Android Jones is one of the world’s pre-eminent digital painters and an utterly singular and inimitable visionary artist. He’s also a loving husband and father of three, an old friend (even if we don’t talk as often as I’d like, or as perhaps we should), and someone I regard as a torch-bearer along the paths of both professional uncompromising creativity and openly psychedelic parenting.
Two weeks ago, the barn he inherited from his father, in which he kept all of his creative technology and projects, burned to the ground. Below is a tightly-edited transcript of an intense and vulnerable two-hour conversation we had about his loss and the spiritual transformations he has undergone since. If you’d like to hear the whole thing, I will publish it this month on Future Fossils Podcast.
How are you in this moment?
As fully engaged in this process as I can be. I’ve undergone so many different dramatic transformations. I’m turning a corner. I don’t know if I’m totally at acceptance yet, but I’m becoming more grateful. I’m starting to see a bigger picture.
So, what actually happened?
I live in Colorado. As an independent artist, I work from home, and have this prized, material studio castle. It’s like my Fortress of Creative Solitude. A big barn studio that I put a lot of energy into. It’s my spaceship for how I travel through the universe. I go there every day, from nine to five to make art and work on projects.
I wake up Wednesday morning around 5:30, make coffee, shower, get dressed, go through the whole routine of caring and nurturing three children and a wife. It snowed the night before, so I go shovel the driveway with my headphones on blasting Slayer. Halfway through, I sense a bit of a disturbance. At the top of my driveway I see my wife yelling and trying to get my attention, and I see the words come out of her mouth. “Barn’s on fire.” That was the moment my reality started to dramatically shift into a whole new simulation.
I get in my truck and start to drive like a maniac. I live a mile and a half away from my studio. As I turn the curve halfway, I can see this black, towering pillar of violent smoke coming out over the horizons. That was my first indication that this was a new level of seriousness. There’s fire being expelled from every door and window. I couldn’t even get within 15 feet of it without suffering serious, burning pain.
All my firefighting gear was inside the barn. I’ve had a real fear of wildfires, so I had a lot of preparations, but not for a fire that started from within.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that the cause of the fire was some batteries.
I’d say it’s totally undetermined right now. The investigators have to do a full inspection of the site. We have incredible first responder firefighters that arrived on the scene. They did a great job making sure the fire didn’t spread anywhere else. But the structure burnt into its own footprint, and continued burning. So it’s a pretty difficult situation for an investigator to figure out.
How have you come to make sense of this?
There’s a lot there. When it first happened, my brain wasn’t able to calculate the deep loss of it as an artist. Twenty years of terabytes of hard drives. I had everything duplicate and triplicate backed up. I had eight flat files of original artwork, pelican cases of sketchbooks that go back fifteen years. A lot of tech. My machines and computers, drawing instruments, library of art books. All the treasures and trappings of someone who is a bit of a maximal materialist.
To see all of that explode in this orgy of energy… The language you use is important. That’s something that’s helped me, as far as referring to it. With all the energy in there, I feel the barn itself was the highest concentration of the information in me, on a material level. It was my greatest material and emotional quantum entanglement that I had worked on, developed, and was very proud of.
I was witnessing decoherence of my quantum entanglement, and the decoherence is when information is released back into the environment. It was my great event. The great decoherence of Android Jones.
Most people reading this can relate to having been locked out of Cloud Storage, or losing a drive, and feeling like a part of them has gone. Our flesh and blood consumes maybe 90 watts of energy a day, but the whole human-plus-technology cyborg consumes 11000 watts. Each of us is a flame…
Each of us is our own expression of life. The cultivation of our individual data that then interacts collectively with all of the data. I don’t want to over-dramatize what happened because the good news is everyone is okay, nobody was injured, which is really fortunate. But I did feel a part of me dying because as an artist, I am the active art, the work that was in those originals and sketchbooks. That’s the focused love and crystallization of my consciousness and my life force. I like to think we can cheat mortality by infusing our spirit in these things.
A big part of me felt like I was dead the first day. Like I was a ghost haunting my own life. It’s almost worse than just death. Like all the time and energy and investment into a potential future was erased. I’d never felt more diminished than in that moment. Just as with any type of grief, those initial stages are shock, denial, fear, guilt, and anger. I honestly thought I was smited by God. Which entity had I offended? Where did I go wrong to deserve this kind of punishment?
There was a lot within the shock. I did consider looking at the bright side, that this kind of loss is not on the level of losing [my partner] Martha, or anyone else I loved. But on a material level, this was one of my greatest fears. There was something semi-comforting in having carried this fear for so long, and now it happened. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.
There’s just something about the absurdity of how it happened. I went from zero to 60, shoveling snow and listening to Slayer to watching the opening credits of a real-time, total ego death dissolution.
I recently started doing kickboxing, and had a class at noon the day of the fire, punching a heavy bag as hard as I possibly could. There’s no silver bullet to healing and processing, but as far as the anger stage, I’m grateful for kickboxing.
You talked about ego death. People talk about how you die twice – you die when you die, and you die when people forget you. This barn is the data colony of your ego empire.
This is my digital Akashic record for me, for sure.
Anyone who takes that stuff seriously knows what we’re trying to create with the machine is an emanation of what’s actually going on. The Akash didn’t go up in flames. All that stuff is still there, in a sense. You’re still indexed on a Google search. All that stuff is echoes of you. The waves are still out there, but the middle layer has disappeared.
