He put Shiva on the wall in one of the most polluted corners of India. He’s been kicked out of crumbling ashrams by the police. All for spreading the message of love in paint. Bhakti street artist Pan Trinity Das, creator of Spiritual POP! Art, has been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. His bold graphics and ability to instill yogic principles in urban adornment never fail to draw a crowd. Everywhere he paints, people love him—even (on occasion) the police.
Pan is crossing the globe as he gears up for an exciting world street art tour beginning next month, in March 2015. “We're hitting India, Thailand, Bali, Indonesia, Italy, Germany, France, and Canada, and the list of environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that we’re collaborating with is still growing," he tells Yoga International. "Yoga Journal has agreed to cover the projects and I'm re-editing all my old films, as well as releasing new street art films for each project! It's a very exciting time.”
Pan has been compared to iconic street artists Banksy and Shepherd Fairey, and like them he’s got a strong message. Pan uses his talent to attract attention to environmental causes and the profound need for love in the world. And as he does so, he tunes into his own heart to open the eyes, minds, and hearts of those around him.
Sharing a story about one of the scarier aspects of being a street artist—getting caught—Pan talks about how that old reaction can still put a lump in his throat, whether he's working on a commissioned installation or not.
“I was in India for four months...doing street art and renegade installations, and I was blown away by the amount of positive energy that it attracted.…There was this one time, a cop came up to me. I was in Varanasi (the city of Shiva) doing a portrait of Shiva during Shivaratri (the festival of Shiva)....And so [this] cop came up and I was, like, getting a little nervous. You don’t want to [expletive] with the cops there. And he’s got this real serious face and he comes up and is, like, ‘Can I get my photo with this?’ And that’s when I knew I was really safe.…Much to my surprise [the people] were, like, ‘thank you,’ and they started taking photographs of us with it, and I was just, like, feeling so blessed by that because back home in my country (Canada) and in America, you don’t get thanked for that.”
As a featured artist at the upcoming Vasundhara—an environmental arts festival in Goa, India, that runs March 5-9 and weaves together visual art, music, film, healing modalities, and performance art with powerful environmental education and awareness—Pan will be gracing the exterior walls of urban India once again with a community art installation and a number of environmental street artworks.
And what’s he up to right now? Transforming California YogaMat studios in Orange and Anaheim Counties into galleries for Spiritual POP! Art, painting a billboard on his mom’s antique store and farm, painting a portrait of Wilhelmina Cooper for her daughter (CEO of Wilhemina Models), and installing some good vibes into a New York friend’s devotional space.
“His work is beginning to explode," says fellow artist Jordan Bower.
"Got a couple bucks burning a hole in your pocket? Buy a piece of Pan’s work…and let him take you on a journey of curiosity and authenticity.”
So, Pan is a busy, busy man. And he’s loving it.
“This is my political message, the message of love,” says Pan. “I remember when I replaced 'I think' with 'I feel,'" he recalls, "and how even a simple step such as that brought me closer to my heart and accessing its wisdom. I wanted my decisions to come from the heart.…Through [the heart], love teaches us that love is the ONLY thing that matters—not your job, not your car, not your house. It is the only thing of true, infinite value that we can really share. It is what is remembered.”
“My brand of Spiritual POP! Art is just an embodiment of my activism,” he continues. “Shepherd Fairey speaks about art being taken out of elitist galleries and placed in the street, void of censorship, to represent a voice for the people. Where Shepherd Fairey and Banksy often use their wit and humor to caution the public—which I endorse and utilize—I concentrate my efforts on spreading love and popularizing spiritual iconography.”
In his pursuit of love and all its byproducts (you know, integrity, freedom, truth), Pan has experimented with a wide array of artistic mediums, most notably street art films and a diversity of painting styles (abstract, figurative, landscape, psychedelic, and portrait). And he’s got quite a talent with tattoo, silk screen, graphic design, sculpture, graffiti, photography, carpentry, and industrial metal work as well.
When asked how he does what he does at the 2014 Bhakti Fest, he replied, “Man, it just comes right out. I mean, I actually only used to do abstract, supercolorful, crazy, crazy artwork, and I was really frustrated by the fact that I could never connect with people. And then one day…one day…I did a painting of Amma in the same kind of style, Spiritual POP! Art, and it was like a revelation. It just happened, man. Then I did Neem Karoli Baba, Yogananda, Osho. I mean I started—especially with Baba—I started, like, getting to know these people through the paintings, and I just never stopped. That was seven years ago.”
“The connection happens on an intimate, familiar level,” he tells YI. “Spending hours learning and memorizing the details of a smile or the light that reflects in someone's eye brings you closer to that person. You would maybe only become that familiar with a lover.”
"Nearly all my work begins in Photoshop,” he explains. “There, layers and composition create the foundation. But it's only when I begin painting that I feel subject to the natural elements of creation—water being the main unpredictable ingredient. Water: the feminine, the intuitive, the creative flow. Tapping into this energy is essential to breaking out of the safety of my own creative mold. Yet having common themes and a modality that feels natural is the framework that drives compelling content. You need both…"
When asked which fellow artists inspire him, he cites Banksy and Shepherd Fairey, but then confesses, "My wife, however, [singer, songwriter, actress, Kyrie Maezumi] has been the most influential. Kyrie has an incredible, natural ability. Everything she does is an expression of grace, elegance, depth, and beauty. From that, I am inspired to propagate the message of love from a place of intimacy and authenticity.”
After working on a clean-up project in Dharamsala with Waste Warriors—an India-based volunteer organization that raises awareness about the garbage crisis while providing affordable, sustainable waste management systems to support the practical needs of the community—Pan promised that he’d come back and do an art installation for the NGO in pollution-ridden Dehradun. Good as his word, he did, and a thrilled Jodie Underhill, Founder and CEO of the organization, quickly orchestrated a “paint out” against pollution. She chose a very visual 20’-long wall at a main intersection in a superbusy part of the city as Pan’s canvas.
“We wanted him to do a really hard-hitting, exciting wall mural that would capture everyone’s attention, and that’s exactly what he did,” says a very happy Underhill.
His street art film, “Messages in the Street: Warrior Spirit,” really captures the uniqueness and excitement of the installation. As the day begins to descend, Pan shouts to be heard above the cacophony of traffic horns and orchestral jackhammers, commenting:
“There were so many people crowded around that it attracted a news crew from a local television station. Wow, what an impact you can make in just, like, three hours, you know? Hundreds of people snapping shots with their cell phones, their cameras. It’s already going up on the internet. You know, it’s amazing. And they say you can’t make a difference.” He looks out across the city, the black-white night half-blanketing his face. “You can.”
“The response was incredible from day one,” Underhill enthuses. “Hundreds of people came by to watch him work. And as the whole thing took shape, it absolutely blew everybody away.”
As a result, Pan was nominated for Moksha Festival’s Yoga Activist Award and had a chance to share “this badass NGO’s” message with an additional 35,000 people. His message is still as vital today as it was a year-and-a-half ago:
“India has the second largest population worldwide. That’s one billion people littering and burning garbage everyday, all day. One billion minds thinking it’s okay. If you love and you love yoga, give back to the source. Help protect these sacred lands.”
“When I turned my art practice into my seva (selfless service), it suddenly started making sense. I was having these intense moments of euphoria and sometimes even weeping while on the wall painting. So many people practice yoga, or travel to India, in search of something—and spend a lot of money on retreats and trainings in the process. I got everything I was seeking and more when I gave myself to a cause. Gandhi said, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,' and before I began doing street art in India, I had no idea how powerful and literally true that statement was.”