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Visual Art

Devon DeJardin is a self-taught multimedia artist from Portland, Oregon, now based in Los Angeles. His paintings, drawings, and sculptures reference the body, forces of nature, and the application of philosophy to lived experience. His current work focuses on guardians-entities and forces that protect, guide, and challenge us to grow.


Image: Could you talk a bit about how your spiritual journey has intersected with your artistic journey?

DD: My first creative work was in fashion, as a teenager in Portland. It was going well, and I moved to California to grow the business, but nothing sold. I was in Los Angeles with no money, bumming on a friend’s couch, and I got a message from someone asking, “Can I pay you a hundred bucks to talk to you for ten minutes?” I was just hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be a crime investigation, but when we got on the phone, the guy asked, “Hey, man, are you into religion? Are you spiritual?” He didn’t know I’d studied world religions in university, reflecting on how we can tap into God through different perspectives. We started talking about this, and then he said, “I’ve been praying for you, and I really think you’re supposed to start painting.” In the moment I just thought, “Thanks for the hundred bucks,” but six months later I picked up my first canvas and began drawing on my friend’s table and sharing some images. A couple months later, I made a primitive version of the figures you see now. A friend bought that piece, then his parents bought some work, and it started to feel like one of those divine moments.

Devon DeJardin. Veil of Power, 2023. Oil on canvas. 72 x 60 inches. Photo: Julian Calero. All images courtesy of the artist and Albertz Benda New York | Los Angeles.

Image: I’m interested in why you were receptive to that language of spiritual calling. And what happened between that moment you heard the call (in a literal and spiritual sense) and when you decided to pick up a paintbrush?

DD: During that time studying comparative religion, I spent two and a half months in Israel and also some time in Haiti learning about vodou. I’ve always had a yearning and willingness to learn from people, to listen to their experiences rather than rejecting them as crazy. It seems arrogant to talk about a divine moment, but I’m open to receiving things in that way.

Image: A sense of being captivated by a gaze seems present in your work. The figures seem to look us in the eye with a sense of address. Is that how you see your work?

DD: I try to push for a confrontational aspect. The central points are the eyes-they are the only shapes in my paintings that are never altered in color. They always remain a shade of white. They convey the idea of purity, of receiving something. To me, the eyes are always central to understanding. And looking face-to-face, there’s the potential to surrender to something.

The identity of these figures as guardians comes from my studies of religion and different worldviews. We all know that faiths are separate and unique, but what’s the common thread? For me the thread that ties atheists, Christians, Buddhists, and others together is the desire to have a spiritual protector guiding you through this world, or into the next one, whether that’s an animal, a person, or a deity. My figures offer a nontheological symbol of protection, regardless of what you believe. If you put one in your home, you can feel that it’s a protector watching over you, however you see that.

Image: Could you talk a bit more about some of the inspiration you find in the protector forms in different traditions?

DD: Well, sentinel figures appear in stacked-stone forms created by arctic First Nations people, for instance. These are practical navigational tools but are also meditative in their construction. Travelers would use the stone forms to guide them: if you found them, you knew you were on the right path. I like this idea of a guiding force. I also think of pre-Islamic Arabian sculptures and their use of found stones. When I came to the practice of painting, I really wanted to use fundamental shapes or building blocks to tell a story. You could say that the entire universe is created from shapes, and I think there’s a spiritual dimension to the concept of form.

Image: It’s interesting that as you located these forms on canvas, they started to combine in ways that signaled human presence. Some theorists postulate that religion itself originated out of our predisposition to find meaningful human presence in the world around us, from a shape on the horizon to a rock or tree in front of us, and that we then began to attribute powers to those forms.

DD: A semicircle mouth structure and two eyes are all you really need to create a humanlike presence, even when the other elements are completely abstract. People often ask if my figures are humans, and I say they could be, but they don’t have to be.

Devon DeJardin. The way is not in the sky, 2023. Oil on canvas. 60 x 76 inches. Photo: Julian Calero.

Image: Can you describe your studio practice? Philip Guston once said that when he went into the studio to paint, all sorts of people were present-earlier painters, the old masters with whom he felt in dialogue-and then eventually, he said, everyone leaves. If you’re really lucky, even yourself. Do you identify with that feeling of surrender?

DD: It’s a constant battle in the studio between control and surrender. In the past, so much of my life was about controlling every aspect or situation. In the studio, there is so much of the process that you do control: mixing the paints, building your maquettes, doing your lighting. But the moment you start painting, you have to accept that it’s never going to be as you intend. And then you have that moment of surrender, this understanding that a painting can be more life-driven than you could ever imagine. I have to surrender more and more every single day.

Image: I think there’s a tendency for people, especially art writers, to assume that the final form of a painting is an accurate reflection of the way it came into being. So when one looks at a Jackson Pollock, for example, the work reflects the action of creation. But even though you create forms that are quite substantial and solid, when you describe your process, there’s a sense of indeterminacy and responsiveness behind their evolution. There’s an undercurrent of instability, and an honesty in that.

DD: I think when you try to maintain a certain level of control, it will always fail, over and over again. Not being from a traditional art background, I have a flexibility of understanding. I’m comfortable going between “I know what I’m doing” and “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Image: You’re self-taught. Perhaps because of that, there is a real freshness in how you’re reaching back to old masters.

DD: A lot of my portrait-type works were inspired by Dutch and Flemish masters. Those painters were often connected to the figures they painted, patrons and rulers who could be really capricious, corrupt, or violent. There can be an element of complicity, of art fostering trust or creating illusions. Those images carry a lot of weight, and maybe we should think about replacing some of that iconography.

Image: In a way, you’re creating new icons for us to put our faith in-but not idols.

DD: The figures are never meant to be all-powerful. I hope there’s a humility that undercuts and erodes any other impulse. You can speak about what you see and what you believe. I can speak about what I see and believe. And the painting is a third party. It doesn’t create tension between us.






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