VISHNU CHRIST AVATAR
L. Caruana 2012
65 cm x 120 cm - graphite, crayon & casein on paper
This painting was born of a profoundly mystical experience in the temples of Khajuraho, while travelling through India.
I'd been living in France for several years before that, visiting cathedrals and studying the French Gothic style. During my Khajuraho experience, I sensed a profound link between Hindu and French Gothic stone masons, and this piece became my initiation into their visionary world. Ultimately, it fused not only the myths and symbols of these two traditions, but also their cultural styles.
After exploring spectral colour in my previous works, I wanted to focus on volume and tonality in the absence of all colour. So, on a grey tonal ground I worked with graphite and black crayon, then highlighted with white casein - continually alternating between these darks and lights to gradually build up the painting.
I began with an outline of the architecture and main figure, then filled in this structure by 'seeing' the forms while drawing them. Random stains of paint, like decalcomania, aided my visualizations, which were then refined into well-defined shapes. I started at the bottom and basically worked my way up the painting.
Thematically, the composition moves from Genesis at the bottom to the Apocalypse at the top, with the appearance of the world-saviour or avatar - Vishnu-Christ - in the middle of time.
Adam and Eve appear at the bottom, and she offers him fruit from a tree which (I came to realize) is the Tree of Vision. On the columns to the left and right, two makaras (Hindu gargoyles) at the base open their mouths to release a stream of maya - the world of appearances. These streams of curling vegetation ascend the evolutionary ladder from formless material (chitta) to plants, animals and humans in the form of dwarf caryatids.
The central figure has eight hands which portray various moments (or symbolic aspects) of Christ's incarnation: praying, teaching, triumphing over evil, kingship, sacrifice and the last judgement.
On the lintel behind his crowned head is the 'Tetramorph' - the four beasts of the evangelists (the angel of Matthew, bull of Luke, lion of Mark, and eagle of John), which also symbolize the four quarters of space and time (the cardinal directions, plus the solstices and equinoxes).
In the upper portion we behold the Archangel Shiva-Michael dancing his cataclysmic dance at the end of time while weighing the souls of the dead and overcoming the Great Beast (or makara - the source of illusion).
At the base of the tympanum, we see two gargoyles in the Gothic style. They also spew forth a stream of maya, but Sanskrit and Latin letters take shape over top, prophesying that the end of the world will be a revelation rather than a total annihilation.
The Sanskrit text runs: I GIVE YOU MY DIVINE EYE: BEHOLD! (from The Bhagavad Gita 11:8). And the Latin text says: BEHOLD: I MAKE ALL THINGS ANEW! (from The Book of Revelation 21:5).
At the very top is the Divine Eye which sends forth rays of light (in the form of the Alpha), while tears of compassion flow around the light (in the form of the Omega).
While drawing this image, I started the first chapters of Sacred Codes, which elucidate how the Divine Eye creates the cosmos through vision. Rather than opening his mouth and saying "Let there be light!" the divine unity opened its eye, from which the rays of light and life streamed forth into the cosmos. You can read the Opening Chapters of Sacred Codes online at academia.edu.
SACRED CODES OF THE MASON'S ART
Over the course of the seven years that it took me to complete this work, the Hindu and Gothic masons taught me many 'sacred codes' of their art - by which I mean, the forgotten principles for rendering vision into form. For example, it was only when I was more than halfway up the painting that I realized a recurring armature underlies all the figures - in the shape of a triangle and circle inscribed in a square (which I then carved explicitly at the base).
Stranger still was the kirtimukha or 'face of glory' - the bizarre face which can be seen in his belt. I first noticed this strange face in the friezes that decorate Khajuraho.
After gazing at it for some time, I eventually realized that this figure consisted of two faces in profile - joined as one face frontally.
When I returned home, I started researching this motif, which stone masons from a variety of cultures have carved into their stone temples. Sometimes, the monster's profile appears on the adjoining sides of a block, so that when the block is viewed from an angle, the profiles join to form the face in full frontal. Other times the two profiles are simply laid side by side on the front of the block.
I became intrigued by this idea of rendering a face from multiple angles simultaneously. So, when I began drawing the four beasts of the evangelists, I tried out two variations ~ one, where the two profiles are joined at a three-quarter angle (the Angel and the Eagle) and one where they are viewed frontally (the Bull and the Lion).
Finally, to signify my induction into the Visionary Guild, I etched my mason's mark into the base of the stone on the right.
This painting has been used in a variety of ways. A digital remix of Adam and Eve at the Tree of Vision was prepared for the cover of the Portuguese translation of The First Manifesto of Visionary Art (left) and another digital remix was used as the poster for a solo exhibition I had in Paris called Le Pouvoir des Mythes.