Deep Slumber Lake is an artist duo consisting of Todd White and Zachary Scheinbaum. Their imaginative wanderings into the ancient and epic themes of swordcraft, battle axes, and wizardry are grand in scale. These guys spent a lot of time in each other’s basements with 10 sided dice and Priest blasting on the record player. Overlaying this teenage-metal-shredder imagery is a beautiful sense of line work and composition.
SL: Can you describe your creative process, from the inception of an idea to its creation?
DSL: Because we live in different parts of the country, Todd in Boston and Zac in Santa Fe, we only work in physical proximity a few times a year. When making our large-scale paintings, we make a point of doing all the work together which essentially makes our process a self imposed painting marathon lasting a week or two. This concentrated, frenzied approach is highly productive, but leaves us bordering on insanity.
The inception of the image begins with a series of conversations around what we currently find interesting or inspiring and how we might integrate them into the constructed world we share. This conversion continues throughout the drawing process. We exchange ideas on how to compose the image and fill the picture space, equally editing each other’s perspectives. We do not make any preliminary drawings, so there is not a predetermined outcome regarding the subject matter.
One clear objective we have as collaborators is to work towards each other, and become something more than we would be alone. While working over whole surfaces of the painting, we continually switch places and hand off brushes so each person can be involved in every area of the painting. Although we could look at the drawings and say, I drew that tree and he drew that one, the piece remains seamless to the outside observer. It is really exciting to see the work come together and know that it is something beyond us as individuals.
SL: Many of your drawings deal with epic and ancient of themes, such as battleaxes, bongs, wizards and mythological characters. Can you talk a little bit about your gravitation towards this particular iconography?
DSL: Mythical thought has been suppressed or marginalized in some ways by literalist religious and academic interpretation. But myth will persist and manifest itself to a receptive audience. The subculture of stoner/doom metal is one such audience, and so to adapt within the cultural framework, the battle-axe comes with the bong and the wizard becomes Electric Wizard. Our perspectives are fluid, from actively engaged members of this culture, to observing and poking fun at its inevitable shortfalls and whimsical tangents.
TW: Symbolic, mythic images can become personal and meaningful but they need to be restored to the realm of the imagination. Art is a way of understanding what these myths have to offer without demanding that you believe in something fixed, narrow, or empirically untrue.
ZS:I think that working towards “epic” and fantastical themes is something that we do a lot in our subconscious minds. The music embodies so much imagery of said things, along with books, and video games, the drawings are just yet another way for all of us to live in an alternate reality.
SL: Would you describe your work as being immersed in “sword and sorcery” characterized by “a strong bias toward fast-paced, action-rich tales set within a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework” or high or epic fantasy “set in or invented in parallel worlds, often epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil force”?
DSL: High Fantasy in an invented parallel universe makes sense. We generally resist the specificity of an action, meaning a very particular moment in time. Instead the images strive to portray visions of a place in which all-time can unfold and be still instead of active. Similar in many regards to the landscape of the sublime, if figures are present, they are meager observers of the natural, elemental, spiritual forces that are tangibly active within the scene. Our epic implies forces as well, but we tend to be ambiguous about whether the challenging force is evil or not. Often the potentially “evil” force is the perspective we are most sympathetic to, and we would much rather expand upon that.
SL: Not unlike Frank Frazetta’s most epic album contributions, your work has a pretty strong link to heavy metal—what would you say the connection between metal music and fantastical themes is? Why do you think that style of music lends itself to wizardry?
DSL: Well I think that something we have always said is that sounds evoke emotional and visual impressions. Heavy music creates sounds that seem to originate from imaginative, fantastical, and spiritual planes. The sounds will remove you from present sense of place, and the lyrics shape the adventure at hand. It is almost hallucinogenic in its creative vastness. It makes sense that a band might identify with the wizard. Without the wizard there is no adventure. He is the point at which the transformative adventure begins and the guiding hand that will see the adventurer through. “Misty morning, clouds in the sky, without warning a wizard walks by…” or “ Down came a dragon with a wizard on his back…” In this realm, if the band wants to be the instigator and the conductor, then they must become the wizard.
