HOME GALLERY GALLERY II IN PROGRESS NOTEBOOKS INTRODUCTION     
SEMINAR WRITINGS     






AN INTERVIEW WITH
L. CARUANA
By Karen Kopasz of Mental Contagion
July 2002

KK: What does being a Visionary Artist mean to you?

LC: It means opening your life up to images - the images that appear to you from dreams, from other artists, or wherever - images which speak directly to the heart, offering answers to your innermost questions, wants and needs. What do I want to do with my life? Is this person the right one for me? The images of dreams answer those questions, but not in any simple or direct way.

To give you an example from my life, I had recurring dreams of a wandering derelict the whole time I was at university. I was deathly afraid of this dark, shadowy figure who was neglected, unloved, wandering from place to place. In one rather horrendous nightmare, he murdered me - drew a knife across my throat. I woke up grasping for breath. And I realized that the only way I could confront him successfully - to overcome him - was to become him. I left my girlfriend of seven years, left Toronto, and started wandering around Europe alone.

The course of my entire life changed because I listened to images, and acted upon what they were telling me. The whole time I was wandering, I was also working on paintings based on my dreams. I've kept a dream journal since I was a teenager - about twenty years now, running to five volumes. The more fascinating ones - what I would call visions - I've tried to capture in paint. Just the process of painting those visions - fixing them before the eye with paint - is a whole experience in itself. While painting you look and look and look, seeing it a thousand different ways. Finally, after working on that painting for eight or ten hours straight, I start to see it in a most bizarre way - the colours glow, everything harmonizes, and the whole things comes alive. It becomes the vision once again, but now sustained. So, you can enter in and out of it repeatedly.

You can also get this by doing drugs - taking entheogens. (I use both words interchangeably. One is negative, the other positive, but drugs are both, depending on the person who uses them). With entheogens, you can look at your own work, or those of other artists, and enter very deeply into the same psychological territory. With Giger, or Aztec art, this is very dark. With Venosa, or Buddhist art, it's very light and positive. The inner world is both, full of death and rebirth, heaven and hell.That, finally, is what myth has to tell us. You can get your myths from your religious background - it's there, just hidden. Or, you can get it from reading. The myths teach you how to read the images of art and dreams, and apply them to your life. What's more, the myths use images to model our lives and reveal their underlying mysteries.

KK: Are you familiar with Alex Grey? If so, what do you think of his work as a Visionary Artist?

LC: You know, when I first saw his work, I didn't like it. I thought it was too scientific and new age. It lacked myth! Then, under the effects of entheogens, I had the experience of staring into my painting of Christ Alchemist as if it were a sacred mirror - a mirror reflecting the sacred aspect of myself, which I had depicted through Christ. Years later, I came across Grey's work again - now on the net - and it was stunning, amazing! Here was this other guy, painting a whole series of sacred mirrors! I could see how each of those images offers us a perfect reflection of our being here on earth, beginning with the physical body and moving upward to higher states of consciousness. He had to resort to some interesting effects - spectrum colours, electrical energy fields, Buddhist and even Christian imagery - to convey to the eyes those states of being which, normally, are only seen and experienced from within. But that's the challenge of visionary art - to hold the mirror up to our inner nature.

KK: What was your 3 year period of solitude like? Did you experience periods of madness during this time?

LC: Oh yes. And for those people out there who are thinking - he took too many drugs, I have a surprise for you. It was the experiences of life itself that threw me over the edge. The entheogens came later, so I could experience in a more controlled manner the visions which, beforehand, had come to me through dreams, and then through the experiences of life itself.

To be precise, it wasn't three years. It was more like a period of seven years, during which I kept moving from place to place, and also moving in and out of relationships with women. By nature, I would plunge extremely deeply into my relationships, so as to learn and experience as much as possible. I'm now beginning to reflect upon those experiences in images. That's what the Anima Series of paintings is all about - translating the experiences from those relationships into images. The 'sacred mirror' aspect is still there - the frontal image in perfect symmetry. But now, it's the woman inside me that I'm trying to see and remember. Certain women from my past lent their appearance to that inner image of the feminine. And my memory of the things we did together was the starting point for each composition. But those personal images would resonate with certain mythic images, which are more universal. I'm not the only person on this earth to fall in love and go crazy you know. So, I translated my memories of that experience into the mythic descent into the underworld.

The painting of The Pearl reflects that, with its steps leading down into a grey Aztec underworld, and the devil blazing in its midsts. It all came about through my relationship with a Dutch girl when I was living in Malta. She was the one who promised to give the wandering derelict a home, to offer him love and shelter. What I didn't realize, until it was too late, was that her problems were much worse than mine. She'd experienced some pretty horrendous things in the hands of other men. And so, in her relationships with men, including me, she was dangerous. Simply put, she was half-brilliant, half-mad. In Holland, I tried to be her shaman-healer, descend to the depths of it all, and show her love and healing - that a light can still shine in the inner darkness. But, it all went wrong. She saw me as the devil instead - one of her recurring hallucinations. And so she disappeared, never to return.

That really threw me over the edge. I ended up back in Malta, isolated in an empty house. The people who knew me would having nothing to do with me. And so, infected by her madness, I went insane... I had hallucinations, descended to my childhood, with all its fears and fantasies, and relived them all - the devil I feared as a child, who stepped out from 'under the stairs'. My nightmares. It was all so horrible that I even tried to kill myself. To this day, I'm still not sure how I emerged, or if it'll ever come back. Painting those images is one way to fix your fears, still them and stare them in the face.

But, to be honest, I can't bear to look at the images in that painting for very long - even though I've disguised the more personal ones behind Aztec imagery. They open doorways to frightening places in my soul. My automatic response is to jerk away in fear, and close the door before it opens too wide.

KK: What were your prevailing perceptions of the world when you came out of solitude?

LC: I guess it's like I just told you - I still had a fear that the images were more powerful than myself. My alchemical experiment of the coniunctio had gone wrong. I'd managed to put a lid on the chalice. But the next time I opened it, to try the coniunctio again, I risked letting all the images out again. And, in fact, it did happen again in my next relationship, which the painting of The Sacrifice portrays. Fortunately, those life-altering images came to me in dreams, rather than madness, and so I followed the life-path they opened before me. I found myself alone again, and realized I had to confront this aspect of nature.

That's when I started taking entheogens in a fairly controlled way - mostly hashish. I was living in Munich at the time. After each trip, I spent atleast three hours writing about the experience and insights. Just like my Dream Journals, I have my Hashish Journals, and sometimes use a hand-held tape recorder to record my trip along the way, just as I record my dreams if I wake in the middle of the night. Otherwise, all those things get lost.

Through entheogens, I learned how to bring the images and memories out of me without losing control, or losing myself in them, which was certainly the case when I was crazy. It's frightening, at first, the extent to which you can remember events of your life which you'd thought you'd forgotten. The works of other painters also come alive. You realize that the artists of the past were also creating images of their lives' experience. And so, these become part of our cultural memory. Most amazing of all, the memory images, whether personal or cultral, are alive - they're real. I really saw the devil when I went mad. And now, through entheogens, I was really seeing God, Not face to face, but as the light shining through all these sacred works of art, which is our cultural way of remembering. "For now we see in a mirror darkly, but then we shall see face to face". That's from the bible somewhere. But it expresses how the images which some Visionary artists create are a doorway opening onto the Sacred.

KK: What do you believe is the primary reason for our incarnation on Earth?

LC: I said to Ernst Fuchs one time, 'the artist is half way between heaven and earth' - and he looked at me with that intense look of his and said, 'yes!'. We understood each other on that one. Because it's tough. The visionary artist has, for a few rare moments here on earth, entered through the image and had a direct experience of God. For me, it was an experience of unity, of oneness, of incredible love and belonging. So what do you do afterwards? I won't kid you when I tell you I had serious thoughts of working among the poor, helping those in need. But I was still too selfish to do that. Then I thought of going to a monastery, and immersing myself in painting and prayer, in solitude. But, in the end, I realized that the challenge was to acknowledge the presence of the Sacred by what we do here everyday. For me, that's my painting and writing, which tries to capture a little particle of heavenly light in our earthly darkness.

But painting and writing, that's just one part of my existence, one threshold I have to cross in life - making money from my art in order to survive here. Life offers us a series of threshold crossings - getting married, building a home, having children. When you understand all these events in a more mythic way, you realize that each life-threshold crossing can be a momentary revelation of the Sacred. Different myths from different cultures have all used these images of our life-threshold crossings to reveal the Sacred. It used to be done through ritual - rituals of initiation, into manhood or womanhood, into marriage, then the baptism of the child. But today, we don't really have those rituals. Instead, we have the sacred images of other cultures to remind us of their mysteries. When I look at the image of, say, the Christ child, I bring my own personal memory of myself as a child to that cultural image, and I realize that the child was sacred, was God incarnate.

Any painting of the Christ child is a sacred mirror, reflecting the divine nature of my own childhood existence. And that extends to the images of other cultures, and other life-threshold crossings. A Buddha in the embrace of his shakti holds up a sacred mirror to our own marriage relationship - can we see the Sacred in the way we hold, the way we love each other? Alex Grey's work has moved in that direction - offering sacred mirrors of all the the stages of life, from birth to death. My work is more autobiographical, but I use it in much the same way - to create images of my different life-experiences, which I may then enter through to an experience of the Sacred.

KK: What do you think of the idea of Reincarnation or past lives?

LC: When I was living in Vienna, I had a visionary dream. I saw two paintings - one of Christ crucified on a wheel, and another of the Madonna, who stood before a wheel that was blasting apart. I'm still in the process of painting those images. What that means is, there's a certain mystery inherent in that arrangement of images which hasn't been completely revealed to me as of yet. Christ is our own cultural image for the after life mystery. Like him, we will die then rise again to witness eternal heaven or hell. The wheel in that dream, on the other hand, is the Hindu cultural image of the afterlife, and offers a different mystery: that we'll repeatedly die and be reborn until we find release. They both make sense to me. By dreaming those two cultural images together, I think I was trying to find the way inwhich they may both be experienced equally and simultaneously - to see the deeper unity behind them. My answer, finally, is that we die and are reborn repeatedly in this life - each time we cross a life-threshold. Yet, we only go through this life once - as Christians believe. So, our time here is an intense attempt to remember and set aright all we've done over the course of our life - to cross each threshold successfully, up to the last threshold - of death. And so, at certain peak moments, we can see life emerging as a greater perfect whole. Anyway, I've had the dream and begun rendering the image in paint. It's up to whoever looks at this image, in a deeper way, to unravel the mystery that it represents.

KK: When did you start to have visions or illuminated dreams? Did you experience trauma or a near-death experience?

LC: I wish I could pinpoint it like that, and point to just one event. But, you know, we all undergo the trauma of our birth, which is a near-death experience - even if we can't remember it. And every traumatic moment after that evokes those feelings - feelings of death and rebirth. Our fears spontaneously create images in our imagination - everyone has that. We all dream at night. We all have spontaneous fantasies. It's just that most people don't pay attention to them until they find themselves in conflict. And then they turn inward for answers.

I've spent my life remembering my memories, dreams, hallucinations, and visions because they tell me so much more as to how to orient myself through existence... more than the advice of my elders - my parents and teachers and so on.

I have a rather strange story for you. For years and years I had a recurring dream of finding an abandoned child. You know, in one dream I was walking along a street carrying a wedding cake (how's that for a symbol?) when my foot got snagged by a piece of string. In fact, it was tied around my foot. I followed the string into a dark alley, and there, attached to the other side of this string was an abandoned child. It was only a few years ago that I learned from my parents that, when I was five months old, they'd left me in the care of my aunt to go to Malta for six weeks. As an infant, I'd experienced a traumatic separation from my mother which remained unconscious, but had surfaced again and again in my dreams, and even in my relationships with other women. It took me years to unravel the mystery behind those dream and memory images.

Maybe that was the first, single, most important and traumatic event that - from the very beginning - set me on this path... I don't know. But everyone experiences feelings of abandonment as a child. All the major heroes of myth were abandoned as a child - Moses, Oedipus... We all work our way through those personal and mythic memory-images until their meaning becomes transparent and clear.

KK: What advice would you give to those who are experiencing "The Dark Night of The Soul"? In your opinion, is advice even something that can be given to someone during this period, or must the person rely completely on his/her own instincts? (Editor's Note: The Dark Night of The Soul is essentially a spiritual crisis (or Spiritual Emergency) in which one experiences rapid belief changes, usually has mystical experiences, and sometimes enters into a period of isolation. Visions or hallucinations either in dreams or waking life usually occur, some are illuminating, others, nightmarish in nature, such as animals (which are said to be spirit guides) that destroy and devour her or him.)

LC: You ask hard questions! Yes, you're right - advice can't even be given to someone in that state. You might convince him not to commit suicide at that very moment, but he'll try again later when he's alone. Because, life's last threshold is confronting death alone. There's no other way. And, when we fail to cross other life thresholds that are expected of us - making a living, finding a partner who loves us, accepting the death of someone close to us - we experience a trauma as powerful as our own death and rebirth. We have to go through that trauma alone, because we failed in the eyes of the very person with whom we wanted to be together with and succeed. Other people may show up - friends, psychiatrists, angelic helpers, animal familiars (they've all turned up on my life path...) - but they're the helper, not the goal. None of them will carry you across the threshold that you wanted to cross with your teacher or life-partner or the person close to you that died. So, you're on your own.