Definitely. My greatest hits are out there, and it would be beyond my means to eradicate that. But what’s lost are things nobody’s ever seen. The B-sides. Every day I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of surrendering to the acceptance of all these things decohering. I also think the energy is out there in the universe. I joke with some people who ask me why the fire started. I’m like, I think there was just so much latent creative potential being stored there that my barn may have just spontaneously combusted. I was just dragging on this mountain of my own gold.
To what degree do you feel liberated?
I try to distinguish whether I feel liberated, or if it’s just another phase of me rationalizing and bartering with the loss. But there is absolutely release within this. My friend Xavi [Panneton] lost his studio in the Ashland fire. He told me it’s like we both won a Buddhist merit badge we never asked for.
I’m such a materialist. We all have a relationship to the material objects that we covet, collect, and possess. There is a burden to that. This experience has given me a whole new perspective to explore my relationship with the material physical world.
I’ve always carried a great deal of fear in my whole life. Fear of death, annihilation, disaster. A lot of the things I kept in that barn were just my futile hedges against impending doom, like apocalyptic supplies. I’m a bit of a gun guy. Ammunition, extra medicine, masks. If I’m afraid of something and I buy something that makes me less afraid of it, it feels like a manageable way of dealing with it. Now I realize all those plans I made were for nothing. But all the energy I put into it was eye-opening. “Man plans and God laughs.” There’s a lesson in realizing you can never prepare for everything. I was always prepared for a wildfire, and all my firefighting gear was inside the barn.
In The American Replacement of Nature, historian William Irwin Thompson says that when the mystic tries to plant stakes and put up fences, “God appears as the moving whirlwind.”
On some level, a lot of the art represented a hedge of an investment to take care of my family. I’m not a 401(k) guy or a big savings guy. But I always believed that investing in myself and my work would work itself out in the end. In that first day or two after the fire, I had never felt this level of depression, regret, or anger with myself for not backing things up. What comes now? There’s no template for how to recover from something like this. I’d always taken a lot of pride in being able to support myself and others. To be on the opposite side of that equation was so foreign to me.
I’m a person that’s voluntarily gone through many psychedelic ego death trips. There are similarities, but there’s a realness to this. There’s an existential thread and reckoning unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. This reduced me to the smallest atomic element of who I thought I was. It enabled me to take a deeper look at these new feelings I was having in order to try and reconcile them.
The grief gave me an opportunity to go inward in my life. This is the second major existential, near death trip I’ve had. The first one I had at 11, when I had major brain surgery. It was life-threatening. There was extreme bruising, and I had a huge scar. People with the best intentions would come visit me, and it was hard to see the look of fear in their eyes. The fear of it happening to them or their kids. I hated it. I began to resent help. I decided I didn’t trust the world. I retreated to the world of my imagination and drawing because I know the horizontal and vertical of that world. That was my journey towards healing.
I developed a strategy for giving and receiving love through the creation of art. I could put my love into my own terms. You’re putting this thing out there and people appreciate and put energy into it. If they don’t like it, it’s okay because it’s not you. This 11 year old boy was scared, and made a strategy for how to operate in the world, and give and receive love in a way that felt safe. I’ve been reading a lot of Gabor Maté, who says that trauma isn’t what happens to you, it’s what happens inside of you. How you make sense of the world after that thing happens.
The day my barn burned down, I was convinced that this was my legacy. I’m the artist that lost it all. I thought I had made my footnote in history, only to be reduced to begging on the internet for help.
What I’ve experienced in the last ten days is the most astounding response of love and energy that I could have ever imagined. I’m still learning how to receive that love. But it took me not having this third party proxy battalion to manage it. Just letting it come and witnessing it has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever experienced in my life. I never knew I had this cosmic insurance plan, of all my connections, relationships, and meaningful points of contacts.
I never knew that those things existed for me. I’ve always been very individual. The barn was me. My dad built it, and I turned it into what it is. I work by myself, I make my art.
Now, I’ve never felt more inspired to serve a larger collective. Whatever I build and all the tools of my manifestation comes directly from the community. Everything I do going forward is a “we,” a collaborative project born from terror and trauma and rebirth, from love and generosity and vulnerability.
This is the worst best thing to ever happen to my life.
What’s next for you?
The immediate next is going to Costa Rica for Envision Festival. Going to give some talks. My other new side hustle is being an art auctioneer – thankfully my mallet is in my truck, unscathed. I’ve been big into auctioning off my work and other artists’ work. That’s been really fun. We’re going to be auctioning off a bunch of work at Envision.
Ultimately, the new next is reestablishing my ground. I’m slowly building up my arsenal of art tools. I’m enjoying being so light and having my grasshopper Buddhist stage, so I’m apprehensive and specific about new things I want to acquire.
My takeaway would be something Ken Wilber said: “The higher you climb, the more the ladder sways.” The barn was the tippy top of a super high awesome ladder. My ladder swayed and burned. And I’m not excited about building a bigger, taller ladder. I’m more excited about building a wider, more stable table, that more people can sit at with me. That’s where my alignment and compass is heading right now.
As of this interview’s publication, Android Jones’s GoFundMe has raised $293,244, exceeding its goal of $250,000.
Featured Image: Jones and wife hugging in front of the burned barn. By Andrew Martha from Android Jones.