L. Caruana 2002
50 x 80 cm, oil & varnish on wood
THE ANIMA SERIES
When I returned to Paris, soon after my apprenticeship with Ernst Fuchs, I received the invitation to participate in an exhibition called Parfums de Femmes (The Scent of a Woman) held in Paris in May of 2002.
By associating 'scent' with the idea of memory, I decided to portray three women who had a major impact on my life. In the end, I called the three paintings my 'Anima Series' because each revealed a facet of my own soul, and my interior view of these women.
The strange story of my relationship with Gwenn occupies two chapters of my autobiography. It is a tale of love and madness culminating in my own descent through madness.
Within nine days of meeting each other, we became engaged. I was living in Malta at the time, while she was visiting to the island from her native Holland. But we wasted no time in tearing through each other's lives. Each visit over the coming months ~ hers to Malta; mine to Holland ~ became a life-altering encounter, exposing all our hidden hopes, dreams, fears and desires. Through this process, we also discovered the seeds of madness in each other. Due to certain traumas from her past, she suffered from hallucinations ~ sometimes staring straight through me, and seeing a Devil that appeared to her at strangest moments. After months of living together, back and forth between Malta and Holland ~ she disappeared without a trace.
That event triggered in me one of the strangest occurrences in my life. Isolated in an old Maltese house, I endured explosions of inner feelings, tormented myself with thoughts of suicide, and experienced the most bizarre hallucinations. At a real low point, her Devil emerged from under the stairs and handed me the knife with which I was to slit my wrist...
When I thought of portraying our relationship, those events came flashing back through my memory.
I laboured for some time on the lower part of the painting, trying to evoke the bizarre hallucinations I experienced in Malta. Most were derived from my childhood fears. But those hallucinations also had a strange Aztec quality to them ~ the curious way the figures curve to straight lines in the carving. While drawing the lower portion, I referenced many Aztec and Mayan sculptures, which expanded in my vision into a dark Underworld filled with smoke and lit by an eerie ultra-violet light. That imagery may be explored further in the section called Xibalba - The Place of Fear.
The upper portion of the painting was conceived as a world of light, to contrast the dark underworld below. In honour of the Dutch Masters, I painted it in rich Rembrandt browns.
While visiting the Strasbourg Cathedral in Alsace, I was struck by the image of Ste. Marguerite in a mediaeval sculpture. She appeared with a cruciform spear in hand, trampling a dragon underfoot. That image resonated deeply with me, and sent me back to Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend. Here I learned that the Devil appeared repeatedly to this saint during her life-time: once, as an attractive man who tried to seduce her; once, as a dragon that swallowed her whole until she cut her way out of its belly with a crucifix. Jacobus further explained that: "...She is named after the precious jewel called margarita - pearl - which is shining white, small, and powerful."
This mediaeval myth inspired me with the idea that the pearl, no matter how much it sinks into darkness and destruction, will always remain pure and luminous.
In the upper portion of my painting, I've portrayed Gwenn as emerging from the Underworld with the glowing pearl in her hands.
To the right, I've reconstructed the Strasbourg sculpture of Ste. Marguerite from memory ~ wielding her cruciform spear like a weapon, and trampling the dragon underfoot. To the left ~ inverted ~ is the Devil she defeats, depicted in traditional mediaeval iconography. The story of her descent into the belly of the dragon, meanwhile, is represented by the lower portion of the painting.
THE LUMINOUS PEARL
Somehow, I survived the ordeal of my temporary journey into insanity. So did Gwenn, as I learned when ~ ten years later ~ she re-established contact (in fact, when I began working on this painting...). She had a rare quality ~ an inner joy and happiness ~ which I've tried to show in her smile, though her gaze is still tinged by madness.
In my painting, the luminous pearl is pure, white, and perfect, but not entirely free of the hellish glow reflected from below. And the two-headed Aztec sky-dragon, meanwhile, is still trying to devour it. I believe that such bouts of temporary madness leave their mark upon us, and we live with the uncertain knowledge that the darkness may devour us once more...
THE WORK IN PROGRESS
I knew that the upper part of the work would be created through a series of browns, working outward from the halo, moving from light to dark.
As for the lower part, I thought I would paint the Underworld in grey tones. I had read that schizophrenics sometimes saw Hellish scenes that were bled of all colour, so that everything appeared a dull, drab grey.
After painting it that way, I wasn't terribly happy with the result. Then I had a very strange dream in which I was in a highly-charged space, magnetically circling around my polar opposite, a kind of Doppelgänger. And the space were were in was extremely dark, as if lit only by ultra-violet light.
After waking, I knew immediately that I needed to paint the Underworld in that strange ultra-violet light that I saw in my dream. So I changed the Underworld, also adding columns of smoke, and was quite pleased with the final result.
I give more details about the Underworld in the section dedicated to Xibalba.
DREAM OF SEPTEMBER 12, 1994