How do you put yourself into a trance or into a place that’s receptive to the subconsciousness?
I find the act of drawing in itself to be trance inducing. I first became obsessed with automatic drawing in high school because it felt like it would light up my brain and smooth out all of my anxious energy. It would literally feel like I was drawing my way out of a stupor and waking up to the strangeness of my own mind.
Drawing helps me reach that valuable state where I can feel awake and alert, yet simultaneously relaxed. I find that my breathing slows down when I’m drawing and time feels more fluid. It helps to have a quiet studio where I can go and disappear for hours at a time. I think of the imagination as a living thing that I have an ever evolving relationship with. If I meet it halfway and submerse myself in the creative process, I get to interact with and explore the subconscious and come back with artistic documentation.
What interests inform and inspire you?
So many things. I love outsider, folk, visionary, and ancient art. Whenever art is made from an inner need or impulse, I find it extremely valuable. I love children’s art. I have 2 kids and love watching the way their minds work. I love creative collaboration as a way to relate to another person’s mind and bring out something totally unexpected and new.
I’m interested in neuroscience and new scientific thought around the so called Hard Problem of Consciousness and Theories of Everything. I love to read. Especially speculative fiction, strange fiction, and comics. I’m hugely inspired by nature and spend a lot of time in the woods. Learning some carpentry skills is another thing that’s been opening me up to new art possibilities. Just sitting and trying to clearly see images or hear music in my head is an ongoing practice.
What role do you think the artist has in the 21st century?
The best thing an artist can do is follow their own unique impulse. Artists need to push back against the bizarre human drive to homogenize everything. They need to reach beyond the inadequate systems we live inside.
I think diversity of culture and human expression is the most valuable thing we can cultivate as a species. I also think it’s important for artists to have an anti-cruelty stance. There’s so much cruelty in our history and baked into our systems. I think the artist’s role is to look unflinchingly at this and attempt to untie those knots. Art can be part of the antidote to the bad ideas that seem to cling to our brains and stunt our evolution.
Have you experienced Lucid Dreaming or any kind of encounter with cosmic consciousness?
Yes, I’ve had quite a few experiences that have felt outside of normal cognitive experience. Each of these experiences feel incredibly valuable to me and I’m thankful for them. Mostly I’ve regretted it whenever I’ve tried to describe them to people. They feel like something to internalize and hold close. It’s easy to discount things that don’t fit with the narrative of the everyday, so I try to think about those experiences a lot and not let them fade into doubt.
When did you create or discover your own archetypical patterns?
I started with automatic drawing, just letting my hand draw without knowing where it would go. Through that, a lot of patterns and imagery naturally began to emerge and I would just kind of follow that. Through years of working in this way and contemplating the recurring symbols, a lot of ideas and feelings started taking shape. Making comics became a way to explore that more actively by trying to unlock the stories and concepts that my drawings were revealing to me.
Has your work ever lead you to an experience of intuition or synchronicity?
Following an artistic impulse is in itself an intuitive and synchronistic experience. It adds an extra dimension to my daily life and when I have positive momentum in my work, I feel like that crosses over into my daily life and helps me see connections and meaning. Putting my work out into the world has also allowed me to meet a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, so in that way, I feel like dedicating myself to making art has allowed me to have important friendships that have inspired and helped me grow.
What do you like to cook?
I love cooking. I cook almost every night. I like to make enchiladas with sauce made from scratch. I like making sushi, jambalaya, grilled pizza, salmon. It’s just fun to work a kitchen and try to be efficient with all the different elements in play and it’s satisfying to serve up something good to my family. Cleaning up the kitchen afterwards is not as fun.
Theo Ellsworth is a self-taught artist living in Montana. His previously published comics include Capacity, The Understanding Monster, Sleeper Car, and An Exorcism. The New York Times once called his work, Imagination at firehose intensity. He has been the recipient of the Lynd Ward Honor Book Prize and an Artist Innovation Award. He loves creative collaboration, cooking, and making family folk art with his kids. He is constantly making invisible performance art in his head that no one will ever see.
more info and books by Theo Ellsworth
Interview by Mitchell Pluto from SULΦUR surrealist jungle archive 15 OCT 2021