I started traveling in the Amazon over 20 years ago. I noticed from the start that wherever I went, there were indigenous motifs and designs evident in every village—on structures, in headdresses, on clothing, cups, and bowls; on the skin of the indigenous people I encountered. Small local and even larger airports had markings and drawings in the styles of the jungle tribes nearby. Many of the tribes throughout the Amazon are ayahuasca drinking cultures and art in jewelry, body markings, painting, sculpture, weavings, embroidery, and other media is an integral part of ayahuasca culture. All of the communities I visited that drink ayahuasca make designs inspired by ayahuasca and which are the representation of ayahuasca— ayahuasca art is a shared form of expression.
I was intrigued and thus began my journey collecting and sharing the work of indigenous and mestizo artists and artisans from the Amazon and beyond. On my very first trip to the Brazilian Amazon, I had the synchronistic experience of being there in a small group with Alex Grey, now a world-famous visionary artist, who was guiding us to make art post-ceremony. Visionary art, ayahuasca art, and ayahuasca were meant to go together for me.
I personally connect deeply and profoundly with art. I have a modest collection of indigenous and ayahuasca visionary art that I am honored to steward and share with those who pass through. I also host a virtual visionary art gallery on PlantTeachers.com.
In the Amazon, I am most familiar with the Shipibo-Konibo people, an indigenous group from the lowland Peruvian Amazon, having spent many weeks and months at a time, over these years, living with and learning from them. For the Shipibo, art is not something made to be observed in a gallery, but rather it is woven into the fabric of life. The designs and in particular, the kënë (vibrational patterns), which appear as intricate designs on faces, fabrics, pottery, and clothing, are visual representations of the cosmological workings of the universe. The designs tell stories, reflect vibrational patterns, and are also a kind of living, breathing, and interconnected codex of tribal knowledge transmitted ancestrally in their DNA.
The Meaning of Visionary Art
The earliest visionary art is evidenced in ancient shamanic art, where rock, bark, and cave paintings, some over 30,000 years old, depict travels into the Dreamtime, the cosmos, and into other worlds. Mystical experiences, altered states of consciousness, psychedelics, entheogens, and plant medicine have all contributed to our rich heritage of visionary art that has been produced since the paleolithic era. Visionary artists attempt to reveal the unseen, translate the mystical, and craft dreams, imagination, and entheogenic experiences into physical forms.
It is widely accepted that visionary art is inspired by visions experienced by or recounted to artists. It draws on non-ordinary consciousness where the material and the imagined often appear very different than they do in everyday three-dimensional waking consciousness.
I spoke with artist Markus Drassl, an Italian-born, formally-trained artist who has lived many years in the jungle and makes ayahuasca art. He noted, “Ayahuasca art is a form of visionary art. Like the art of William Blake, who painted his experience of the mystery, of the unseen realms and the otherworldly, ayahuasca art can be a direct transmission of the experience of the realms encountered with ayahuasca.”
When attempting to describe or explain their ayahuasca visions, I often hear people say they cannot describe their visions in words. And, I also hear them say, when they see a piece of ayahuasca art, “That’s what it was like!” In that recognition, the art becomes a manifestation of the medicine for that person, and as such, the art itself, is medicine.
Making and experiencing art can help validate and integrate the internal visionary experiences that can arise when we drink ayahuasca. Often, we do not have words to describe our experiences but know there is meaning in the visual images we bring back. And while most of us are not artists, we can view the images produced by artists, and recognize familiar landscapes, motifs, repeating imagery, colors, and textures. When language fails us, art becomes the conduit and the connection.
When we recognize our experience in the experience of another through art, we know we are part of something bigger than our individual selves and we often feel our visions are validated and more meaningful. We remember our interconnectedness.
Viewing the art can revive and reignite the felt sense, visions, insights, and awarenesses from our ceremonial ayahuasca experience.
Quite commonly, the visionary experience emerges in colors, fractals, designs, expansive landscapes, archetypal images—all of which are us and the medicine, us and the universe, us, our soul and the download revealing itself, often quite beautifully, sometimes not so beautifully. Even the most cursory view of a piece of ayahuasca art gives us a feel for this terrain. The “language” of the soul is not word-bound—it is a beingness that can be communicated in art forms.
The Landscape of Ayahuasca Paintings
The landscape of Ayahuasca paintings and other forms of art can be classified into several broad categories. The first I will note is the art of the indigenous, which is usually characterized by the kënë. Next is the art of the mestizos in South America. Then, there is the art of non-indigenous artists from South America and everywhere else in the world, who paint and draw their experiences of ayahuasca. I call this category global ayahuasca art. Finally, the art of primarily Peruvian artists who were taught and inspired by the artist Pablo Amaringo or one of his students, which I call Amaringo Neo-Amazónica. I will speak to each of these categories below.
Ayahuasca Shipibo Art & Indigenous Ayahuasca Art
South American indigenous ayahuasca art is a distinct form. What non-indigenous people perceive or call “art” are, to the indigenous of the Panoan language group peoples—which include the Shipibo-Konibo—the patterns in, on, and creating the fabric of the universe. Throughout the Amazon, most agree that the Shipibo are the masters of ayahuasca.
