Joe Lysowski – An Artists Journey
How did you become an artist, could you talk about your work, and what triggered it?
When I was growing up, if you didn’t go to college and didn’t have an education, you were like cannon fodder. The military made me realize that they wanted me to kill somebody. It was all going in that direction and when you’re 17, you think that’s how it is. When I got out of the Marine Corps I got a degree in sculpture. At the same time I got my degree in design; I thought, I don’t want to design for industry, I don’t feel like being known for the best electric razor and toothbrush. So I went into art. I went to Mexico and got my M.F.A in painted sculpture. You know what I realized through art? It develops your intuition – to be in the right place at the right time, to go down the road and realize, that I should go this way or that.
How did you arrive in Haight Ashbury?
It was 1967, I was working on a show for a museum; and it was going to be 3 storeys of painting and sculpture. It was the Triumph Museum of Art which has now become very important. And the director was Lydia Modivatelli. She named the show – Psychedelic Art. They said my art was psychedelic. For me it was colourful, my mother used to knot hats like that and she wasn’t psychedelic!
A man with Ken Kesey, who was called the ‘Hassler’ was helping me to take this show over to the Triumph Museum. He said there is going to be this big thing happening called a ‘Love In’ in Golden Gate Park. He said, “You’ve got to go, you got to be there, all these people are going to be there.” It was the first ‘Be In’ right there at the beginning of Haite Ashbury It was beautiful! they rejected this notion of how men should look, they wore beads, they had long hair; this whole feminine side of them could be shown which hadn’t been before. Everybody was like your brother or sister. People were coming down the Big Sur coast-line – hippies hitchhiking. They were trying to change their lives and that was the feel. People were on the road everywhere, sleeping in the Park.
You thought there was going to be a dramatic change because there were all these important people, musicians, and people in the Creative Arts, all very powerful. I thought I could also help to make that change too, I wanted to be there.
What draws you to India?
I left for India that first time in 1967. I wanted to go where the Maharishi was and maybe do meditation. I met a man down by the river; and it turned out to be Mike Love of the ‘Beach Boys’. He said “Come with me, you can sleep overnight at my place and I’ll take you in the morning into the Maharishi’s.” We did big paintings of the Maharishi’s guru for peace centers all over the world
Then I left for India the second time when I heard about Osho. I wanted to see how he had created the commune here. India’s got so much to teach people, and all these people come here to learn.
You had done theatre work in London in the 1960’s, Tell us more?
I had talked to George and Paul from the Beatles at the ashram, they were sponsoring theatre in London, for Women’s Lib. The production
was called ‘Vagina Wrecks’ by Jane Arden. They asked me to do the lights and sets for the play and I said, yeah sure. Jack Barne was the director and Victor Spanetti was the leading man. All of London came to see the play. It was beautiful. The write up said the lights and the set design reached magical proportions! Ah, the sixties – it was beautiful! It made a dent in society, changed behavior patterns, and opened up many things, like meditation.
Ken Kesey was a friend of yours. Could you talk about that time in your life, and other influences?
Ken Kesey, he was such a strong man; I really didn’t expect him to die. They called me up to speak at his funeral about what it was like to be in London together. He had a beautiful house in Hampstead Heath, London. He got it from a man who was a writer called Robert Stone. I lived there with him. He wrote ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’, ‘Sometimes a great notion’, ‘Demon box’……….. He was a graduate of Stanford. He even wanted to make his play ‘Atlantis Rising’ into a book, he said we’ll do it together….. Another friend was Neal Cassidy, he was in the book ‘First Third’ by Kesey. He was a writer himself, and he always drove the bus for Kesey. (See related Ken Kesey article)
Also Ramdas – Dr Richard Alpert. I got a house near him and went to see him everyday. Somebody would ask him a question and he would always come up with something so profound. I got a grant from him to make a movie in Guatemala, ‘Illusions that created the Mayan Culture’. I had realized Mushrooms! That would have created their fantastic weaving and mathematical minds? You know, the Mayans predict 2012 as the end of their calender, that there is going to be a cataclysmic change, but we don’t know what it will be, or what will happen!
What was “Atlantis Rising” for you?
I had thought about children in London and the fact that the class system was so structured; that when a man opened his mouth, you knew what class he was in. It didn’t matter that it was a classless society supposedly, just his accent would peg him. And so I did this play, I wanted to do it for the children. And since there were only kids coming, I made a tube that only children could crawl through; to get into the theater. No adults were allowed. We called all the orphanages in London and invited them all, the play was called ‘Atlantis Rising’. It was for the children to really realize that they could change the world. That was ‘Atlantis Rising’ to me.
Paintings by Joe Lysowski