Avan is captured by photographer Michaela Winstone in time and space distant from the unceasing rush of Los Angeles. It is a rare moment afforded to the young artist, who can imminently be seen as the lead in the Starz original comedy series Now Apocalypse. Soon Avan is to also appear opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Shaft, and next year will be directing his first feature-length film entitled Door Mouse.
Stylist Michelle Tomaszewski has dressed Avan for the occasion. Muted colours return him to the earth as he seeks spiritual and creative rejuvenation. Thoughtful, pensive and entirely self-aware, isolation is not so much a choice for Avan as a necessity; trench coats and relaxed suits set his intentions to produce work that will change the creator, himself, as well as the audience. In stolen moments of silence is when Avan can play with ideas of what it means to be an artist; what it means to be Avan. Distance offers a new perspective, and in his debut book of poetry out in September, Mixed Feelings, Avan explores this in multiple layers.
How is your morning so far?
My morning is fine, I just had some breakfast and now I am heading back to the house to slum around for a bit because I have the day off from shooting.
You know, I try not to plan anything with my days off because they are so rare. They are few and far in-between, so I like to have nothing on. Usually, I amble around and maybe do some painting or writing. Mostly nothing.
Your character in Now Apocalypse, Ulysses, is an eccentric stoner on a mission to find love. Who is Avan?
Who am I? I am someone who tries to create, I think, more so than anything else. I just want to make things. And I want to produce things that change me and hopefully, changes other people, as well. The only thing I've ever wanted is to create worlds and fantasies and have other people join me in whatever that world or that fantasy is.
Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Yeah. I do. I believe in great love. I am currently in it, so I know. I feel like there is a wondering-ness to Ulysses, which is really cool and pertinent in this day and age - that there are true romantics out there who believe in fate and connection and destiny. We are so de-sensitised and sort of numb because of everything, all the time.
All the noise.
Well, it’s like sensory overload, isn’t it? I think to experience the potency of love you have to have all of your senses there. And not have your senses rubbed raw by the world.
What makes you happy?
Hmm. I don’t know. I don’t believe in being made happy, I believe you can be gracious with a good attitude - and happiness is a by-product of that. I feel like happiness is a fruit from the tree of gratitude… Wow. That's a big, epic sentence.
I am grateful for the ability to create; I am grateful for my partner; I am grateful for my job; I am grateful for my family. Those are the things that make me happy. I think when you get a shot at doing the things you want - ultimately, who you spend your time with and family become more important. And I’m lucky enough to be able to create the way that I want. When I'm not creating, I want to spend time with those people as much as possible.
You have 2.3 million followers on Instagram. Do you consider yourself a private person?
To me, Instagram is another place to express. It’s not you, your online persona. A lot of people use it for different things. I use it to show people what I’m making; to interact with my audience - or any audience really - about what I'm making. I don’t use it to portray a certain lifestyle, I use it to show who I am as a creator. In terms of my actual life, there is very little about that from Instagram. But as far as my creative life, it’s an open window.
In that way, Instagram has the potential to be a very positive and powerful tool.
Yeah, I think it’s a powerful instrument. It is like an unconscious fluttering of images, in my opinion. It’s like a hybrid of every person on earth - which is an incredible aspect. Instagram is more than just posting, it’s about watching our habits as humans - the negative and positive; what we find interesting and the traps we fall into.
The parts of Instagram that we consider negative have always existed in humanity. Now it's just more of an open field and you can see it in extremes. It is doing something - I wouldn’t say damage - but it is changing us. Bullshit doesn’t last in change, you know? I think that’s really true. And the real artists that are around right now; the people that are really contributing to their culture in a real way - they use Instagram really well. Not necessarily to market themselves but they use it to show people their art, and I think that’s what I’m all about when it comes to Instagram.
Now Apocalypse explores sexual identity in all its forms. What are your thoughts on masculinity in the 21st century?
There is a part of me that is incredibly feminine. Luckily, I had parents who nurtured that as a positive within me… I think for an evolved society that has gone through a long fight against using labels and labelling, it is interesting how much we do care about them. I know it is in our nature to want to file things. Although, I think masculinity has come a long way from the 1950s nuclear family ‘whisky dad’ persona. It has come a long way from that.
I think dual people or people with multiple currents flowing through them are becoming the norm. As you get older, you subscribe to certain groups in order to have simpler interactions. So if you are a traditionally ‘masculine’ person, you engage with people like that so you can have simpler conversations, even though in your inner life there might be multiple delineations and differences. You’re not just one thing. But as you get older, you oversimplify yourself to make it easier for the rest of the world - and I think that is something I have never been for.
Our identity is not just one thing. There are multiple factors - and masculinity is a part of my identity, but I’d say it definitely doesn’t lead the pack. I don’t think any one aspect of identity should lead the pack. If you are throwing your entirety behind one monitor, you’re cutting yourself off from the complexity of the person you could be. And so I think I have consistently rejected the idea of the options: male or female. There are multiple ways of being a person, and you can be motivated by one in particular, all of them together or none of them at all.
