An almost mythic figure in the Austin art & music scene, mystic artist Olivia Pepper has served as both a support, key artist and community leader for years. A tarot teacher, astrologer, herbalist, mystic, artist & poet, Olivia’s warmth and abundant curiosity shine forth here. From angel channeling to discussing detaching identity from work, Olivia’s insistence on maintaining autonomy and kindness for oneself is a beautiful reminder, as she joyfully states here: “i strive to keep a good name, not speak ill of others, hang evil eye charms on everything in my house and try to get right with god.”
Ed note: While I typically edit interviews for clarity, capitalization etc. I felt that doing so would change the quality of her writing— so I left as is.
How would you describe what you do?
+gosh, where do i even begin? my practice exists somewhere at the intersection of art and mysticism. i read tarot and interpret astrology charts for a living; i also teach the practices of mysticism and participate in philosophical investigation of our world. i participate extensively and prodigiously in the arts - in the past year i've directed an experimental film with urzulka konietzko, begun adapting a novel for the screen with dustin hamman, written a book of poems to be illustrated by david nast cole and another one (an homage to richard brautigan) which will be put out later this year with artist jamie karolich. i've done some performance work with moha. i'm writing an opera for experimental composer david carlton adams, preparing for a collaborative exhibition with alex diamond, and i recently was the assistant director and head sorcerer for the next music video from capyac. amidst all of that art stuff i also practice mysticism in a deep and complicated way that involves a lot of intentional dreaming, high ritual magic and angel channeling and other activities that can make me sound insane. still, i feel very distinctly that the two identities are not at all separate. so i consider myself a mystic artist.
How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as a creative person?
+i have learned so much from detaching my personal identity from my work and its effects.
this stepping back from the self is common practice among mystics but i find it to be absolutely uncommon among artists in the so-called west; in a capitalist society it is apparently crucial to make yourself a brand that is sellable 24 hours a day, and that means taking everything very personally.
elizabeth gilbert has a great ted talk about this; about how in ancient times we associated genius and the muses with spirits that were separate from ourselves. i do not perceive my projects as belonging to me; i'm merely following directives when i make what i make. i believe that success and failure don't have to be reflective of me, my commitment or my ability. that keeps me both humble and determined.
but it is hard sometimes because under capitalism, success means survival. and i get survival panic just like everybody else does; especially lately with challenges i've been experiencing with my health. when we experience "failures" i believe they are an opportunity for release, but in the face of needing to make a living it can be hard to honor the occasion of a project fading.
When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?
+the story that comes to mind here is a funny one, about the space i founded with everest pipkin and ran with a cohort of artists known as the cloud to ground collective (we're currently dormant but we all have matching tattoos and one of fred's ideas was an art show on the space station, so don't give up on us yet).
the physical space was called wardenclyffe (named after tesla's tower devoted to channeling universal free energy) and it was kind of this legendary east austin art spot. we moved into an abandoned house at springdale and oak springs road at the perfect time, in early 2012 (the house has been demolished since). we lasted a little over a year hosting numerous group art shows and sxsw alternative pop-ups and storytelling nights and visiting performance artists and noise jams and we had a little shop for vinyl records and zines and we had studios functioning there and the whole thing was just kind of magical and terrible at once.
there are all kinds of divergent ways that i felt about this space, while it was operating and after. it was both successful and a failure. it was participating in creating a really inclusive arts community for queer and neurodivergent artists especially; it was also pre-gentrifying a vulnerable part of austin (pre-gentrifying is that thing where freaky white people make it more comfortable for more monied white people to start things like the rock climbing gym). the night of our final party i walked all the way to the edge of the lot and stood there looking at the lights and bustle and extravagance of 400ish people gathered together to say goodbye to this little space that had been such an incubator for a lot of what happens in the austin scene now. i had this rush of gratitude and optimism and hope and pride which was cut short by a young couple loudly arguing about whether the guy was too drunk to drive (he was). i had this realization that there were always going to be good and bad aspects and that i would just have to wade through them.
strangely, our last fundraiser for the project, which was in february 2012 at me and everest's shared house (known as "the island"), was the surrealist soiree, and i dressed as a showgirl and wore nametags that said "fear of failure" and "fear of success."
What is your biggest struggle as a person in creative industry?
