Artist, Writer, Director Edward Vilga
Edward Vilga is a writer, director and visual artist.
He has had five books published,written and directed two feature films, and created acclaimed theater.
His first gallery solo show will be this September.
Vilga is a Yale graduate.
He lives in Chinatown, NYC with his chocolate lab Belle.
In his fifth floor loft, nestled in the heart of New York City’s China Town, Edward Vilga has established a creative sanctuary where the integrity of his artistic vision reigns, and where his beautiful chocolate Labrador, Belle, reigns supreme!
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
EV: I grew up in Connecticut and went to school there at Yale University and then I moved to New York. I've basically been back and forth between Connecticut and California on various projects and work ever since. I now live in Chinatown with my chocolate lab, Belle.
My work is interesting because I define myself as an artist and then people want to know what kind of art. I always say I am a writer, director and a visual artist. I am creating work in several different mediums.
DR: What would you say is the best part of your life right now?
EV: I have a lot of creative freedom and that freedom is yielding work that is being recognized that I can share. I am able to do the work that I want, whether it is the visual work or writing or directing and that it is being well-received
It's wonderful to have the luxury of being about to create work that other people are buying and appreciating.
The best thing in my life is that I get to do what I want to do. I get to spend the bulk of my day doing things that are exciting and rewarding to me.
DR: Wow. But it hasn't always been like that, has it?
EV: No, it hasn't always been that way. There were definitely a lot of temp jobs out of college! The ratio has gotten higher, of my time being spent doing what I find rewarding.
It's not like it just happened but its sort of true that it did, that I began teaching because of a passion that I had for yoga and that lead to other things. It's really a great place to be -- doing what you want to be doing.
DR: Yeah. So many people would want that and don't have it. What would you say to people who have maybe given up on the idea or hope that they might be able to do to what they want and have the freedom to create?
EV: I think that part of it is that you have to take advantage of your freedom to create. I still do have this fantasy of going to a cabin in Nova Scotia for months and just do nothing but create a new piece of writing. But the truth is that I also look back and think that a lot of my most productive times were when I was busy and had to carve out an hour or two.
I think there is a fantasy of "I will have huge uninterrupted windows and I will only do what I want to do." And I think that the contrast in your environment can be helpful to start creating those spaces. You just have to start where you are, whether you have an hour to write or a month to write. You just have to decide to do it. You can't wait until you have the month.
DR: There are so many people that I imagine put off creating or doing what they want to do because they don't have the time and that's completely justifiable.
EV: You can't wait for there to be perfect conditions for you to be creative. You really can't. When I look back at certain things, like when I recently finished this novel, I wrote it in weird periods between the cracks. There were certain evenings or days I would have to devote to it - but really, I would have to take a night off to work on it. I also think, it sounds very luxurious that I am able to do what I want to do, but then there are a lot of other demands on my time. For example, there's a show of paintings coming up. Then I suddenly have too much to produce or I have other deadlines. There's never a period without any contrast where it's all perfectly easy and laid out. But I have noticed this gradual shift towards really being able to focus on what I want to focus on.
You have to focus where you are and take the hour and turn it into a month.
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DR: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...
EV: Exactly. If you wait for the perfect time and conditions, it will never happen.
DR: As you are talking, I'm thinking of the value that I know struggle is for creative people. What would you say your relationship to struggle and challenge is as it pertains to your work?
EV: I sometimes feel like it is either easy or impossible. Things go back and forth between one or the other. I am, in some ways, a very disciplined person, although sometimes I think I'm not disciplined at all. I am certainly a very passionate person and so it's very easy for me when I'm excited and committed to something to give it everything. That's sometimes a flaw in that I don't organize my taxes.
The play that you saw, that Leslie & I created was created it under great and super intense conditions just in terms of time and organization and making it happen. But I look back on it as a very easy process actually. It had a real flow to it.
My relationship with struggle is that I'm trying to struggle as little as possible. Part of that for me is only doing the things that I really want to do and that I'm passionate about.
DR: So you try to struggle as little as possible. Does that work? Is there is a secret you can impart?
EV: I think it does work. Although I like to think of myself as someone with diverse interests and many talents, the things that I love and that I've become good enough, they just keep happening.
You know, sometimes there are digressions, for example my yoga practice. I was quite passionate about yoga and I became a yoga teacher to deepen my practice. But I kept going further in that direction and my classes kept getting more popular and I began teaching an advanced class. There was a sense that it was work in that I was paid and I had to show up and do things. But I think that if you are really following what is exciting for you, it is a whole different thing. It's very hard to start out that way. I did not graduate from college being able to support myself as a creative artist. That just didn't happen. I don't know how it could have easily. I think over time your work gets known and your work gets stronger and you find people who are responding to your work and it gets easier to put it out there.
