Before Brandon Boyd was the frontman of Incubus, he was an artist. In fact, he was en route to a CalArts scholarship when the band got signed. And while everyone knows how that part of the story has gone, it's been Boyd's parallel practice as a painter that has gained special momentum these past several years. With solo exhibitions in Los Angeles (where he lives) and around the world (often in tandem with Incubus' tour schedule), plus books, editions and, now, a new card game, Boyd has established a dreamy style in figures and abstract patterns based on organic flow and intuitive drawing; he calls it "OptiMystic."
On a recent evening, Boyd invited me over for a casually trippy game night.
Boyd's new game, Deux Portes/Two Doors, was inspired by the popularity of an ongoing painting series called Portals. Made with watercolor and ink on paper, these 5-by-5-inch squares, largely from 2017 and 2018, enact an infinite set of variations on Boyd's favorite way of making art — part chance, part attentive discovery.
Boyd's aesthetic is often compared to a kind of cloud game, wherein pigmented spills and prismatic washes exist as organic abstractions until he loosens his attention and lets his mind graze on the color fields until they discover the figure, the face, the flower, the tower, the mountain or the cosmos, which universe of hidden images he teases out with the inky tip of a pen.
In the case of Portals, they remain as abstractions, bright and sweet fractal swirls and spirals that resemble the windows between worlds for which they are named, with passages of crisp patterns that amplify the softness of the clouds by juxtaposition with architectural gestures and mesmerizing, Rorschach-like imagery. As you stare into them, you achieve a kind of shortcut meditation, a little bit of blurring around the edges of deep thought, like a confectionaryZen prompt. The doors of perception swing open, just a little.
Boyd likes to display them in grids, creating patterns within and among the sprawl of their unique iterations. And now, to play the Deux Portes game, you also begin with a grid.
"Do you know about that Brian Eno game, Oblique Strategies?" Boyd asks. I didn't, so I looked it up and essentially, in 1975 Eno and Peter Schmidt composed what they called "Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas" and made flashcards. The idea is, if you're stuck on an idea, pick a card and let its random thought experiment jog your consciousness back to a more interesting place. They're still being made, with its current edition being its fifth.
"We had a set in the studio," Boyd tells me. "You'd pull a card and it would say something like, 'Go outside. Shut the door,' or 'Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate,' or 'Just carry on.' It definitely worked! And that was a part of the inspiration for this idea for sure."
Boyd chose several dozen Portals paintings and different words for "door" and made pairs. You play like any traditional memory-match game, collecting mates, trading turns, the most pairs wins. But it's way less mechanical than other versions, because the artwork is captivating, the colors vibrant, and the words, as promised, prompt flights of humor and fancy.
Entry, access, pathway, peephole, connection, gateway... Enhanced by the colors of the work, the language interjects unexpected ideas into the experience, unlocking memories and associations, rewarding attentiveness and presence within that simple, analog moment, and the old-school idea of a real conversation.
"You can play alone, too, of course," Boyd says. But with a partner or two, it creates a low-key, lighthearted bond, an oasis of the present moment that lives inside a box of cards.
Our game, played at the kitchen table, of course, and with a jar of licorice at the ready, took about an hour. And it worked as it was intended. A far-ranging conversation ensued, touching on puns, art history, downtime, family and childhood memories, the perils of social media, the importance of art and nature, exotic regional candy from around the world, and the appeal of mindfulness to a society under pressure.
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In the end, Boyd was victorious in our match, but I think we both won — and our prize was a late-evening magic hour laugh-in memory tune-up session with our ringers off, matching up tawny gates and emerald interstices as the red sun set and the light blue sky turned indigo, while the rest of the world was racing into Friday at breakneck speed with no time for games. One of the cards reads "key," and another, my favorite, reads "permission."