The intricate, intersecting, symmetrical, curving, crossing line designs that cover the faces, clothing, houses, ceramics and other objects are the kënë which is in and on everything, continuously. In the Shipibo cosmology, when the line breaks, there is said to be a tear in the fabric that must be mended. The Shipibo women utilize specific plants in and on their eyes to bring forth the patterns. The patterns themselves are history, stories, songs, festivals, and experiences both in and outside of ayahuasca. The Unaya sing the songs from the kënë and the kënë is also a representation of the songs. In this sense, the visual art is also the harmonic and melodic art of the song. Tears are stitched and the pattern restored through the songs.
“The left side of the mural depicts the interconnected rivers of Ucayali region in the Peruvian Amazon. The thick black lines of the patterns depict the forest, with blue curves outlining the rivers. Brightly coloured shapes mark the forest’s animals. On the right, the stunning magenta and turquoise pattern represents an all-powerful, vibrational force described by the mural’s artists, Olinda Silvano (Reshijabe) and Silvia Ricopa (Runin Kaysi). They were commissioned by MOA to paint the mural on-site in advance of the exhibition’s opening.
Ricopa and Silvano are Shipibo-Konibo artisans, currently living in a diasporic community in Lima, Peru. They create kené artworks in a dazzling variety of mediums, including beadwork, embroidery and painting. After being inspired by street artists in Lima, they have recently started painting the designs on public walls in Lima.”
Ayahuasca Art of the Mestizos in South America
Ayahuasca art proliferates throughout the Amazon. Here, I will touch only on Peruvian artists. To say a Peruvian mestizo person is not indigenous is a bit of a misnomer. The mestizo population is of mixed heritage and, as such, includes indigenous heritage and ancestry. There are many, many variations in how traditional Amazonian medicine, including the use of ayahuasca is practiced. Mestizo vegetalismo, a practice of traditional Amazonian medicine, is reflected in motifs, images, and cosmologies that are distinct in their style from the images and motifs of indigenous images, including those of the Quechua-speaking tribes.
Global Ayahuasca Art
Ayahuasca has left the jungle. She has been generously carried and lifted into the far reaches of planet earth through the convergence of Amazonian medicine practitioners and worldwide seekers. It is important to note that of all the indigenous peoples massacred and cultures eviscerated by the Spanish Conquistadors, the Shipibo people, more than any other tribe in Peru, maintained their culture and today are the most populous indigenous tribe remaining. It is humbling to know that the masters of the medicine have shared it with those whose ancestors sought to destroy it and them.
In this era of more globalized life, not only have more and more people traveled to the Amazon but artists and shamans from the jungles are also traveling into the world at large. And thus, ayahuasca art and international artists have taken a more prominent place at the visionary art table. Markus Drassl and Li Lian Kolster are two artists who exemplify this modern tradition, and their work is highlighted further below.
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Amaringo Neo-Amazónica Ayahuasca Art
Pablo Amaringo is the father of contemporary ayahuasca visionary art. He inspired a community of contemporary ayahuasca artists with his unique style, wisdom, and teachings. The late Amaringo, from the jungle of the Ucayali region in Peru, was supported and encouraged by anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna to paint the visions of his ayahuasca experiences. Amaringo birthed a cultural movement and a distinct art style that has since been emulated by many of his students and his student’s students. I refer to students of Amaringo as followers of the Amaringo Neo-Amazónica tradition.
Amaringo’s paintings captured the rainforest waterways and landscapes of Amazonia, and the cosmological landscape of ayahuasca, and helped foster ayahausca’s migration out of the Amazon to every continent. Amaringo taught his Neo-Amazónica style of art to students of all ages for many years at the Usko Ayar School in Peru and inspired a generation that continues to influence ayahuasca art around the globe.
Famous Ayahuasca Artists
Ayahuasca paintings and designs come from a long tradition that predates our modern understanding of art. Yet, in our more recent history, several distinguished artists have popularized this unique form of visionary art and have made it accessible across the globe. Pablo Amaringo, Luis Tamani, Markus Drassl, and Li Lian Kolster are among those recognized worldwide.
Pablo Amaringo and Neo-Amazónica Art
The best-known ayahuasca artist is Pablo Amaringo, who is famous for his particular style of painting. The late Amaringo, affectionately and respectfully called don Pablo by his students, taught not only drawing and painting but about the jungle, about cosmology, about spiritual dimensions, about vegetalismo and ayahuasca, primarily in the Quechua and mestizo traditions. Himself once a practicing shaman, Amaringo traveled widely in the realms depicted in his ayahuasca paintings and described them to his students. Many students learned to paint the flora and fauna of the jungles and many also learned to paint the cosmological visionary multiverses depicted and described by Amaringo and later from their own imaginations.