Not to get too spiritual but you are just inhabiting a physical vehicle. We get so obsessed with identity these days, but I don't think you are your identity… As soon as you name something, the quality of it declines. As soon as you define something with a term, then all of a sudden, it’s lost its strength. It’s lost an element because it has been cheapened by a name. It’s unceremonious.
What is your relationship to mental health?
I am lucky. I come from a family that has open conversations about where you’re at and what you’re doing. It’s about your well and how much you’ve got in that well. I have a well that allows me to give a lot more.
Even with the depth of my well, I realise that I have to keep a bit of that energy for myself - which is something I've had to learn. If you’ve got it, give it, you know? But then, don’t give it all away. You don’t want to come up empty. I think reserving some of that light in your well for yourself is super important in order to be an effective human; being able to recover and give to other people.
What are your methods to ensure you’re able to hold onto a little bit for yourself?
Well, for a day like today I don’t really have a lot going on. I rejuvenate through isolation and creation. It is such a social world and I am in a particularly social job and environment, so isolation becomes super important. I can just sit and make stuff. I like to use this time for low-risk creation. Not the kind of creation where you go, ‘oh man, I have to put this out for people to see’, with all that pressure of creation in relation to audience. Just the idea of simply picking up a crayon and having some fun. I like to keep things like that to myself.
So many of my creative outlets are intended for public consumption and I do keep some that are not. I will always hold a part of my work back because as soon as it is out for public consumption, there’s a whole lot involved that changes the process. I guess that’s the long way of saying: isolation and creation are my best advice for refilling the well.
You are also in a band with your brother, Saint Ivory. Who or what inspires your music?
My brother and I've been wanting to make music for a long time. With every creative venture, I start by taking swings at it, making good notes but then throwing stuff away. Eventually, you get good at not delivering - so much so that you are ready to deliver. We did that for a really long time and we found these two songs that we really liked out of all the songs we've made and decided to release them.
And also, we adore each other. We're trying to tell stories, meaning we are not trying to write three and a half-minute pop songs with a hook. I'm not trying to disrespect that kind of music, but if I am going to make music, I am going to make the kind of music that I want to make. And that’s kind of how I feel about all of my creative ventures across the board. If I was just a musician, there’d be this pressure to, ‘oh you’ve got to write a hook, you have to tour and you have to have the roll-out media thing and you have to go to all the events’. Yeah, I don’t have any interest in that - I just want to tell stories. And people respond to that. The response to the music has been amazing. We try to make the music be as personal as possible and release whenever we feel like it. The music is for us and people who think like us.
Have you got plans to release anything in the near future?
We’re probably going to release stuff pretty soon, in a couple of months. But before that I have a book coming out in September, Mixed Feelings, and I am directing a movie that I've written. My downtime is making stuff. Like I said, my days off aren’t really days off. Every once in a while, I’ll come up with something that works for a song and I’ll send it to my brother. Then my brother will add to it and he’ll send it back. We go back and forth like that. One day we’ll do a full album.
What is the dream?
To have creative mobility, which I already have. If it ever gets bigger or smaller or whatever, it will grow in some way - but it has to be creative mobility.
Are you living the dream?
Yeah. I mean. I don’t believe in this whole idea that you ‘arrive’ somewhere. The best you can do is to work towards a system that allows your output to match you input. As far as how I arrive at the ear or the eye of the audience, that is uncontrollable and doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is putting together the most complete idea and collaborate with other people who also have strong visions and ideas - and allowing those two things to ride against each other. The dream is that. So you know, I am living my dream and I can hopefully continue to do so.
Let’s talk about your book, Mixed Feelings. What inspired you to write that?
It began with the idea of ‘what is the concept of being mixed’. To come from a multi-racial background - what does that mean? Does that provide a different vantage point to the current going-ons in this increasingly polarised racial world?
Yes. I, myself, am half Indian so that resonates with me.
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I've always felt that maybe there is a point of view that mixed people have that they may be able to contribute in a positive way to what I find is an increasingly polarised society. That is how it started, which I've expanded to exploring the multiple currents that flow through us. I believe everyone has this bag of motivations that drive every action; I think it’s a mixed bag. There are all kinds of things in there: racial background, political background, religious background. It is everything. Age. Generational. Financial. I interviewed people with mixed backgrounds and wrote poetry based on those interviews, including a whole bunch of poetry based on my own background and upbringing.
It is probably the most intimate artistic work about my life that I have ever released. Hopefully, it can bring more awareness and act as an invitation for other people to contribute their thoughts on being mixed. I think it is within our DNA - mixed people - that we have the ability to see two different sides. That duality and nuance are really important right now.
You can watch ‘Now Apocalypse’ now on Starz.