THE VINE OF THE DEAD
L. Caruana 2006
50 x 80 cm, oils in Quintessential Medium
THE ORIGINAL IDEA
In 2006, I received the invitation to participate in an exhibition called La Mort Transfigurée at Galerie Arche de Morphée in Paris. It was an opportunity to exhibit my work alongside Michel Henricot, Alain Margotton and Yves Thomas. I had one year to come up with a painting on the subject of Death.
Two separate experiences went into the inspiration of this work.
The evolution of the painting began during a two-month trip through Mexico and Guatemala in the Spring of 2006. I came across an Aztec sculpture which struck me to the core of my being; its image seemed to pull me out of a dream. I saw the face of death, but in this case, life's closure also became the opening to unexpected mysteries.
Then, during an all-night ceremony led by Native peoples, I ingested ayahuasca for the first time. Over the course of six hours, I reviewed my life, confronted my own death, and experienced a kind of personal Last Judgment.
Toward early morning, this personal vision transformed into a more archetypal one. Wherever I turned my eyes, I saw two distinct patterns of glowing light, one super-imposed over the other, like filaments of incandescent light arranged into complex geometrical shapes. These constituted (so it seemed to me) the interconnected space and substance of our very souls.
Weeks later, I discovered that the Shipibo tribes of the Amazon sewed these same patterns onto all their ceremonial vestments. I was quite surprised to have seen those same two-fold patterns during my first ayahuasca experience.
When it came time to create my painting, I was able to combine all these elements. Inspired by the Aztec mask, I created the three-fold face of Christ with my own features. I was trying to express my own awe and wonder (in the first face) at the experience of seeing through the Mask of Death (the second face) to the afterlife, which appears as a luminous web of life (the third face of Christ, weaving into the glowing light-patterns).
In this way, mixing my own experiences with the established motifs of several cultures, the painting achieved its final form. It was first exhibited in Paris in 2009 (Nov. 1st to Dec. 20th) during La Mort Transfigurée, and was exhibited again at Musée Quai Branly for Voyages chamaniques ~ arts visionnaires d'Amazonie péruvienne (Shamanic Voyages ~ Visionary Art of the Peruvian Amazon) from November 14th, 2023 to March 24th 2024.
THE WORK IN PROGRESS
This was an ambitious painting requiring many layers ~ alternating between white scumbles and colour glazes. The greatest challenge was to give each layer enough strength that it wouldn't get lost below the other ones. Fortunately, I'd developed a five-part medium (which I eventually called the Quintessential medium) that allowed me to refine the glazes to just the right degree strength and transparency.