DR:If you get to Nova Scotia...
EV: Yeah, in my imaginary beach house in Nova Scotia, there is an imaginary piano where I'm composing music.
It's a passion to listen and to share the music.
One of the ways in which I create my visual pieces is very musical. Some of them are recreations of other media, for example the Rwanda Play. I listened to the music from the Rwanda show while I painted because it helps me remember that feeling and that energy.
One of the things people have said about the canvases, which I take as a compliment, is that there is an energy and feeling in them. It could be the serial killer feeling, but it's there. I joke that they have an obsessive, passionate quality. The music helps me, as an artist when I am creating the canvas, to reconnect and plug in to the feeling that I want it to have. I do want them to be visually beautiful, and I think that they are, but I also want them to have a kind of feeling to them. Like "the blue one", I want people to get that feeling of poetic, misty, dreamy quality, which that play has. It's about abstraction and it's about how it is hard to define things.
DR: How would you say that your art is a reflection of you? How or what does it reflect about you?
EV: It reflects me in that it is multi-layered. It's clear but very complicated.
Every one of the pieces in this particular series that I am doing now, including the future series that I have planned, has multiple layers of its history. It has richness to it. The Rwanda one is about a real life person's incredible story that touched us, then Leslie & I created a play together, then there are stills from the play that I transferred then to create this canvas. There are four or five layers. The Drawback Series is about a physical practice that I do on my birthday. It's about this physical practice that I do and then this essay that I was asked to write, then this photo shoot on my actual birthday, and then transferring the essay about my practice onto canvas. The layering is so intense in those paintings. Someone asked "how long does it take to do one?" And, I'm like, "Well, first you have to practice yoga for 10 years and learn the action..." Or "How long does it take to do the Rwanda painting..."? And I'm like "Well, first you have to create a show that has 108 performances around the world"...
Not that I don't occasionally frame a doodle that I do. But with these particular works, there is an intensity of layering that I like and there is also a theme, which is important to me, about transformation, in very different, non heavy handed ways. It's about your ability to create your life, to go beyond whatever the challenge is. Whether it is, in the Drawback series - the limits of the body or age, or open heartedness or fear, or in the Rwanda pieces - this horrible set of experiences and moving towards forgiveness.
DR: Do you have a guiding principle or philosophy?
EV: There are a whole bunch of teachers and teachings that I'm attracted to. Obviously, yoga has been important to me. Some of the New-Age stuff I like and some I don't like. Some I find simple minded and some I find profoundly helpful. For me, for better or worse, I have to create it with my own living more or less. I'm learning the lessons from my own life. I'm trying to have an examined life where I think: "Oh, it really does work when I do this, or feel or think this way."
DR: Is there something recently that you've learned about yourself; that you've just discovered that maybe surprised you or you found really helpful?
EV: I'm learning more about the power of letting go, on multiple levels - about personal forgiveness and also about the power of how you tell a story about something...
DR: What do you mean by that? That sounds interesting...
EV: I've been prolific in the things that I've created in different mediums. I've had a couple of projects that I've, more or less, secretly in my mind defined as failures, largely because they didn't make money or they lost money. Last Friday, I sat down with my lawyer, and we closed the two LLCs for those projects and in tandem with that, I thought, let me just re-evaluate these. Let me see what they are.
I went through both of them. One of them was a DVD project and it was such a disappointment for me because the distributer went bankrupt so no investors were paid back. However, when I look back on it, all of the experiences I had creating it, all of the things I learned from it - the entire fact that it was very much mine, that I thought of it, I made it happen, that I was right about its marketability, it hit number one in its division on Amazon.com - there was a softening of that.
The same thing with the other project, which was a film project. Three of most important people in my life, I met through that project. I might not have met them otherwise. Again, my criterion was that these projects were failures because they weren't financially successful.
But interestingly, as I closed both the LLCs and signed the paperwork, and then bought them as intellectual properties, literally, within one business day, those projects that made no money in years, I received out of the blue, phone calls and emails from people interested in them.
It was interesting to see the correlation of my letting go and, more importantly, my change of attitude about the projects and the seemingly random and unsolicited parties who were now interested. It is easy, even as an artist, to characterize something as a failure because it made no money.
DR: Is that what you mean by "telling a story about something"? Is it about how you decide to contextualize it for yourself?
