Psychomagic: An Adventure and Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky

An Adventure and Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky 


Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the great masters of surrealist cinema.  His trinity of violent, extraordinary and symbolic masterpieces – El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre – have made him into an icon. Jodorowsky is not only a cult filmmaker but also a poet, author, comic book writer and spiritual mystic who holds on to the mysteries of the universe like tightly-kept secrets only to be shared with those worthy of his message. Born to Ukrainian-Jewish parents in Chile in 1929, he eventually moved to Paris to become a mime. There, he was first introduced to the avant-garde movements of performance art and cinema. His first feature film, Fando y Lis, about a young man and his paraplegic sister on an odyssey through a post-apocalyptic landscape searching for a mythological city called Tar, was beset by riots when it came out in the theater. His subsequent films proved to be midnight cult hits that earned Jodorowsky the status of legendary cineaste.  A spiritual guru, Jodorowsky heals deep-rooted psychological wounds with something he calls “psychomagic.” He has written two books on the subject; Psychomagic: The Sacred Trap and The Dance of Reality – an adaptation of which is set to start filming later this year.  Here is the story of my afternoon with Alejandro Jodorowsky. 


I’m locked out of the apartment I’m staying in in Paris.  I don’t have my wallet. I have one roll of film rolling around the bottom of my bag. It’s raining. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s apartment is one hour away and I have twenty minutes to get there. No money for a metro ticket, since my wallet is locked inside the apartment I am locked out of.  Like an angel from above, a nice French gentleman hands me a ticket. Small success. I run to the metro, but get lost. I find my way by memory.  The last time I visited his apartment was on a trip with James Franco and his producer Vince Jolivette to discuss a potential creative collaboration. During that meeting, he chose three Tarot cards for me, which to this day enlighten and heal a certain side of myself, and have further inspired my artistic vision. This time around, I’m alone to photograph Jodorowsky for this story and for a future photographic series.  I arrive at his building. I’m thirty minutes late. I ring the buzzer.


“Bonjour Alejandro, it’s Adarsha.”




He tells me to come to the fourth floor – in Spanish.  I walk up the same familiar dark winding staircase. Last time, I was nervous and laughing hysterically the entire way up the spiral staircase. This time I’m out of breath, wet as a dog, and completely out of my mind with jetlag. Light peeks under the door. The hallway smells a bit funny. He opens the door and greets me kindly. The light inside is warm. Yellow Paris lights. I look around. I remember all the books. He leads me into the office. Pointing to a clock, he diplomatically acknowledges my tardiness. “Why yes, Alejandro Jodorowsky, I was thirty minutes late.” He doesn’t really mind. We move on. I’m here to photograph. He sits by the window. There is not much light. Remember, one roll of film. It’s also gray and rainy outside – Parisian skies.  A little lamp suffices. I pull out my little Honeywell.  He laughs at my modest camera. It’s a laugh of camaraderie. After all, he is an underground filmmaker, and I could only imagine some sense of nostalgia rushed over him in that moment. Snap. Snap. Snap. I take some portraits. We talk about film, but other than that it is mainly silent – silent, but comfortable.  We move to a room of plants – orchids, succulents, and cacti.  He points to a giant Bonsai. “They were once tiny plants.” “Bonsai?” I ask. “Yes!” “Now they grow,” he says wisely. His apartment is a living testament to his creative endeavors. The original film reels from Holy Mountain and El Topo sit on the bookshelf behind him. I take a few more pictures. He hands me a book of his – in Spanish – artwork from a previous, botched albeit grandiose attempt to adapt the 1965 science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert.  Jodorowsky had planned to film the adaptation as a ten-hour feature starring Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Mick Jagger.  Dune was later adapted by David Lynch in 1981 and panned by critics and audiences alike. I wrap up shooting – the film is almost done. I take one final photograph of both Jodorowsky and myself – kind of a self-portrait – a reminder to myself that I was there, in that magical moment, with one of the greatest artists of our time. There are not many words to describe an artist – a man – like Alejandro Jodorowsky.  I leave his apartment – back into the Paris streets – past the opera house at Bastille – into oblivion and beyond. Once again, this magic man has further enlightened my path as an artist, without even trying. I asked him to choose three tarot cards for the future of art, and I hope in their mystical alliance you also find a token of inspiration to heal a side of yourself that may have been locked or dormant. I think silently, this is Alejandro’s wish as well.

What is it about cinema that is so important? 

Cinema is a goddess becoming a bitch for the industry. Just as Christ has been converted by the masked pedophile priests. In the kingdom of dreams, the Gods are significant. Being the supreme being of art and film, the one which encompasses all the other arts, which is vital for the rise of our spirits. But now it is poisoned. 

Can you remember the first moment you wanted to make films or what brought you to want to make films?

