A number of artists have attempted to render the striking visual experiences that occur after ingesting ayahuasca or DMT. In the Upper Amazon, there are both indigenous artists, whose traditional work consists largely of abstract patterns, such as those found on the now well-known pottery, clothing, and other household goods of the Shipibo; and visionary artists, mostly mestizo, whose work is characterized by detailed representations of spirits, trees, animals, objects, and participants in ayahuasca healing ceremonies. These latter works fall almost paradigmatically within what has now come to be called outsider art, sometimes naïve art, and sometimes visionary art — direct, intense, content-laden, narrative, enormously detailed, personal, idiosyncratic, two-dimensional, and brightly colored. While indigenous artists work for the most part in anonymity, their work stigmatized as craft rather than art, the work of mestizo visionary artists has become much better known, largely through the publication, fully annotated and sumptuously reproduced, of the visionary paintings of former shaman Pablo César Amaringo.

Outside the Amazon, artists not born into or raised in indigenous or mestizo ayahuasca-using cultures, including such well-known visionary artists as Alex Grey, Robert Venosa, and Martina Hoffmann, have also rendered visual experiences attributed to the ingestion of ayahuasca or DMT. For want of a better term, I will call this body of work DMT art.

There are some remarkable convergences between DMT art and the abstract representations of the ayahuasca experience in indigenous Amazonian art. The indigenous work on the left, below, by Cashinahua artist Arlindo Daureano Estevão, represents the different worlds of the ayahuasca vision as houses with doors to be entered and paths linking the different contained spaces. This type of design is called nawan kene pua, or stranger’s design, since it is a map that keeps one from getting lost in the ayahuasca world. This abstract representation is strikingly reflected in the work on the right, below, entitled DMT, by photographer Peter Kosinski. It is difficult to say whether such convergences are due to acquaintance with indigenous art or to similarities in the visionary experience.


Arlindo Daureano Estevão, Nawan Kene Pua Peter Kosinski, DMT

Similarly, on the left below is a traditional Shipibo woven cloth, whose design represents a sacred pattern derived from a cosmic anaconda whose skin embodies all possible designs. Shipibo shamans employ these patterns to reorder the bodies of persons who are sick. Certain diseases are thought to be caused by harmful, messy designs on the sick body, which the shaman must magically unravel and replace with orderly designs. After drinking ayahuasca, the Shipibo shaman sees a luminous design in the air. When this design floats down and touches the shaman’s lips it becomes transformed into a song the shaman sings. Different elements of the song relate to different elements of the design; for example, the end of each verse is associated with the end-curl of a design motif. When the patient is cured, the design has become clear, neat, and complete. Again, this abstract representation is strikingly reflected in Vibrata Chromodoris’s Emergence, below on the right.


Anonymous, Shipibo Woven Cloth Vibrata Chromodoris, Emergence

However, most DMT art is representational rather than abstract, and taps into the work of mestizo Amazon visionary artists. The first painting below is by mestizo artist Pablo Amaringo; the remaining pieces are DMT art by artists from outside the Amazon, all working with content recognizably similar to that of Amaringo, although not necessarily in the same naïve outsider style.


Pablo Amaringo, Ayahuasca and Chacruna (Detail) Robert Venosa, Ayahuasca Dream (Detail)
Cyril Lanier, Ayahuasca Vision of the Blue Perfume Michael Jacobs, Ayahuasca Dream

But even more striking, I think, are two motifs that appear with some frequency in DMT art but not in the indigenous or mestizo artistic traditions. The first of these I will call The Face — that is, a recognizably humanoid face with eyes, a nose, and a mouth, often filling the entire frame, and often constructed from smaller units, either geometric figures or dots. These figures are often described as a being, an entity, or a visitation. For example, Roger Essig says of his painting DMT Entity, below on the right, “This image was inspired from my first unnatural encounter with the spirit molecule. An Entity that seemed extremely real and intelligent appeared before me with terrific precision and speed. It dissipated as soon as I imposed my will upon it.”


Alex Grey, Ayahuasca Visitation Roger Essig, DMT Entity

Indeed, The Face often appears in works that are not conceptually about The Face. In Luke Brown’s Pineal Feline, for example, below on the right, the titular face is that of a cat, at the bottom center of the painting; what then makes up The Face are floral arabesques and ornamentation of the cat’s face, almost entirely buried within — indeed, reduced almost to a decorative adornment of — The Face. Similarly, in Martina Hoffman’s La Chacruna, below on the left, The Face decomposes, upon closer inspection, into arabesques, including snakes and elephant heads, elaborated upon the relatively small face of the goddess, in the upper middle of the painting.


