Damien Echols was first thrust into the public eye in 1993 as the alleged ringleader of “The West Memphis Three.” Collectively convicted and many argue, coercively charged, with the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Just teenagers themselves, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse MissKelley Jr. were considered town outcasts and deemed as “Satanists” primarily because of their “Death Metal” personas and Damien’s interest in Magick. Despite the lack of legal evidence to even suffice their arrests, the teenage trio was vaulted into a highly publicized horror-go-round of shackles, concrete, courtrooms and TV cameras broadcasting their demise as a modern day witch trial on the world stage. One that ultimately sentenced Damien Echols to his death at only eighteen years of age.
When “The West Memphis Three” returned to the media spotlight, a string of documentaries, (“Paradise Lost,” “West of Memphis” and “Devil’s Knot”) brought forth new evidence to publicly vindicate them as victims of injustice. Even the parents of the murdered boys joined the public rally for their release. However, the long road in the redemption of justice would ultimately depend upon the tireless campaigning of Damien’s wife, Lorri Davis and unconditional efforts of celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Peter Jackson and Henry Rollins. All joined forces to assist in the raising of funds for the costly and lengthy legal process that would finally adjudicate their release in 2011.
Since then, Damien Echols has re-introduced himself to the world as a New York Times best-selling author and renowned artist in his own right. Recently he has also joined forces with two other internationally acclaimed artists, David Stoupakis and Menton3, forming a new trio called, The Hand collective. Currently, they’re in Los Angeles to debut their Salem witch trials inspired art exhibition, including the last of Damien’s work from death row. The artists will be attending SALEM’s opening reception at the Copro Gallery on Saturday, March 19, 2016.
Examiner had the exclusive opportunity to speak with Damien Echols, David Stoupakis and Menton3 about their personal experiences using art and Magick as survival for the psyche and what to expect at SALEM’s highly anticipated Los Angeles debut.
Jana Ritter: What inspired the three of you to join forces and form The Hand art collective?
Damien Echols: It was a gradual, organic process that happened without any of us making a conscious decision to do so. We realized we had become a collective when one day Menton asked, “What are we going to call ourselves?” and I said, “What about The Hand?” It stuck. The hand is the tool you use to shape the world, our hands are what we use to create our realities and we want to create a new world, where Magick is better understood and appreciated.
JR: What inspired the concept of your upcoming show, SALEM and how does it personally relate to each of you?
DE: The concept of SALEM appealed to us for several reasons. Nearly everyone has felt like an outcast at some point in their lives, for one reason or another. And the victims of the Salem witch trials were the ultimate outcasts. We wanted to honor them, almost as patron saints for those not accepted by mainstream society. Also, Salem was once my home. David also lived near Salem in his youth and visited often. For us, modern day Salem felt like a place of acceptance; a place that learned from its past and now embraces the strange – especially practitioners of all different Magickal spiritual traditions. This show is the result of our love affair with Salem.
JR: More than just an art show, SALEM promises to be an entirely unique experience. Can you give us a hint of what to expect?
DE: We do indeed want SALEM to be more than just an art show. We want it to be a small pocket of Magick in a world that increasingly celebrates only the mediocre and the mundane. We want it to be a moment of epiphany and of realization, something that people look back on and remember like a dream. I know from firsthand experience that art can be a transformative experience, and that’s what we want Salem to be – the first of many such experiences, as well as a celebration of brotherhood.
JR: SALEM is also the launch of your social awareness campaign, Magick Revolution. Tell us about that.
DE: Magick Revolution is a campaign that has deep roots within my time on death row. When I was sent to death row, it was my love of ceremonial Magick that they used to condemn and convict me. They said it made me evil. However, it was also Magick that helped to save my life while I was there. Magick is a combination of techniques derived from Gnostic Christianity, esoteric Judaism, and ancient Chinese Taoism. We want to spread awareness of what Magick is, as well as what it is not, in order to dispel the confusion surrounding it. Magick is an incredibly beautiful and meaningful spiritual tradition that rivals the eastern practices in depth and purpose. What Magick is NOT is dark, scary, satanic, or anything else you’ve heard from fundamentalist or horror movies. I want to share with people the techniques and practices that helped me through my darkest hours in hopes that it will do that same for them. That is the ultimate goal of Magick Revolution.
JR: How did Magick help you survive your darkest days on death row?
DE: Magick is a combination of visualization, meditation, and breathing techniques that train the individual to work with energy that isn’t always perceptive to the naked eye. It helps with things like coping with pain, which I experienced a great deal of in prison. There isn’t a great deal of medical or dental care on death row – they aren’t going to spend a lot of time and money taking care of someone they plan on killing, after all. There were times when I was incredibly sick and in a great deal of pain and it was the techniques of Magick that helped me to cope with that pain and not go stark raving mad. It also gave me the means of grounding myself and staying centered in the present moment instead of giving in to the horror of my situation.
JR: Art also became your means to survive; yet you had little means to work with. Give us an example of the ingenious creative process for an artist in maximum-security isolation?
DE: I tried a lot of different things, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. One big thing was trying to find something I could use as a paintbrush, since the prison wouldn’t allow me to have a real one. At one point I tried to make a paintbrush out of my own hair. That did not work well at all. Eventually, through trial and error, I learned how to paint using Q-tips. After I got out, I continued to use Q-tips to paint because I had gotten so used to it that a brush just didn’t feel right.