ZS: The metal music genre has been fantastical since the early days of its origination. These days the “evil” aspect really takes over a lot, with cheesy zombie stuff and corpse eating, but its all still sort of living in this fantastical world. It’s always there. I find that most music has an image that goes along with it, it just seems like a natural path, I mean you just listen to metal and think of some amazing epic story.
SL: How did you two meet and begin working with each other? Which elements of the drawings do each of you contribute to?
ZS: We both attended the School for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and our mutual friend Liz Prince, (the comic artist) worked there alongside Todd. I would go to the library and me and Todd would listen to metal and laugh about power metal. I didn’t even know what type of artwork he did for the first year I was there. Then one day I was looking through the studios upstairs and found his work and was like blown away. He had this huge painting of an eagle in flight, and I remember thinking oh man that eagle would look so sweet with a bearded mystic type on his back. So the next time I saw Todd I said that we should try and do a collaboration with some dude on an eagle. So we decided to get together one weekend and try a few drawings out. We never drew the eagle or I don’t even think mentioned it again, but when we got together it just sort of clicked. We created someone else, we created this “third” artist that neither of us could have done alone. It was awesome! I think that overtime our styles have really changed and evolved, and have become more refined, but I really think that we sort of both do everything. We try to each switch around a lot and share everything. We like the drawings to be “ours” not Zac’s or Todd’s.
SL: Most of your works seems to be ink on paper- can you talk a little bit about the materials you use?
DSL: Well I would say that mostly we use, large scale paper with a mix of sumi/higgins design ink mixed with walnut ink. Then sometimes pencil to add finer detail. More recent works have been on a smaller scale with a lot of watercolors and graphite. Just recently we have taken two pretty large strides in new directions. We made gigantic felt banners that are based off of family house banners. We tried to make a sort of good and evil banner for Deep Slumber Lake. Working with a felt material allowed us to breach some of the gap with our work being so … “masculine”. It allowed us to take a craft that has been historically produced by women, sewing and quilting, and incorporate it into our process. Then the other big step we have taken recently, is we did a collaboration with Meghan Tomeo, (www.meghantomeo.com) the video artist, where we made a three way collaborative animation. I think that taking the step into video through Meg was a very natural and easy process for us. She made it so easy to just sort of turn our drawings into living things. This is a direction we would love to keep moving in also. The music for the animation was another new thing for us to do together. We both play in bands, but we were able to make a tape cassette recording of a unwritten jam and sort of edit it and turn it into the music for the animation.
SL: Are your images accompanied by any sort of magical narratives? For examples your characters, “The Tyrant,” “The Hermit,” or the “Hippy Wiz,”—do they have backstories of how their powerful sorcery or personalities came into being?
DSL: Through our conversations we develop some peripheral stories, but we never intend to communicate this information. There is not a fixed narrative perspective, its more speculative, even for us.
SL: If your artwork were a wizard from the history of wizards, which would it be?
DSL: Gandalf, if instead of smiting the Balrog on top the mountain, made a dark alliance with the beast. And in turn becomes Gandalf “The Dark Grey” who freely rides the fiery Balrog. That would be us. Gandalf “The Dark Grey” cruising Middle-Earth on the most badass of creatures.
SL: Who are some of your favorite artists, and what are your favorite sources of inspiration from music, literature, philosophy…?
DSL: I would say that classical drawing and printmaking have had a large influence on us, Durer and Gustave Dore especially. We have directly quoted from some of Dore’s drawings of beasts and demons. His work is so imaginative but has the precision of observed realty, that inspires belief into even the most outlandish scenarios. A lot of video work is really inspiring too, from video art (Barney) to Hollywood blockbusters(Conan, willow, LOTR etc…) Obviously myths from many countries mainly Norse and Japanese. The human body, anatomy, scientific illustrations. We like all types of metal but the riff-heavy down-tempo Stoner/Doom/Psychedelic metal Electric Wizard, Sleep, Sabbath, Mammatus, Boris, Dead Meadow, Neurosis, Ancestors, Rwake, Melvins, Big Business, High On Fire, Earthless, Earth, SunnO))), Black Cobra are some important bands to us. Hammers of Misfortune’s first album The Bastard is conceptually breathtaking and really fun to listen too. I think we where both obsessed with that last year.
