Unraveling the Mystery Behind Arrington de Dionyso

by Christina Butcher for OLY ARTS

Despite building a vast body of work including experimental music, painting, directing and collaborating in Olympia for the past 25 years, Arrington de Dionyso is still somewhat of a mystery to many Olympia residents. There’s something about the experimental musician and painter’s work that draws audiences in but, chances are, if you ask them what that is they can’t quite put their finger on it. But definable or not, Arrington de Dionyso and his artistry have left their mark on Olympia. “I view (artistic) creation as part of a larger spiritual practice,” said de Dionyso. “I use art to communicate my experience with the sacred. Both painting and music have very powerful healing potentials for individuals and the human community.”

Arrington de Dionyso has been living and creating art in Olympia since 1992. Although his travels often take him out of the country for long periods of time, the 42-year-old artist still considers Olympia his home. He works full-time as a musician and artist and often creates art that cross freely between media and genres. His lifelong passion for creating experimental music began when he was only 13 years old. “I came to music more through theater originally,” said de Dionyso. “I was really active in a highly experimental youth-theater program, but when my family moved to Spokane for work there wasn’t anything like that. I spent most of my time alone, listening to records from all over the world and dancing in my room. Then, when I was 13, I met a wild street musician … and after watching him play for a while, he stopped his song and stared me straight in the eyes and said, ‘You’re a lion, not a lamb!’ I went home and made up 20 or so songs in just a few days. I’ve been a musician ever since.”

As an adult, de Dionyso has been releasing albums almost every year. Although he’s lost count of the total number of albums he’s been featured on as a soloist, guest performer or part of a band, he has at least 34 albums featured on his Bandcamp website. De Dionyso currently performs as a soloist and with the bands Malaikat dan Singa and This Saxophone Kills Fascists. In the past, he played in the Naked Future and Old Time Relijun. The musician has held multiple roles in each of his bands, including performing vocals and playing alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and electric guitar. His music is inspired by Indian classical music, Tuvan throat-singing and jazz.

“(Dionyso’s) work is torrid, it’s quite bracing,” said Calvin Johnson, owner of K Records in Olympia and long-time friend of de Dionyso. “I find his work illuminating at times, but it can also be startling. His work is refreshing and very colorful. I’ve known him for 25 years.” De Dionyso also co-foundered the Olympia Experimental Music Festival, which began in 1995 and serves as a celebration of both the Pacific Northwest’s “left-of-center” music scene and the crossroads at which audio and visual arts meet. In keeping with his trend of mixing artistic media and genres, Dionyso delved into the world of film in 2016 when he directed the music documentary Reak: Trance Music and Possession in West Java.

Often featuring occult and mystical imagery, de Dionyso’s paintings have swept across canvases and landed on posters, album covers, books and fashion pieces over the last few decades. More recently, in 2014, his Exquisite Oracle tarot deck was created after he held a one-of-a-kind performance in Bergamo, Italy, in which he conducted psychic tarot readings by creating spontaneous artwork for audiences. In 2015, his painting Dragons and Angels in Deep Conversation was incorporated into the backpacks, shoes and embroidered coats of Yves Saint Laurent’s spring-and-summer-2015 men’s collection. “Arrington’s visual work is synonymous with Olympia’s ethos of DIY and an aesthetic akin to art brut,” said visual artist Evan Clayton Horback. “There are connections between his experimental music and the exploratory, mythological imagery in his paintings. In both cases, it feels like Arrington is producing work on the shamanic principle of direct revelation.”

While de Dionyso’s artistry is significantly impacted by the informal art education he received at home, he also attended The Evergreen State College, from which he earned a bachelor of arts degree, from 1992 to 1996. His education, both formal and informal, and frequent world travels have led to him being fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish and most recently, Indonesian. They’ve also left him with a strong sense of being part of a larger, global community that requires constant stewardship. “Much of my painting work aims to show visions of a realm ruled by the power of imagination,” says de Dinoyso, “but as a citizen of the world … it would also be reckless and irresponsible to not recognize the massive injustice around us at all times. I’ve used my art to help fundraise for Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood and the Water Protectors of Standing Rock. In addition, I’ve helped the various GoFundMe type platforms that go to individuals with specific needs in time of crisis.” In 2016, de Dionyso served as a visiting artist at South Puget Sound Community College, where he led art students in the creation of a one-week, collaborative exhibition titled ANCESTRAL TUNNEL. Currently, his art can be found at the Out of Sight contemporary art exhibit in Seattle’s Pioneer Square and in the collaborative-art exhibit A Paper Narrative at Browsers Bookshop in Olympia.

What: A Paper Narrative

When: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mondays – Saturdays;
11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 12 – Sept. 24

Where: Browsers Bookshop,
107 Capitol Way N, Olympia

How much: free

Learn more: 360-357-7462 | Browsers Bookshop

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