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NewArtLab: Life Is Medicine – The Paintings of Jaret Johnston

Editor’s Note: Paintings portrayed in this article were recently exhibited at 1650 Gallery & Studio in Los Angeles, California in Jaret Johnston’s “Life As Medicine” show.

When Jaret Johnston was a young boy, he would sit in the sun for hours with his eyes closed while feeling the warmth on his skin. Intuitively drawn to this simple form of meditation without really understanding that he was communing with spiritual source in that innocent and inherent way of the child, he would revel over the patterns and shapes that would inevitably vibrate before his eyelids.

“I was looking at mandalas, unfolding and cyclical,” he says, “and later when I encountered my first kaleidoscope, I thought, wow, this is what people have created to reflect that thing I see behind my eyes.”

At nineteen, while recovering from both the traumatic death of his own father coupled with a broken arm, Jaret had an alpha jerk experience. This literal hallucination while lucid also triggered a continual series of visions that brought him back to these familiar patterns in his head.

“The images were un-Englishable places or topologies that I couldn’t really explain to other people unless I showed them,” he explains.

Still unclear as to why or how he could see these mysterious phosphene geometries from within the blackness of his own mind, he began to paint them in order to articulate his visions into some physical form for reflection.

Painting them transformed them from the esoteric, conceptual form into a concrete and visual form. It also gave Jaret an illustrative method of capturing phenomena for use in further investigation.

At this point in his life, the young man was a son of Texas, bred in a land where spirituality and similar concepts were not ingrained and far removed from the familiarity of his normal life. He was aware that he was different: riding a skateboard, playing the violin, growing his hair long, all external outcroppings that caused him to become keenly aware that he stuck out like a sore thumb. Wickedly intelligent but without aim, much of his path led him towards other highly intense individuals who sought mental and physical expansion through the tools of drugs and alcohol without truly realizing the motivations behind that which they aimed.

Many of these visions started to become connected to his experimentation with entheogenic substances. Although at the time, he was perhaps using these mind-altering tools as ways to escape, they no doubt provided further arena for these visions to continue to envelop and evolve within his consciousness. It was clear to the young artist even then that he was being given access to an internal space.

His comprehension of this space culminated further in 1999 when he stumbled upon the Meru Foundation and the research of Dr. Stan Tenen. The Meru Project touted itself as discovering “an extraordinary and unexpected geometric metaphor in the letter-sequence of the Hebrew text of Genesis that underlies and is held in common by the spiritual traditions of the ancient world. This metaphor models embryonic growth and self-organization. It applies to all whole systems, including those as seemingly diverse as meditational practices and the mathematics fundamental to physics and cosmology. Meru Project findings demonstrate that the relationship between physical theory and consciousness, expressed in explicit geometric metaphor, was understood and developed several thousand years ago.

These geometric metaphors were no different than the visions in Jaret’s mind and he sent an email to Dr. Tenen telling him how reassured he was that he was not alone in the universe in seeing these visions. Dr. Tenen responded by telling Jaret that the language he was using was partial to insanity and that although he knew the young artist was experiencing valid phenomena, he had better gain the physics and mathematics background to back up what he was saying lest he be viewed as insane.

“I was happy he responded but was more spiritual and didn’t feel I needed scientific proof to know what I was experiencing. Later on I began to study different sources of esoteric knowledge and I began to see this place described. For example, in kabalistic lore, this place is described as the light in the meeting tent or a great lamp. It is this universal meeting place that everyone has access to and it’s simply tapping into consciousness.”

“Then, I recall meeting a friend for the first time about ten years ago, a man I consider a member of my spiritual tribe if you will,” explains Jaret. “I told him I liked to do mushrooms and sit in a dark room and he said what is your intention? It was the first time I realized that I was being let into a place, much like the place we go in meditation, where I was establishing contact with my center and that of course, I could utilize that space to establish my intentions, to gain insight, and to become more conscious of myself as a unit in a larger picture.”

 Full Moon Solstice Vision, Ace of Cups

Jaret realized that his entire body of paintings had been a diary of sorts; a meticulous depiction of his lifelong experiences surrounding individual visits to this place and the visions therein could be looked at as a persistent and perpetual evolution towards an understanding about consciousness and our common connection to all that is.

Much like the cave drawings of Lascaux, the shamanic transcriptions of ayahuasca journeys, the tales of voyages by Aborigines partaking in ecstatic trance dance and the ritualistic visions collected under the influence of entheogens, his paintings were his vehicle to express the internal and elemental soul to the external and ego-based environment within his existence.

“We’ve all been taught that it is forbidden to mess with the tree of knowledge,” says Jaret. “But I would like to argue that we have these profane tools and sacred agents at our fingertips and when we are personally ready, accountable, and have gone through the necessary preparations psychologically and spiritually that bring us to a renewed understanding of our potential and place within the realm of awakening consciousness, we are obligated to investigate this space with respect and intention. I will continue to do this in my life and through my art.”


“In my sojourn into the psychedelic realm, before I learned what color theory was I learned of a polar relationship in all of nature. It is represented in the Tao, with the yin and the yang, with the spinning circle – there is an inherent balance everywhere in nature. In my late teens when I was experimenting with mushrooms and LSD, I would have visions when the lights were out where shadows would become colored and everything that wasn’t shadow was its opposite of the color wheel. I would come to understand that the world was full of balance and the maintenance of balance. The sacred is all around us. We are male intercession into three-dimensional female space, positive and negative. I was trying to express this using a triangulated grid and impasto techniques.”


“When I abstain from all sacred substance for some time and then reintroduce myself to them, the first thing I notice is a grid that lets me know I am coming on, re-entering the space. It’s a pattern of diamonds on a flat plane, like macramé lace. I think my mind is representing the phenomena of all my receptor sights getting plugged in and mapping out in my neural network the geometry of that grid when I am becoming aware of those receptor sites. My brain generates a phosphene of these interlocking grids and polarity is represented here too.”


“This piece was done after I began a discipline with the San Pedro cactus, Trichocereus Pachanoi. I learned quite a bit about the application of my discipline in my every day life through integration and applied some of it to specific portions of my visions. The radial red and green lines in this piece are chakras one and four, which denote survival and love and what radiates out from source. The vortexes are the communication of the good feelings of the community (blue and orange). I created this piece after moving out here from Texas. At the time I was a semi-damaged kid from Texas, where I had been not embraced for my inner visions, and was using things like alcohol to heavily numb my confusion surrounding all this. This piece represents the evolution that started to occur within me as I began to find like-minded people who accepted my insights and embraced these concepts.”


“This piece is kind of dirty, but goes something like this: Under a peak trip, one is shown the very womb of creation in the heavens above. I just represented Mother Nature as a mountain peak, and made her box literally a box of luminous visions seen by the participant at the bottom of the vortex. There are hidden molecular shapes in the matrix below the Mother Nature.”


“When I am with friends and they are centered, in tune and at peace with themselves, all of the different aspects of this piece are what I see in my mind’s eye. That sensation of their peace is a highway for communication. Also, since this image presents a close up face and full body in meditation combined, I wanted that to represent how close we are with ourselves in our many dimensions and capacities when meditating.”

 Article written by Kimberly Nichols

Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel Fish Tales: Looking for the Bird with the Golden Feather. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.


2 thoughts on “NewArtLab: Life Is Medicine – The Paintings of Jaret Johnston

  1. Brilliance is in all of us. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD simply make that line between the conscious and unconscious a little (or a lot) thinner.

    Posted by Charlie | March 16, 2012, 11:19 pm
  2. I believe it takes true talent to express his thoughts such as he has!

    Posted by Charlie | March 16, 2012, 11:21 pm

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