Merging worlds appears to be Dr. Ordovich's modus operandi. Described by himself and fellow artists as “gypsy punk” and “Tim Burton meets Tom Waits meets Boris Karlov,” Ordovich, the nom de guerre of Randall De Souza Clarkson, is an accordion-playing, world-traveling illustrator, author, and musician. He debuts his first collection of multimedia work at downtown Phoenix's Alwun House at 7 p.m. Saturday, January 14.
Exploring the interplay between dream and reality in a semi-autobiographical odyssey across three continents, Ordovich’s show features a gallery exhibit of illustrations created during his journeys to the West Indies, Mexico, Brazil, and Ireland, as well as a 27-song album and book release with live performances of his music accompanied by circus sideshow acts. His digitally enhanced pencil sketches feature images of his fantasy-filled dreamscapes, dramatizing a set of unlikely but true events from his travels, re-imagined on a trippy plateau somewhere between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Hieronymous Bosch.
“The whole culture of the West Indies was really inspirational to me,” says Ordovich. “It’s at the heart of most of my art: the energy of being far removed from western society and being immersed in a place where you really have to create your own surroundings, so I did that with my art. It was an amazing isolated experience.”
Most of the illustrations on display at Alwun House are pulled from Ordovich’s first novel, the self-released The Meridian Quest, Parts I-III (available on iTunes/iBook, $2.99 per part). It centers on the blending of dream worlds and reality as they intersect within his own dream-propelled biography.
“The illustrations featured in the book started out as pencil sketches I did on boats, planes, trains and buses during my travels,” says Ordovich, an Arizona native and Arizona State University alum. He attended Ross University School of Medicine in the West Indies, where he obtained his M.D. degree, before embarking on the globe trekking that inspired his current work. “I converted the sketches to digital files and I did all the shadowing and painting digitally.”
It was Ordovich's recurring dream of dying in a volcano, and the odd coincidence that he had been unwittingly drawn to the tiny island of Dominica in the West Indies, which has the highest concentration of active volcanoes anywhere on Earth, that led him on one of the book's key adventures, exploring the nearby lost city of St. Pierre and the dungeon that protected one of only three survivors. The city of then 40,000 residents, known at the time as the "Paris of the Caribbean," was wiped out in a volcanic eruption in 1902.
The book, a first installment of Ordovich’s journey, closes with the end of the Mayan calendar celebration, which he attended in Palenque, Mexico, in 2012.
“Some people ate mushrooms and climbed to the top of an ancient ruin, waiting for the world to end, which obviously it never did,” he says. “In 2011, I had this crazy dream where I was on top of a pyramid, watching the moon split into three portions. And that turns up in my book, tying the Mayan ruins in with this dream.”
In The Meridian Quest, after describing the dream to a colleague, Ordovich learns the image he saw is also found in the Voynich manuscript, an illustrated book dating back to approximately the 1400s.
“The [Voynich] manuscript is written in a mysterious language that linguists and code breakers all looked at and agreed is a true language, but no one can actually figure out what language it is,” Ordovich says. “My book follows trying to track down the origins of this bizarre, mysterious text, which also has a lot of dreamscape imagery in it. The influence of my book is similar to the Voynich manuscript.”
(According to the Yale University library, an antique book buyer purchased the book known as the Voynich manuscript in 1912. The book's author is unknown. Carbon dating places the origin of the book in the 15th or 16th century.)
“The crux of the story is that the veil between reality and dreams is very thin,” Ordovich says. ”A lot of my experiences have been inspired by dreams and how sometimes dreams can be premonitory - and turning those dreams into a real-life experience, seeing how there’s a merging of the two. A lot of my background study was in traditional psychotherapy, drawing some influences from dream archetypes, described by Karl Jung and some of his colleagues.”
The music on Ordovich's album O'er the Water's Edge also takes inspiration from places he visited from 2011 to 2013, including Krakow, Poland, and northern Ireland. Evoking another time and place, the texturally rich songs range from a Celtic ethereal quality to 19th-century circus sideshow theater to hints of goth pioneer bands like the Cramps and Bauhaus. The Alwun House show's musical lineup will recreate the songs, which Ordovich originally recorded on piano, synths and various other instruments, for a four-piece ensemble featuring Matthew Reveles on guitar, Ordovich on accordion, vocals and additional guitar, cellist Mondo, and Justin Slusher on drums, playing a selection of nine songs from the concept album Ordovich calls theatrical.
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"O'er the Water's Edge could probably turn into a theater piece," he says. "There's a storyline throughout the whole work."
Incorporating musical theater and Threepenny Opera-like elements, the musicians will be joined onstage by circus sideshow performer Scarlett Elizabeth Xander and contortionist Cleodora Mathers.
The album concludes with Ordovich’s main takeaway from his voyages, two overarching truths: Everything was real. Everything was imaginary.
Dr. Ordovich's Grand Exhibition starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 14 at Alwun House. Tickets are $9 in advance and $14 at the door. Find more information on the Alwun House website.