled out and made from those crystals. I received it from my teacher right when we first met. He said ‘Devendra,’ and he handed it to me.
Blackbird Spyplane: What a gift, especially from someone you’d never met…
Devendra Banhart: “I’d set the scene a little, because I prostrated to him before we spoke words. I was embarrassed, really nervous, actually, to prostrate myself in front of someone I hadn’t met, and in front of other people. But I was talking about it with my friend and he said, ‘Embarrassment is good karma.’ So I prostrated in front of him and I think he sensed a karmic link, and then gave me this mala that I cherish.
“He’s been very helpful during lockdown, helping me out, because he has something you only see in high beings, which is total non-judgment. I’m going, ‘This person is annoying, this person’s this, this person’s that,’ and he’s got this effortless compassion. What a place to be.”
-If yr in L.A. u can make reservations to see his paintings at Nicodim Gallery.
-Every “Blackbird Spyplane Interview,” w/ such luminaries of the arts & jawn sciences as Jerry Seinfeld, André 3000, Emily Bode, Lorde, Online Ceramics, Nathan Fielder, Phoebe Bridgers, Rashida Jones, John Wilson, Ezra Koenig, Antonio from 18 East and more, is here.
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