By the time Amaringo started teaching, he had stopped practicing in the medicine. Many of his young students started painting the worlds of ayahuasca without ever drinking ayahuasca. Over the years I have met many of his students and many of them were not regular ayahuasca drinkers or ever drank the medicine. Amaringo transmitted the information to them and inspired them by teaching them about worlds they may never have seen but for the portal of Amaringo’s visions. Many students who were already painting the visionary world then came to the medicine.
This particular style of ayahuasca art is unique in that the visionary world was first learned about before being experienced. And, in the tradition of the great masters of fine art, many of Amaringo’s students, in learning this style of art also painted on his paintings and each other’s paintings, collaboratively. Copying and emulating masters was an essential component of artistic training for centuries. Only after demonstrating a mastery would the student be allowed to join life drawing classes and advance to creating works of their own design.
As a result, for some paintings, to the untrained eye, it is difficult to discern who the artist is, especially for the early works of Amaringo’s students. Over the years, many have developed more of their own style and also have incorporated elements from global psychedelic and visionary art and elements from the style of Peruvian artist Luis Tamani.
While Amaringo’s paintings maintained a more folk-art quality, many of his students went on to develop a more sophisticated brush stroke and finer technical skill. Anderson Debernardi, one of the earliest students of Amaringo, is one of them and who now incorporates elements of psychedelic visionary art.
Mauro Reátegui Perez, in developing his work, now reflects elements of the style of Tamani and leans toward multiple gradations of blues and greens in many of his paintings.
Luis Tamani and Peruvian Mestizo Ayahuasca Art
While Pablo Amaringo is the father of the Neo-Amazónica style of ayahuasca art, Luis Tamani can be regarded as one of the creators, if not the creator, of what I call visionary ayahuasca art of the 21st century. This style is distinct from the folkloric style of Pablo, whose work technically is also outsider art. Tamani is formally educated, having attended five years of art school, and was an abstract artist prior to experiencing sacred plants. On his online gallery, Tamani calls his work, “Conscious Art.”
Tamani notes that his art represents and speaks to the fusion of human beings and the vegetal and animal kingdoms. He is “continually astonished by the deep relationship that human beings can develop with plants and animals; what makes men and women unique beings; and how we can be Medicine Men and Women.”
Tamani’s work demonstrates a cohesiveness to the visionary world. We see in his work how the kënë emerges as light grids and patterns, sparkling, winking, emerging, glowing, inviting, delighting, and connecting.
Another Peruvian artist in this style is Geenss Archenti. Archenti brings together the magical, light-filled patterns and marries them with an earthy feel with the use of natural pigments he prepares from trees and medicinal plants. Archenti uses actual medicine pigments in his pieces and often paints on handmade banana leaf paper.
Markus Drassl and Li Lian Kolster and the Global Tradition
Markus Drassl and Li Lian Kolster are two important artists who authentically reflect their plant medicine and ayahuasca experiences in their work. In the Shipibo tradition, to heal, to learn, to transform, one undertakes dietas with various medicinal and teacher plants. The dieta requires restrictions on foods, activities, social contact, sexual activity among other practices. We see in both the work of Kolster and Drassl, the experience of dieta in visual form.
Kolster’s “Falcon of Ayahuma” and Drassl’s “Ayahuma” paintings are their experience of dieting with the Ayahuma tree. Each has a distinct expression of ayahuma, and both are infused with the kënë. For Drassl, he is “fascinated by kënë and the language of the kënë.” Both “Ayahuma” and “Caduceus” were paintings with a purpose, much the same way a song is sung. They were painting for specific people he knows both in and out of the medicine. As such, each are visual vibrations making healing patterns much the way sounds waves of the song create acoustic vibrations and effect healing.
Drassl is inspired by his multiple extended plant and tree diets and learning the songs from the spirits of the plants. Through this process, he tells a story with, of, and through the kënë both in his paintings and in the songs. He follows the vision set into motion by the intention. He explains, “like singing a song and setting an intention, I begin not knowing how it will end up. It is a song that’s painted and when singing, I am painting with my voice. Singing an ikaro (medicine song) is like making a painting.”
With respect to the art of the Shipibo, Drassl reports that the designs are art and used for everything in ceremony and in life. The designs painted and drawn on everyday objects make the mystical seen by day and are reminders in the daytime of the unseen that emerges in the medicine at night.
Drassl is thoughtful about his work and asks, “Am I legitimate, and do I have a ‘right’ to speak of these things? Is it a cultural appropriation?” In his heart, Drassl believes that no one can take their medicine, referring to the Shipibo.
Read: The Ayahuasca Privilege
The Continuing Evolution of Ayahuasca Art
As we become more and more globalized, as more and more people around the world drink ayahuasca and as access from within ayahuasca drinking communities in South America grows, we will undoubtedly be graced with more and more art.
Ayahuasca art is a manifestation of the medicine. And the way I experience it, as do many artists, art itself is medicine.
And for now, if you are intrigued or interested in acquiring ayahuasca art, particularly from indigenous and Peruvian artists, I do suggest that whenever possible, you purchase directly from the artist. There are a few places online where you can buy through a broker but know that they are receiving sizable commissions. Do not be shy about asking about their commission. An honest art dealer should not be concerned with letting you know.
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