The last two remaining pieces I made on death row are in the Salem show. One is a set of Runes I made with a tongue depressor and the blade I removed from a disposable razor. I only ever made two sets. The other set was given to Johnny Depp as thanks for all the support he gave me while I was inside.
JR: Tattoo art has also become a significant part of your freedom and now you’ve pledged to become living body of artwork dedicated to the Magick Revolution. Can you explain?
DE: Tattooing is deeply interwoven with the artwork that will be displayed at the SALEM show. Nearly all of these pieces are tattooed either in whole or in part on my body. My art isn’t just for aesthetic purposes – it’s also a focus for meditative rituals, and are meant to embody certain concepts and energies, such as prosperity or protection, much like the mandalas made by Tibetan Buddhists. I have these tattooed on my body as I finish them.
Another reason it’s so important to me is because when I was in prison, everything was taken from me, even my hair. They forcibly shaved my head. The only thing they couldn’t take was my skin.
JR: How has art helped you to evolve from the “West Memphis Three” and establish yourself in the world as the real Damien Echols?
DE: Art has allowed me to evolve beyond being a member of the “West Memphis Three” by giving the means to express myself in the world as an individual and not just part of a victimized group. It allows me to share the qualities and ideas that are uniquely my own instead of just being the poster child for injustice and prejudice. Art lets people know me by what’s good in my life, instead of the horrific past I lived through.
JR: David, you also turned to art as an escape from the dark experiences of your past. Tell us about that.
David Stoupakis: I was diagnosed early on with a severe learning disability. Imagining, creating and drawing at that time became a huge salvation for me. It was a form of escape from the constant frustration and turmoil I was going through for feeling like I was not like everyone else, and was not smart. Art gave me the security I so very much needed at that time and still very much does today. One thing I know is that art is always there for me – it challenges me and keeps me growing all the time. It gives me purpose in this life. I am only as good as what I put in to what I do.
JR: Now you’re an internationally acclaimed artist known for your surrealistic paintings that somehow exude beauty from horror. How do you achieve this?
DS: If we stay true to what we believe, the growth and process will continue to grow and people around you will take notice, whether good or bad. Along the way, it seems I found beauty within a melancholy state of the human condition via the world that I seek and create within my art. For me everything is a learning curve, and hopefully a challenge along the way. That’s what I truly love. If I’m not learning with my life and art then I’m not living.
JR: You first chose to paint because it gave you the opportunity to communicate to audiences. How does this desire continue to drive you?
DS: We all have purpose in this life. I was fortunate enough to find mine early on. Over the years it’s become a journey to find out how far I can take it to understand the craftsmanship, symbolism, and meaning. And how much more can I learn about myself along the way. Even at 41 years old, I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the deeper meaning of what it is I am here to do with my art and life. Working with Damien and Menton has also opened up a whole new world of possibilities when collaborating to make these exhibitions a reality.
JR: Menton, you once said that painting is the “need to manifest the internality of my own psyche.” What do you mean by that?
Menton3: It is a very simple thing really, I use my work the same way a geologist uses their notebook or research materials. My paintings are the maps, icons and characters I meet while I am in meditation. The subconscious is full of memories we no longer want, the abuse we had as child, the feelings that are too big for us to deal with, etc. But I feel we throw out the baby with the bath water. A lot of amazing and beautiful things are also in the shadow self, and by connecting to them and bringing them to consciousness, we begin to know ourselves much more fully. We start having more choice about how we see the world around us, and how we interact with it.
To know myself fully is the only reason I paint; to create images that would not normally be seen outside of dreams, and to do this enough to where there is no part of me I hide from myself. It can sometimes be days, months or even years before I understand what a painting is saying, or what part of me needs to be heard from that work, but I can say it has been the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.
JR: You’re also a well-known illustrator, comic book artist and a multi-faceted musician. Do you have different inspirations for each medium?
M3: I would say music and visual art come from very different places for me. I know if I am working on music I kind of have to put the brush down for a few weeks, and the same with painting. However, I do still play my violin almost every morning before I begin my day. With comics, I have enjoyed myself a great deal working on some of the things I grew up reading and my childhood heroes. It’s been quite the ride, and I wake up every morning so excited that this is what I get to do for a living.
JR: What upcoming shows can we look forward to from The Hand collective and what do you guys ultimately hope to achieve as an artistic movement?
M3: The three of us have a group text, and the amount of ideas that flow though that in a week is kind of amazing. We inspire one another on a daily basis and there is never a lack of ideas. We have plans for more shows; we’ve talked about doing our own Tarot deck, and many other ideas including an interactive performance. It is said a writer only needs one good idea, not many. But dealing with these guys I feel like I am in a constant state of knowing we are doing something that is just right.
Damien Echols, David Stoupakis and Menton3 will be attending SALEM’s opening reception at the Copro Gallery on Saturday, March 19 from 8:00-11:30pm. The exhibit runs from March 19 – April 16, 2016 and is open to the public free of charge.
For more information about the SALEM art exhibition in Los Angeles, go directly to the Copro Gallery website.
To find out more about Damien Echols and his collection of work, go to: www.damienechols.com
To find out more about David Stoupakis and his collection of work, go to: www.davidstoupakis.com
To find out more about menton3 and his collection of work, go to: www.menton3.com
To find out more about the Magick Revolution go to www.MagickRevolution.com