+probably being "taken seriously" - that and the fact that i pathologically hate money but obviously need it to survive. we live in a world that prioritizes a very industrialist, rationalist, masculine way of thinking and approaching everything; this kind of conquerer vibe infects every aspect of our practice and day-to-day lives. i can be a dreadfully prideful person at times (getting better though, i think) and i respond poorly to feeling like someone is "disrespecting" me. i've been in the arts for a long time, and involved in "spiritual communities" for even longer, and i find that i get very frustrated by the prioritization of capitalist heteropatriarchal ideals in the arts. there's so much that we don't unpack in terms of our philosophies and thought forms, and it leads inevitably to people like me being rejected as superstitious crazy spinsters or something. haha this is obviously a loaded answer.
What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
+i'm honestly struggling to establish both of these. since 2015, i have essentially been wandering the face of the planet exploring and learning and being very poor and working on a novel and writing small poems and collaborating with other artists and mystics. i've spent time in china, berlin, new york city, los angeles, marfa, santa fe and points in between. i developed a better architecture to support myself financially during all of this, which includes more in-depth teaching, and in september i moved to a very small town in the pacific northwest and i rented a place of my own for the first time in nearly four years. i unpacked my stuff and i have been kind of sifting through it in a bewildered manner and watching a bunch of netflix and not accomplishing much. i'm trying to see what sitting still means.
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done and/or maintain some level of productivity?
+i often don't, if we're being honest. i have a lot of executive functioning disarray and i can forget things for long periods of time, and i have more ideas than my body can handle. also being a journalist early on created a real focus on deadlines or lack thereof. i often get things done very last minute and i take comfort in those articles that say procrastination is most common in highly intelligent people. lately i've been going a lot easier on myself as i have been diagnosed with a stress-based health condition so i'm experimenting with letting things go.
How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
+i just keep telling myself i would rather be brave. and i remind myself of how my courage has helped others. i reveal a lot of my personal life and thoughts in my writing. i stopped sharing poetry for about a decade because i developed intense stage fright and it had to do with ego insecurity and a fear of being judged by others for my thoughts and choices. in many ways i've had a really hard life and i have certainly made a lot of mistakes but my spiritual practice and being in recovery helps me transcend some of the shame associated with social judgments.
How do you know when it’s time to rest?
+when i get diagnosed with stress-induced osteoporosis, lol
seriously, though, i never knew when to rest before and it has brought me to this very challenging space. i don't recommend being an over-achiever.
How do you manage the internet/social media?
+with an increasing amount of distrust.
my most cherished dream is to be able to get off social media entirely because i think it might improve my mental health, but i also truly love the platform of instagram because it has connected me to some really incredible people who i otherwise might not know. turns out andy warhol was right about fame; being instagram famous allows some of us artists and weirdos to carve out a little corner of the world for ourselves and actually survive by our gifts, which is lovely and amazing and gratifying. but it also becomes exhausting, this self as brand.
i cast a lot of charms around my technological devices to attempt to rein in my relationship with them; i see phones and computers and the internet as magical forces to be approached with reverence, respect, and a healthy amount of superstition.
Do you collaborate, and if so, what’s your collaborative process like?
+almost all of my work is collaborative. every process is different; it very much depends on who i am working with. i was raised with very little social interaction, and as a result i am absolutely enchanted by other human beings but i also need a lot of time alone. the process of creating work together is a great container in which to do work with other artists.
What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?
+i want to be a younger, hotter, more feminist alejandro jodorowsky.
i want to split time between l.a. and paris, host art salons, travel to obscure locations because of my angelic visitations, continue introducing extraordinary artists to one another and watching beautiful things take place in this mean and tragic world, write a few novels, read tarot cards for fun, and die at a ripe old age in a wrought iron bed on a hillside in tuscany while my friends read poetry and play songs for me
How do you deal with people not liking you, liking your ideas or being jealous of you?
+i rely on my spiritual practices and the few friends that i trust. strangers have always hated me (i was raised by counterculturalists and i was poor and homeschooled and weird). i have learned to be proud of being different.
but i've beefed with a few people i have actually known and loved about my political and spiritual behaviors, and that certainly hurts, especially when i lose old friends because of being too outspoken about indigenous sovereignty or because of being an astrologer or whatever.
i think there is a lot of collective focus on blame, shame and fame and i think those are all ways of distracting a person from autonomy and being responsible for ourselves.
in short, i strive to keep a good name, not speak ill of others, hang evil eye charms on everything in my house and try to get right with god.