TW: Joseph Campbell would be the most important philosophical perspective on what we do. After working together for a while, it became clear that we were projecting our own mythological potentials into the context of our society, which is directly related to Campbell’s discourse on the Vitality of Myth.
SL: Can you each name a quote/song lyric that you feel relates to the content/conceptual framework of your works?
TW: I like the Sword’s approach to song writing. They base many of their songs on the work of George RR Martin’s series A Song of Fire and Ice. The lyrical content refers to specific imagery and characters in the books, but you do not have to be aware of these references to enjoy the song. I hope we can do something similar in our work, referencing specific bands and songs that where important in the making of the painting. Some viewers who are familiar with the metal genre may pick up on this, but the image does not require that familiarity to feel complete.
All of our large-scale pieces have titles pulled directly from albums, songs, or lyrics. The lyric that always enraptures me and pulls at my heart is from Falling Unknown by Neurosis:
You dream of a mountain
Who’s peaks rise to the sky
Will you answer its call?
That line seems to ask a lot of the listener. Within the context of the song it is a challenge to, first, dream and then pursue that vision, even if it seems insurmountable. I want our work to be both an answer to that calling of the purposeful vision, and away to inspire the same question in the viewer.
ZS: There is an instrumental part in an ISIS song where I think I hear lyrics when there are none. Every-time I hear the song I hear the words, “mountains of ash”. And I have to say, this single line of imagery arises in my head often in day to day life. Mountains of ash. I guess I have to use it now.
SL: What other projects are you currently working on?
DSL: We just had our first Solo show at the Center of Contemporary Art Santa Fe, NM,(www.ccssantafe.org) we are doing some designs for Huskwest.com, we have an upcoming show in Denver at Rhinoceropolis (http://www.myspace.com/rhinoceropolis) with Meghan Tomeo (www.meghantomeo.com), Suzzanne Coady (www.girlyhandwriting.com), and Brian Willmont (www.brianwillmont.com/), that is on the first Friday in March. We want to keep working, find next shows, collaborate with others, and have more fun.
TW: I am doing some illustrations for bands, albums and tee shirts. I am playing drums in a new band called Taj based in Boston. I spend as much time as possible working in my studio on my solo work, which can be seen at flickr.com/toddwhite.
ZS: Well I am currently working on design for a few bands also. I play in a fierce band called Bloodweaver,(http://www.myspace.com/bloodweaverband) and me and Meghan Tomeo, are opening up a gallery in our house called PennBrick. It is two small garages located in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. It will be a multi-media, traditional-media, experimental & digital-media venue with lots of energy and community. We are planning our first show, which will open in the spring titled, “Shitty Drawings & Boring Videos” which will be a large-scale group show with many awesome people in it. We’ll have a website up shortly and will be open to submissions. I also attend the College of Santa Fe and make my own artwork, a lot of large scale sculpture weapons (that gods have once used), drawings and so on…). What takes up most of my time is being a tattoo apprentice at Four Star Tattoo, here in Santa Fe. (www.fourstartattoo.com)
SL: Does your artwork possess magical powers?
DSL: It seems with the amount of phenomena that is explained through scientific means would leave little room for magic. But when a piece of art really works, and is not just the sum of its tricks, that seems to be as close to real magic as one can get. Whether we can do that or not, is not for us to decide. We are mere apprentices in the wizard’s workshop; we will do our work and hope for the best.
1. Todd and Zac of DeepSlumberLake
2. Boris, ink and watercolor on paper, 12×15 inches, 2008
3. DeepSlumberLake Tee Shirt, Limited Edition Printed by Husk
4. These Mountains I Heart, ink on paper, 50x 71 inches, 2008
5. Untitled: War Banner 1, felt and assorted fabrics, 4x 16 feet, 2008
6. Untitled: War Banner 2, felt and assorted fabrics, 4x 16 feet, 2008
7. Wall painting for In the Shadow of the Sonic Titan at the Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM, 2008
8. Installation for In the Shadow of the Sonic Titan at the Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM, 2008
9. His Satanic Majesty, ink on paper, 22x 28 inches, 2008
10. Installation for In the Shadow of the Sonic Titan at the Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM, 2008
11. Drawings (all 12 x 14 in.) from In the Shadow of the Sonic Titan at the Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM, 2008
12. Detail of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
13.Detail of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus