L. Caruana 1996
50 x 80 cm, oil & varnish on wood
In the year 1990, I dreamt of a painting.
In this most unusual dream, I saw a complete composition in vibrant glowing colours. Christ was hooded as a monk or alchemist, and he was upholding his hands in a most peculiar manner. Although he was rising from the tomb, he also stood before an altar. It was night, with the sun rising on the horizon, and I could see a Byzantine monastery in the background. Strangest of all, a luminous child lit up the darkness. This Christ-child was being born in a chalice on the altar that was also an alchemical vessel.
Atop the painting, I could clearly see the words ALCHEMIST CHRIST.
Soon afterward, I primed a panel and immediately began drawing. While working on the composition, I would stare at it and intuitively add other elements. A lot of these developments were recorded in the Notebooks I kept at the time.
The alchemical arrangement at the bottom of the painting was inspired by an image from The Cabala Mineralis ~ an alchemical manuscript. Some of its motifs were then expanded through the inspiration of Sumerian statues in the Louvre ~ such as the gryphon (left) from a Megiddo ivory plaque c. 1500 BCE, and the caduceus (right) from the libation cup of King Gudea of Langash c. 2000 BCE.
SUMERIAN GRYPHON PLAQUE
CABALA MINERALIS MANUSCRIPT
THE ICONOGRAPHY II
Meanwhile, as a result of my recent travels through Romania and Moldavia, I added a series of Byzantine motifs.
Under the gryphon, I placed a book in which I copied the Cyrillic text letter by letter from a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. I only learned much later that the text is from the Gospel of John: I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD; HE WHO FOLLOWS ME SHALL NOT WALK IN DARKNESS, BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE.
The child in the chalice holds up his hand and makes a sacred sign which, in the Byzantine tradition, spells out the letter IC XS ~ the first and last letters of IesuyS CHristoS.
Last of all, I created Christ's spear by combining the Byzantine cross with a gold cross that I wore around my neck as a child.
THE BYZANTINE CROSS
THE CHILD SIGNS HIS NAME ~ IC XS
CYRILLIC TEXT ~ GOSPEL OF JOHN
L. CARUANA NOTEBOOKS
While working on Christ Alchemist,
I recorded ideas and insights on large pages.
THE WORK IN PROGRESS
It took me ten years to make this painting, since I was teaching myself Classical Techniques of painting.
It was started in the Mischtechnik ~ a mixed technique of egg tempera and oils.
I carried it with me from Toronto to Malta, where the first version was destroyed because the egg tempera turned moldy in Malta's damp winter climate.
I started the second version (below) in Munich using dammar varnish and oils, which was more successful. I began with a burnt umber underpainting.
It was finished in Paris, and I had the painting with me when I met Prof. Ernst Fuchs at The Apocalypse Chapel in Southern Austria. He praised the work but said it lacked the luminosity of the Mischtechnik, so he invited me to come apprentice with him ~ which is how I eventually learned to paint in this Classical manner.
In 1996, I took the first version which I'd destroyed in Malta and re-worked it into a Byzantine version of Christ Alchemist, which can be seen in detail here.
IN BURNT UMBER
DAMMAR VARNISH & OILS
IN MY MUNICH STUDIO ~ 1995
IN MY PARIS STUDIO ~ 1996
While living alone in Munich in 1995, I undertook a prolonged open-eye meditation on the underpainting, which led to a life-altering experience. Having smoked hashish, I experienced the painting as a doorway to the visionary realm. I entered through the image of Christ to the felt-presence of the Sacred, which I experienced as a Divine Unity.
The next morning, I added a textual fragment at the bottom of the painting, with the words Enter Through the Image to remind myself of that eye-opening transformation.
This experience of Divine Unity led to a radically new understanding of my painting and its imagery. I became fascinated by the way that Christ ~ as the symbol of my eternal soul ~ could expand in meaning through an encounter with symbols from other sacred traditions. What happened when those symbols combined in a work of art ~ and their myths crossed? What new paths were traced for the journey of my eternal soul?
Many of the ideas and inspirations from that initial experience went into my first book, Enter Through the Image, where I came to a deeper understanding of The Ancient Image Language of Myth, Art & Dreams.
I also had this painting with me when I first met Ernst Fuchs in The Apocalypse Chapel and began learning Classical Techniques of painting with that European master.
So I can safely say that this painting has opened many new doorways in my life...