When I was seven years old I saw, The Hunchback of Notre Dame from the genius Charles Laughton. And Frankenstein, performed by the genius Boris Karloff. I wanted to become one of those two monsters; I spent the entire day making horrible faces.

How did your collaboration with John Lennon come about and what was it like working with him?

I never worked with John Lennon. He saw my film El Topo and he admired my work. Yoko Ono said I was a filmmaker ahead by thirty years. They decided to help socially and economically. Thanks to them I got to debut El Topo at the Elgin Theater. As well thankful for Alain Klein, who was his producer at ABKO, gave me a million dollars to do what I wanted to do.... I made Holy Mountain.

Who are some of your favorite poets?

Lao-Tse, because besides being a poet he was a scholar. And Heraclitus, because besides being a scholar he was a poet.

Who do you admire working in film today? Is there anyone who you think is doing truly groundbreaking work?

Nicolas Winding Refn. Bronson and Drive.

What do you see as the most important lesson that a young artist can learn these days?

Don’t make movies to make money, but to find your soul. Never work for the bureaucrats in Hollywood.

"I don´t think with ideas, but with my testicles. I don´t search, I ejaculate."

What have been the biggest misconceptions about you and your films?

Sólo pedos de culos que se creen cerebros. 

How do you think of new ideas for your comic books? 

I don´t think with ideas, but with my testicles. I don´t search, I ejaculate.  

Can you describe an interesting anecdote you’ve encountered during your psychomagic sessions?

A guru who had many followers came to see me. He asked me for a remedy to sleep because he suffered from insomnia. Surprisingly, I took him into my arms and made him suck on a baby’s bottle. He then burst into tears like a baby. Nobody could silence him. I had to hypnotize him to make him sleep.

Can society today still learn from psychomagic? 

Obviously, the psychomagic of individuals is passed to the social psychomagic. The countries are sick, like children. We have to make them grow so we can be a planet.

What art forms do you think represent the now?

The spiritual kiss. 

What does the future look like to you?

There is no future. We live in the eternal present. And this present is marvelous. As the world is, not as the world has been. If a cup of gold has mud, gold still remains.

If you were to choose three tarot cards for the coming ages, for the future of art and film, which ones would they be?

18, La Luna. 19, El Sol. 21, El Mundo. 

Alejandro Jodorowsky's epic story of his emigration from the Ukraine to Chile amidst the political and cultural upheavals of the 19th and 20th centuries is told in fantastical, mythic form in the new book Where the Bird Sings Best. Jodorowsky’s book transforms family history into heroic legend: incestuous beekeepers hide their crime with a living cloak of bees, a czar fakes his own death to live as a hermit amongst the animals, a devout grandfather confides only in the ghost of a wise rabbi, a transgender ballerina with a voracious sexual appetite holds a would-be saint in thrall. This interview was originally published in Autre Issue 2 (2012). Text, interview and photographs by Adarsha Benjamin. 

After Malevich: A Q&A With Robert Levine Before His Solo Show @ MAMA Gallery

What do you get when you combine the work of Russian geometric abstract artist Kazimir Malevich, Superman, the minimalism of Joseph Albers, and Groucho Marx? – Besides a Pleiades-like connect the dots of near-schizophrenic referencing, you also get a conundrum of contradictions and a strange telling of art history that contemporary artist Robert Levine explores in his uniquely powerful, incongruous and disarming paintings and collages, which will be on view starting tonight at MAMA gallery. Autre got a chance to chat with Levine about his early introductions to art, his technique, his views on art history and art criticism and his solo exhibition opening tonight at MAMA gallery. 

Autre: What were some of your earliest introductions to art?

Robert Levine: When I grew up, we had some art…nothing really valuable or anything…but we just always had art at home. That was my earliest introduction.

Autre: Was there a specific artist, or a specific work of art, that really inspired you?

Levine: The first time that I really thought there were possibilities or that things can be different was in Boston, at the ICA, and they were in a very small building at the time, but there was a show of minimal work….there was Robert Smithson, Robert Morrison, Donald Judd and [Dan] Flavin. I’ve tried to look up the show, but there is scant information about museums from back then. This would have been in 79’ or something. I had never seen a group of work like that, up close, and that really changed my mind about what art can be.

Autre: When you first start making art, you were creating sculptures, but then you recently started painting…what motivated you to pick up a paintbrush?

Levine: Actually, when I first started making art, I did a little bit of both. I worked concurrently until I was in CalArts, but after my first semester I stopped making painting and focused only on sculptural work. I mean I was doing these painting that stood in for painting, but it was sculpture. And I recently got back into painting, because I was making these sculptures with broken pencils and I just started doing drawings of them to have something else to go along with them.

Autre: And then drawing and painting stuck?