I wouldn't say, trust you instincts. I'd say, pay attention to this moment and what it's telling you. Why are all these overpowering images - of pain, loss, separation, failure - crushing me now? Annihilating me? You don't know it that moment, but a part of you is dying and another part coming to birth. But all you feel that moment is the pain. The awareness, hopefully, will come later, if you survive... Understanding the language of images - the langague of art, myth, and dreams, is the only way I know to become aware of the meaning and purpose of those experiences.

KK: There are some people who think that UFOs are an airborne philosopher's stone. Jung described UFOs and visitations as part of the collective unconscious. Some say they are refractory images that are more like projections. In essence they are saying that these are not physical beings, but they are visions that push us past our "normal" way of thinking and introduce us to another dimension of thought - one where many "impossible" things are possible here on our very planet. What do you think of this idea?

LC: When I was a kid, Erich von Daniken's book Chariots of the Gods had just come out. Do you remember that? He investigated Aztec pyramids and gigantic Celtic images and so on - finding that they were all signs left behind by aliens who had visited the earth. Today, I come across those same images in my researches, and they're still tinged with those ideas. But the forgotten myths of which those images formed a part - the Aztec and Celtic ones - have become far more rich and revealing to me than the UFO angle.

I've read of McKenna's amazing UFO visions on mushrooms in the Amazon, and Jung on flying saucers. It all borders on visionary art in a way, but comes closer to New Age. In my Manifesto of Visionary Art, I mention these things, and then say that each person has to draw the line for himself here. For me, it's dangerous territory, and often goes too far. Alien abductions and so on. Because those images are all taken far too literally, especially in New Age thinking. They don't see them as timeless symbols, but as some kind of extension of science or science fiction. They think it speaks of a revelation or contact which will occur in the immediate future for our entire society.

The Visionary artists that I know don't try to be the prophets of the people or their times. They're loners, trying to see through the images here and now. And the revelations that the images bring are very personal - personal experiences. No one's trying to proseletyze, just share what they've experienced with other like-minded souls. Fuchs spoke to me of his UFO experiences, and Andrew Gonzalez - another fascinating visionary artist - of his out of body experiences. I keep an open mind, but filter it through myth. These are modern expressions for more timeless events.

KK: Who are the authors that you revere the most?

LC: Whew! Writers open my mind with their words in the same way that visionary artists do with their images. I mostly read the ancient philosophers, many of whom have no names, or only left behind fragments - the Gnostics, Empedocles, the Orphic fragments. They had a more unified vision of things, which is largely lost today. But they're the only ones who've successfully put into words the things I've experienced in my visions and dreams. Joseph Campbell, Heinrich Zimmer, Mircea Eliade... they opened up the world of myths to me - gave me the key, And now, I read the myths themselves, experiencing them as openings to the Divine. All the events in my life, when seen through myth, become images I may enter through to an awareness of the Sacred.

KK: Are there any lesser known artists, musicians or authors who you have come across that are extraordinary in some way? If so, who are they?

LC: Of course I have - but you've probably never heard of them! One visionary artist I've come across recently is Nicolas Kalmakoff. A collection of his paintings were found in the Paris flea market in 1962. The two men who bought the lot happened to be serious collectors, and spent several years reconstructing the life of this neglected man who'd spent the last twenty years of his existence enclosed in his room here in Paris - painting, painting, painting. He died, unknown and in poverty in 1955, and his paintings - which bear an uncanny resemblance to Delville, Moreau and Fuchs - ended up in the flea market. He was certainly a visionary. The next issue of the Visionary Revue will have an article on him, with images.

In Baltimore right now there's a painter named Voke who does the most amazing digital art - nothing like the plastic 3D stuff out there on the web. This is liquid, fluid, flowing mindstuff with incredible depth and a surprising number of evocative, hidden images and forms. He promises me he'll put it on the web but, by preference, he remains enclosed within the creative flow, happy in his solitude. He's also a musician who makes in sound the equivalent of his paintings - an auditory visionary!

By nature, visionaries remain solitary. Yet, they see signs in each others works - familiar images, motifs, or styles, that speak to one another. And so we seek each other out. It's strange how our paths cross, and when we meet. Then we realize that, despite the geographic distance, we've been exploring the same territory in our minds.

Since I came here to Paris five years ago, I found quite a few visionary artists whose work is unknown outside the French border. Something quite incredible is happening here. And so, if you don't mind me plugging the Visionary Revue again - stay tuned, because I've been writing a long article called The Present State of Visionary Art in France, which offers images and discusses their makers in depth. Some of their works are on the web, and you can begin your search with names like Michel Henricot, Gerard Di-maccio, Jean-Claude Ugarte, Roland Cat, Claude Verlinde and Lukas Kandl. But that's just the first step to a whole world of discovery. Each of them have opened my eyes to new ways of seeing and perceiving the world.













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