|VISIONARY ARTIST | L. Caruana
L. Caruana is a visionary artist who interfuses dream, art,
and myth. His works and writing can be found in his books, "A
Manifesto of Visionary Art" (You can order a limited edition signed copy
for $10.), "The Journey Thus Far - The Works and Wanderings of L. Caruana",
and "Enter Through the Image - The Ancient Image Language of Myth, Art, &
Dreams". He is currently seeking publication of "Meditations of a Heretic".
An introduction to L. Caruana.
L. Caruana has been wandering for the last ten years of his life. From his birthplace
of Toronto he went to the small village of Mellieha, his ancestral homeland in
Malta. In Vienna, he studied in painting for one year. In Munich, he painted and
wrote in solitude for three years. In Paris, he married and bought a studio. In
Monaco, he apprenticed under Ernst Fuchs for a year. L. Caruana presently lives
He actively recorded his dreams during his travels, making paintings based on
their symbolic arrangements. In some, the figure of Christ appears at their very
centre. In others, it is the figure of a woman. Symbols from different Mayan,
Indian and other cultures are juxtaposed in many of his works. The continuing
theme points to transformation and the "soul's journey".
For L. Caruana, each of these canvases has become a doorway slowly opened and
eventually entered through to a more ancient understanding of life. Ultimately,
he believes, these compositions attempt to reveal the greater Unity underlying
all cultural manifestations of the Sacred.
Through the endless interplay of art, myth, and dream - and the underlying 'image-language'
that they share - he has come to see life as a gradual unfolding of the Sacred.
-- Start Interview --
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
-- End Interview --
Go to the L. Caruana's online exhibit
The Visionary Review