You know how science says darkness is the absence of light? It’s not like that for Devine Lu Linvega. A self-taught visual artist, music composer and game developer, Linvega’s work has a singular polyvalent quality. Every piece feels like a slice of experience taken out from a multilayered stack of reality, as though each piece was once conceived in one dimension and then expressed in another. His blacks, his dominant palette, pulse with energy, not unlike the deeply concentrated pigments of the ancient Tantric paintings of India. You know how science says dark surfaces absorb light? Well, Linvega’s blacks radiate. They are the building blocks of his cosmogony. They don’t stay still. They throb.
It’s almost midnight when the video livestream from Devine Lu Linvega starts to fill up my browser window. We’re speaking from opposite ends of the world and on my screen the pale black-clad Linvega is lit up from behind, softly framed by the late morning sun. Linvega has three black circles tattooed on the front of his neck, just over the Adam’s apple. The circles are an emblem of his work, a triumvirate of his chosen mediums. The soft-spoken French-accented Canadian quit formal education after high school but has since established himself as an extraordinary autodidact in three disciplines.
To help me navigate his world, Linvega switches views so that I can see his screen. We go to his website, his very first coding project and an intimate personal wiki documenting his life’s learnings and work, a space a journalist once described as “a tear in the familiar.” For the sole purpose of getting to know Linvega’s work, xxiivv.com is the beginning and the end. It strikes me vaguely that in this brief digital connection between night and day, we are tumbling through Linvega’s starkly meditative world like a domino hurtling through space.
Krystle: To begin at the beginning, tell us: why black?
Devine: I used to use colors. But then at some point I started to strip everything down. Writing, composition, everything. Every word that I could remove that was not helping the story. I removed all the adverbs and adjectives, everything that is just fluff and that hides the idea. From writing, I started doing that with music. I wanted to be more empty and straightforward. And then I started doing the same with illustration. I think I’m almost becoming a caricature of myself. ‘Cos people are like, you just use black and white. But I use colors also. I just don’t want to use them carelessly.
Krystle: I find your work magnetic. Peaceful, even. What does the color black mean to you?
Devine: A lot of people see it as a negative thing. But for me, I write in black. I fill in a page with black. When I add this color, it adds something. A lot of people say white is the absence of something. But for me, black is the ultimate something.
Krystle: Is there a universality to black? Is there a philosophy, a single story, of the color, that we can all understand without words?
Devine: I don’t think so. A lot of people look at my work and think it’s dark but I don’t see it as dark at all. There’re two ways to look at it. When you mix colors together, the process is either additive or subtractive. If you add them all together, you will get white. That’s true for computers and most systems. When you add up the RGB codes for blue (0, 0, 255), red (255, 0, 0), and green (0, 255, 0), you get 255, 255, 255 – that’s the color white. But in reality, if you were to add up all the colors you would get black. So some people see black as an absence of a thing. But I see it as a thing.
Krystle: So, in a way, you understand the color black the same way it’s produced in reality. Others only see it the way computers would.
Devine: Photoshop sees white as all the colors. Reality is the opposite. Sometimes I explain this to people and they’re like: “Shit yeah that’s true!”
Krystle: Besides making art, you also create languages, time-telling apps, music… You have even invented your own shorthand. What unifies these interests of yours?
Devine: I think it’s all the same. My mediums are audio, visual and programming, but my themes are dimensions and travel. It’s what inspires me. I use a lot of black and white now because it’s so contrasted, because it’s so clear. I’m trying to make all my work super obvious and super straightforward. I’m not trying to disguise it. I’m not aiming for pretty. I’m aiming for function. I think dimensions and time are the only truth. I would say death is the only god. It’s the only thing that we can rely on. In the end there’s only this.
Krystle: What are some of your influences?
Devine: Mostly books. Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. The Morning of the Magician, a French book about natural things that we can perceive as magic. I love alchemy for its whimsical aspects. A lot of Borges stuff. Mark Twain. Number 44. Linguistic stuff. If you look at my last album, the tracks are named after cities from these influences. There’s a city from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. There’s another city from the books of Jorge Luis Borges. Then another city from a comic book called Obscure Cities by François Schuiten. This album is a tribute to all the things that inspire me. All this inspiration seeps into my universe.
Krystle: You’re interested in so many things. Dimensions, perspective, layers of reality. What is it that draw you to these themes?
Devine: I’m thinking like, escapism, kind of. There is hope in getting lost in all of this for me somehow. For instance, I can think in languages that only I can understand. That sort of thing. I like that I can do something that is just for me, once in a while. There’s a lot of work I don’t show and that I just make for myself. I often think, like, if I were stranded on a desert island, would I still be making linguistics stuff or music or art? And I think yeah. Because I’ve grown in a way that allows me to make stuff just for me. When I first left school I thought: “Fuck, I’m so screwed.” All my friends were moving on and going to university. But I just told myself: “I’ll do whatever I feel like doing and I’ll become so good at it that I won’t have to do things that I didn’t want to.” And that worked. I was really lucky in that aspect.
Krystle: I’m going to ask this on a whim. Do you have synesthesia?
Devine: Yeah actually I do. When I listen to music it’s like watching movies. I see sounds as colors.
Krystle: Wow, that really explains a lot.
Devine: I think it’s nice. A lot of my interest in music and time comes from that. I’ve always struggled with the concept that music is temporal. A millionth of a second of music is not music – it’s just a tone. But color can live in a millionth of a second. I always felt it was kinda weird that music gave me colors even though it can only exist over a period of time. I struggle with the mixed sensation that a combination of tones could actually manifest itself in a millionth of a second.
Krystle: Tell me more about how you experience sound. Does it have to be music? What about language and, well, noise?
Devine: Well I guess sometimes when I hear a foreign languages, it’s not the linguistic part of my brain that catches up on that but the sensory part. It’s not exactly that i see colors. It’s more like…tones. Morse code. Before I became fluent in Japanese, it felt in some way like I was hearing music. Not constant music but intermittent bursts of music and noise. So it would go like: sometimes music, sometimes noise. It reminded me of like when your speakers catch cell phone interference and makes modem-like sounds, glitch sounds. This appeals to me a lot. I approached Japanese like this. Now I’m learning Russian full-time and I think it has a lot of sound and music to it too. But it’s not really about speech, it’s about sound and music.
Krystle: You’re a self-taught polymath in three disciplines doing all the things you love. What are you doing differently from everybody else?
Devine: Nothing. The idea is just that if you do something long enough, you’ll become good at it. Just by doing the thing you like, you beat anybody else doing it as a pastime. If you want to be a programmer yet you’re working full-time doing something else and you only do programming at night, then it gets really hard. I also think it’s so good to bring something outside a medium inside a medium. For example, if you play video games all day and you start making video games, your video games are only going to be a rehash of the things you consume. So I think it’s really important that, whatever you do, you bring something new into the medium. Mix up the disciplines.
Normally based in Japan, where he speaks the language fluently, Linvega is spending the summer in Canada. But all that will change soon. In January, Linvega is planning to sell everything he has and move onto a sailboat. He should be around Panama in the summer and in Asia around fall. In the meantime, a fragment of his reality can be experienced through xxiivv.com.