Some Thoughts on DMT Art

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 PuaPeter 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 wsick 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 ClothVibrata 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 PerfumeMichael 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 ChacrunaLuke 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 EntityNisvan, 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 PedroAlex Grey, Light Weaver
Alejandre Segrégio, Presente Divino (Detail)Olga Spiegel, Rendezvous


  1. 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 www.SpreadLove.ca

    Thanks a lot!

  2. 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…


    Roger Anthony Essig (not robert!)

  3. 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. 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!



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

  5. 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. Great blog indeed. Though I'm not new to psychadelics -- for some strange reason only recently did I stumble across Terrence Mckenna -- which sees me obsessed with DMT now. My visual experience has been via psilocybin, but I'm eager to, and KNOW I must go to the next DMT level. This material is so vast -- I feel sorrow for the majority of those around us who have been brainwashed and have no idea of what they are missing. Such magic...