EV: Yeah! I re-contextualized the stories around these projects for myself.
Sometimes it's really easy to have great press clip sound bites that make everything sound great. But sometimes you don't really believe them. It's interesting to think "Okay, this project isn't a failure" when it's actually an amazing success story because --Look at all that happened! Look at all I learned. Look at the three important people in my life or just look at the fact that I did it!
I'm always dismayed by a lot of the ways in which artistic success is subtly put down because they aren't successful enough or judged by some superficial standard.
DR: Is there anything missing from your life right now?
EV: There is nothing that I want right now.
I'm happy being single. I'm a single dad raising my little dog as best I can (Laughs). I'm happy. It's an interesting time of transition for me. There is possibility of moving or the possibility of staying. It is an interesting time of expansion for me. I'm teaching less public yoga classes but I love having my hand in that kind of public life.
I am doing a couple of retreats that I'm excited about. I'm going to Italy in October and I am doing a retreat in Crete next July.
DR: I love that kind of stuff...
EV: Yeah. I'm at a point where it's the time for that to happen. Perhaps I may just get that cabin in Nova Scotia.
I feel like now that I am no longer postponing things until I have a cabin in Nova Scotia, I might actually have gotten enough done that I can go have a cabin in Nova Scotia. You know this isolated French Lieutenants Woman fantasy of wind swept, isolated creativity.
DR: That sounds probably better to me in theory. I am one of those people who can't sit still. I'd be okay for a week and then I would start going stir crazy.
EV: I frankly feel I'd probably be the same. I think it's an appealing fantasy. But sometimes it is good to mix up your life a little bit and see what happens.
DR: For creative people, to go change the scenery and experience what a fantasy is really like tends to be perfect fodder for material.
EV: It's true. I went through a lot of my old stuff because I had an aunt die recently. She had saved everything since The Depression. She never threw anything out. She had every Christmas card I ever made for her. I had all this stuff stored at her house. It was interesting to see all these drafts of projects and early writings that I had forgotten about. It made me realize that you have to be creative in the thick of it. The fantasy of waiting for the perfect conditions doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen.
DR: Yeah, they say that about having kids or making a big decision. You can't wait for the perfect time. There's no such thing. You just have to just do it.
EV: Yeah, you just have to do it.
And usually, sometimes, it does all click into place. I believe in a kind of alignment - when you are coming from a clear and centered place, and you are really following what's true to you - then a lot of things tend to click into place in an amazing way that you couldn't have foreseen.
DR: Yes, I've experienced that many times. It's like the Goethe quote "Until one is committed..." It's like a gravity principle. Once you dive in with both feet, stuffs starts to just rearrange.
EV: Exactly. It all happens for you. It's really remarkable to see that take place.
DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
EV: Without apologizing for the ambition, I'd like to be an artist who is remembered for a message of hope and of the possibilities of transformation. I'd like to be remembered as someone who created visual images that were lasting, both in paintings and in films. I would like to be someone who is still read.
I would like to leave a legacy of the power of transformation of alignment in a way that is entertaining and in a way that is beautiful. I hate things that are preachy but I love things that are compelling. I would like to create a body of work that has those themes. Where there is a kind of strong spirituality, but it's embodied within a compelling narrative.
Narrative is powerful...
DR: So what I get from what you are saying is that the viewer has the experience of being invited as opposed to being beaten over the head which is the only way to ingest spiritually. Anytime that you feel like you are being beaten over the head, you will just resist it.
EV: You can feel when people are speaking from their own truth.
DR: So, a hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
EV: I want to be remembered for creating narratives about transformation and about possibility that are compelling and moving.
Books by Edward Vilga
Edward Vilga has had five books published, including two best-selling yoga books and companion DVDs, YOGA IN BED and YOGA FOR SUITS.
Vilga’s yoga books and DVDs have been translated into eight languages and reviewed in over forty magazines and newspapers including PEOPLE, the LA TIMES, the CHICAGO SUN TIMES, TIME OUT, Martha Stewart’s BODY + SOUL, REAL SIMPLE, FITNESS, HEALTH, SHAPE, and COOL HUNTING. His TV appearances include CBS’s EARLY SHOW, LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY, the TRAVEL CHANNEL, and FOX NEWS.
Vilga’s four other books range from mass-market paperbacks (St. Martins) to the academic (ACTING NOW, Rutgers University Press).
Vilga recently completed his first novel.
To keep updated on Edward Vilga's books and companion DVDs, visit Edward Vilga's website.