Levine: And then I just really started liking the drawings. Soon enough, I was doing paintings of the drawings. And while I was doing some other sculptural work, I was making small little gouache paintings…kind of like product labels and book covers. That’s where I developed a technique of tracing the image in pencil…either tracing it from something or just hand drawing with a pencil and just filling in with paint. That is kind of what I still do. I don’t really have a sophisticated painting technique.

Autre: A lot of your new works have these distinct pop art references and it’s an interesting dichotomy…can you talk a little bit about that?

Levine: That started with the image of the Malevich white painting with Superman holding up the white square. I was doing collage and I needed to do an artwork for a benefit and I was working on a college and somehow in my mind I made the connection between the cover of the very first Superman comic where he is throwing the car. I think it was 1928 or 1930. And he was throwing a car…and the car was at a very similar angle as the white square in the Malevich painting. And I just made a connection and up to that point I had never really used any pop art images in my work. In fact, I just did it as a collage.

"Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images."

Autre: Were you thinking of them as painting?

Levine: You know, I wasn’t thinking of them as paintings. I made a bunch of collages. Only later did I think to try to paint them. It grew out of the collage work.

Autre: A lot of artists throughout art history, especially 20th century art history, have declared some form as art dead. Up until the minimalists, arts were declaring that painting was dead. What can we glean from this?

Levine: You know, I am not totally against this idea. You know, maybe it is. It seems like when that happens, it opens the doors for other ways of thinking. Declaring it dead almost allows you to cast aside what was done before. Even if the art looks the same…there is an incredibly difference in the attitudes of how paintings are done now compared to how they were done in 1970 or 1960 or 1950. I think because I have done work other than painting, I don’t really think of myself as a painter in a way that some other people do…in a way that it as a distinct genre of art. I just think of it as a different form of art making.

Autre: What can we expect from your upcoming show at MAMA gallery?

Levine: I think we decided today that the show will be the collage work that generated the ideas for the Malevich, or After-Malevich paintings. After doing the initial one, I ended up printing out photocopies of as many of the supremetive paintings that I could and collaged on to them. I tried to not really limit myself to too many rules as to what I can do in this collages. But when I started painting them, I was limited to only what I felt I could paint for my skill level. But I’ve gotten much better at it and now I’m not really as limited to what I can do.

Autre: So, you will be showing collages and some of the paintings?

Levine: I will be showing collages and I have a number of paintings that I will also be showing. Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images. Or I try to use humor with the way that critics have talked about art, like Clement Greenburg. People who may have been discredited, but there is still talk of what they have done. So, a lot of what’s in my paintings is the way that I deal with the language of art and art history. But I try to make them visually interesting. You know, a lot of my most successful pieces have a little bit of a contradiction in them that causes a tension that makes them more and more interesting over time.  

Robert Levine's After-Malevich opens tonight at MAMA Gallery with a reception from 6pm to 9pm and the exhibition will run until May 30th, 2015. Text, interview, photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. follow Autre on Instagram to stay up to date: @autremagazine

Installing After Malevich at MAMA Gallery.  

5 Questions for Jena Malone on the Eve of Her First Solo Show

Actress and musician Jena Malone is set to present her first solo photography exhibition titled, The Holy Other, at MAMA art gallery in downtown Los Angeles, running November 21st through 28th. Proceeds will benefit Girl Determined, a charity which works with young Burmese women to educate and empower them through societal shifts in their country. Malone’s debut solo series features 39 images she captured while traveling through Myanmar, Burma this past summer. She was deeply moved by the way of life and the vibrant culture she experienced. As she took photos throughout her trip, the artist was inspired by the many young women who were finding their voice against the new backdrop of democracy in their government. In the following interview, Jena talks about Myanmar and why photography is important to her.

AUTRE:Can you explain your series The Holy Other?

JENA MALONE:The Holy Other is a series of photographs I took while traveling to Myanmar this year. I was drawn there because it is a country on the brink of great change, from its government to its way of life. I wanted to see Myanmar before the modern world rushed in. It was actually a life changing experience for me.

AUTRE: Why is photography important?

JENA MALONE: Its important to me because it helps me see the world in new ways and it is an absolute time capsule for everything I might have forgotten.

AUTRE: Who are some of your photography icons?

JENA MALONE: Mary Ellen Mark , Nan Golden , Boris Mikhailov, Sebastiao Salgado.

AUTRE: What do you think about when you look through the viewfinder?

JENA MALONE:My mind goes blissfully blank actually.

AUTRE: What do you want people to feel when they look at your photographs....

JENA MALONE: I want them to feel whatever they want! Ahha! I just want the images to evoke stories, small intimate stories that touch on giant fundamental truths.

Interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. You can check out the opening reception for Jena Malone'ssolo show – The Holy Other – tonight at MAMA gallery (1242 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles). The show will run until November 28.