Martina Hoffmann, La Chacruna Luke Brown, Pineal Feline

Sometimes The Face is deconstructed to simpler, rather than more complex, elements. At that point, we can begin to see the basic patterns from which complex Faces are constructed.


Dennis Konstantin, DMT Entity Nisvan, Ayahuasca Vision (Detail)

What is interesting here is that underlying The Face is a relatively simple symmetric pattern, not unlike the abstract patterns of indigenous Amazonian ayahuasca art, but here cognitively assembled into a recognizable human face. Perhaps that is why Essig’s Face dissipated as soon as he imposed his will upon it; attempting to control the image distracted the perceiver from its imposed structural coherence.

Another recurring motif we can call the wingspread. This is a pattern very similar to the wings of a moth or dragonfly. Below, for example, is a more or less typical moth — actually, the tobacco hornworm moth (Maduca sexta):


Wingspread Moth

We can see this wingspread motif reproduced with increasing elaboration in the following pictures:


Dennis Konstantin Last night I was Astro Dynamic (Detail) Carey Thompson, Diosa Madre Tierra
Danny Gomez, DMT (Detail) Robert Venosa, Yage Guide

Strikingly, this wingspread pattern is often hidden rather than explicit, providing a formal structure rather than any content; look, for example, at the wingspread position of the hands in Alex Grey’s Light Weaver, especially in conjunction with, say, Robert Venosa’s Yagé Guide, above. The wingspread pattern underlies the purely formal similarity between Mariela de la Paz’s Ayahuaska at the Gates of San Pedro and Alejandre Segrégio’s Presente Divino. Indeed, sometimes this structure is so deeply embedded as to be difficult to discern, until the pattern suddenly emerges, as with the darker rock formation in Olga Spiegel’s Rendezvous.


Mariela de la Paz, Ayahuaska at the Gates of San Pedro Alex Grey, Light Weaver
Alejandre Segrégio, Presente Divino (Detail) Olga Spiegel, Rendezvous

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14 Responses to “Some Thoughts on DMT Art”

  1. Andrew Osta says:

    Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog. I’m just beginning to explore it, but there is a wealth of fascinating information. Anyway, I am an artist as well, though mostly influenced by Salvia Divinoru. I was wondering what you would think of my art. Please check it out on http://www.SpreadLove.ca

    Thanks a lot!
    Andrew

  2. Roger Anthony Essig says:

    Hi, Great post Steve on this truly amazing subject.

    It’s great to finally see Alex Grey’s ‘Ayahuasca Visitation’ directly beside mine. I sent Alex an email just after I completed my version and he mentioned it reminded him of an experience he had. We both did our artworks roughly the same time in 2000/2001, and I saw his version months later in his book, ‘Transfigurations’. Take a look at the purple third eye for a pretty spot on synchronicity. His version is better of course, for the fact that it’s hand drawn/painted, while my version was made entirely in photoshop.

    The Experience I had was quite a powerful, wrathful encounter, where I had the realisation that I had to fight it off with my will and intention lest it briefly take over my essence entirely on some level. It was issuing some form of challenge and definitely had the feeling of a guardian. Perhaps if I gave into it, by giving up my lucidity in the moment, I may have progressed into the experience far deeper, I may never know.

    I have since enquired to Alex his thoughts via email during a radio interview, his response and my animated version of the experience can be found here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFjEMe7KJVU

    Peace,
    Roger Anthony Essig (not robert!)

  3. Steve Beyer says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. I apologize for getting your name wrong on this blog post. I knew it was Roger, but somehow I just typed it in wrong — alas, another of the increasingly common disconnections between my fingers and my brain.

    Your interview with Alex Grey is also fascinating. Thank you for the link. I really appreciate your stopping by. Come back any time.

  4. -mg- says:

    Steve

    Great article! The side-by-side images provide so much additional synergy to the visual mapping pattern-detecting function (at least for my brain…) I just got back from a Prajnaparamita empowerment ceremony (last night) so perhaps my mind is still focused on the question of clear light vs. illusion. In Bardo, we see what we expect (or have accepted via cultural programming). Yet some Tibetan masters suggest that not everything in Bardo is purely subjective. "External" entities are sometimes not just (only) our projected dreams or nightmares. With DMT is it any different? Most folks experience an overwhelming sense of one or more entities – natural but alien. Perhaps not friendly or malicious, seemingly knowledgeable but beyond emotion. This aspect of the experience is what takes it beyond simple mental pattern projection upon "quantum perceptual noise"… It's the utter strangeness, the self-contained self-defining self-evolving properties of the experience that makes the entities accepted as real. BTW: the Alex Grey "LIght Weaver" piece with the "hidden" moth wing pattern structure is quite something to contemplate!

    cheers,

    -mg-

    sacred & visionary art blog: http://www.image-maya.org

  5. Steve Beyer says:

    Thank you for your very kind comment. I really did enjoy writing this post.

    And thank you for the link to your truly amazing blog. People should also know about your Shaman Dreaming website, your art work, your landscape design, your graphic design. You do remarkable luminescent work.

    Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment. Please feel free to wander around and enjoy yourself.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Steve,

    awesome blog i very much enjoyed reading it. i myself have just found out about DMT and art inspired by it. prior to learning anything about DMT i was already a very big fan of alex grey because i came across a book of his. from the moment iopend that book i was cultivated by his uniqueness and found other artists that have ‘similar’ styles. i myself have never tried DMT though i must say i’m quite eager to (im just having trouble finding any and cant get the supplies at the moment:[ ), ive only done LSD. DMT seems like an amazing enlightining experience visualy mentaly and spiritualy i look forward to the experience … whenevr that my be hahaha

    sincerly
    Natavian

  7. Nemo Boko says:

    Very interesting blog post Steve-

    Regarding “the face” – I would encourage you to explore some ancient art from china, from the Shang & Zhao dynasties. There is a repeating motif of a face called a Tao-tie – which is largely composed of what appears to be coiling/undulating enegry, mostly molded in bronze. Although not often referenced today, there are ancient references to ritual mushroom use, which may explain some of the similarities.

    I am curious how these motifs / messages / memes / hallucinations can be reduced to chemicals and transmitted with such effectiveness by plants. Similarly, I often meditate on the relationship with plants and animals that our proto-human and Paleolithic ancestors had. I believe there were deeper levels of communication at play than we tend to believe today…

  8. I respect you more each day Steve :)

  9. I too “am curious how these motifs / messages / memes / hallucinations can be reduced to chemicals and transmitted with such effectiveness by plants. Similarly, I often meditate on the relationship with plants and animals that our proto-human and Paleolithic ancestors had. I believe there were deeper levels of communication at play than we tend to believe today…”

  10. GIselle says:

    Fascinating article…I would love to see more information on this topic, especially the comparisons of the work of different artists who have had a similar experience or vision.

  11. karen says:

    Beautiful. Breathtaking. I have some personal DMT artwork. Would love to get them seen by ppl. ;)

  12. Gareth says:

    Some beautiful artwork here. If any of you artists out there want to share your dmt visions I would be thrilled to host them at site pay-amb.blogspot.com

    Here is a post about dmt art I did recently :

    http://psy-amb.blogspot.jp/2013/11/dmt-art-40-visionary-paintings-inspired.html

    I’d love to hear from anyone who creates art directly as a result of their dmt experience.

    Cheers

    Psyamb

  13. Roya Azal says:

    My husband is Wahid Azal, a prominent voice on visionary plant culture in Islam.

    http://realitysandwich.com/76773/fatimiya_sufi_ayahuasca/

    Our experience of “visions” is perhaps a little different although relating in some elements such as fractal visions. The animals we see are our ancestral animals (such as the Simurgh) but we already have a rich visionary culture within and outside “induced states”. This is due to our tradition (Sufism/Shia Islam) that inspires and encourages a rich imagination to commune with God and the divine with and without the help of plant-aids. Just take a look at classical Iranian architecture to see what I mean,

    http://thespicejars.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/stunning-architecture.jpg

    I claim that spiritual visionary journeys are possible with and without the aid of plants with such assurance as I personally can neither take chemicals nor enjoy visionary plants due to risk of seratonine syndrome, but I have experiened fractal visions and similar in states of high focus during prayers and long zikr sessions. I have experienced “visions” of “la madre” and similar as a collective as well as individual event but my interpretations are less DMT art focused, to avoid the cliche and shift to other aspects of the journey. When spiritual images come to a mind all happens in a time-lapse, ie in a single instance do we travel landscapes, the universe and hidden subtle realms. Again, I communicate with “la madre” and plant spirits without having so far ever been able to enjoy any Aya or similar. What I learned I learned through Sufism and Shi’ism.

    http://sweetmysticrecipes.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/%D8%B0%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%85-dhu-al-jalal-wa-al-ikram-the-recital-of-life/

    Thank you for your great work Steve Beyer.
    Allah hafiz, Roya Azal

  14. c says:

    Check out some contemporary psychedelic art at arthousecontemporary.com

    Let us know what you think! Enjoy


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