Visionary artist Martina Hoffmann describes her paintings and sculptures as “subtle reflections on the nature of women in a realistic style that marries the fantastic to the sacred.” Her art creates a visual language that reflects universal consciousness. “My work is an attempt to portray consciousness and love as unifying forces beyond the confines of cultural and religious differences. As a visionary and artist, I hope to shine some light on the interdependency of all life on this planet and its interconnectedness with the universe at large,” Hoffmann states.
For 30 years, Hoffmann co-created with her husband, visionary artist and fantastic realist Robert Venosa, who died of cancer in 2011. When Venosa was diagnosed in 2003, doctors gave him three months to live. The couple enjoyed another eight-and-a-half years together through their dedication to holistic, integrated healing approaches. A year before Robert’s departure, Hoffmann lost her father. Her home and studio were partially destroyed during the devastating Colorado floods in 2013, and she lost another close family member a year later. In 2015, she lost her mother. To recover from the trauma and many years of caregiving and work through the integration of these profoundly life-changing events, she took solace in her studio.
An outstanding new series of work began to emerge, leading her through grief to beautiful new beginnings.
Transmutations by Martina Hoffmann and Robert Venosa
“Transmutations” is a selection of Hoffmann’s and Venosa’s works portraying ayahuasca visions. It opens April 21, 2018, at the Museum HR Giger in Gruyères, Switzerland. Transmutations an extensive journey through other worlds and the inner landscapes of Hoffmann and Venosa. The exhibit includes a large selection of Hoffman’s earlier work inspired by shamanic journeys with sacred plant medicine in the Amazonian rainforest. It also includes recent paintings reflecting her experience moving through the “shadow” of loss and grief and the closing of a dark chapter and the opening of a new one “where light awaits.” A separate gallery will showcase a selection of Venosa’s best-known works. Works that express the full spectrum of his path as an artist, “from luminous, crystalline astral planes through to mesmerizing other-worldly landscapes.”
This is the first comprehensive exhibition that features the couple’s art side by side since Venosa died. It contextualizes the co-inspiration that both artists enjoyed and the mutual spiritual understanding they shared during their 30 year relationship. “Transmutations” explores the mysterious and essential nature of consciousness, expressed as energy, that exists in all living things.
I met Martina and Robert in 2008 at Sita Sitaramaya‘s now legendary Visionary Convergence in the Peruvian Amazon. It was where I first experienced ayahuasca during a trip with my husband, ethnobotanist and Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham. A giclée of Hoffmann’s brilliant, otherworldly Tree of Knowledge holds a place of honor in my studio, curiously reminiscent of my own ayahuasca journey visions. I recently had a chance to catch up with Martina to talk about her life’s journey and her exciting upcoming exhibition.
Speaking with Artist Martina Hoffmann
Zoe Helene: You’ve been focused on your studio work lately.
Martina Hoffmann: Yes. It was something I needed after the years of worries and caretaking for my father, Robert, and then my mom. Losing everybody pumped me empty, and I really needed to catch up with my work. I still receive a lot of invitations to teach, talk at conferences, and paint at the festivals, all of which I’ve always enjoyed very much. But for the last years, I’ve stepped away from many of these activities, mostly from teaching, which Robert and I did for so many years. It takes tremendous energy to support your students’ creative process. I felt that I needed to regenerate first before teaching again. Also, it was time to focus my energy inward and on personal creative expression.
That’s wonderful—and what it takes—and it’s showing in your newer pieces.
This a period of my work where I’m trying to come back from something. I was definitely traumatized by everything that happened. You can feel spiritually prepared for these types of losses and experiences. But nothing will ever prepare you for the harsh reality of hospitals and everything you have to deal with around your loved ones’ serious health issues – especially when you’re seeking integrated wellness options beyond typical Western medical approaches, including the work with shamanic journeys. Imagine accompanying a loved one for almost nine years to every doctor’s visit, dealing with every allopathic wall thrown in your face, having them call you crazy for not wanting to opt for surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, and then having test results that prove that your choice was the right path for you.
Robert was given three months to live at his diagnosis. This was when we traveled to the Amazon—where we were with you and Chris. We knew he had cancer, but we decided to do the spiritual work and fine-tune our already healthy lifestyle. We ate exclusively organic (a lot of it raw), plus exercise, meditation, journeying, travel, huge doses of love and gratitude, living each day to the fullest, and creating a great deal of art. Everything was really a success.
But cancer can be an up and down journey, and you have no choice but to deal with the doctors and people who do not agree with your choices and life views. On a daily basis, I became Robert’s greatest ally in his healing journey and became his shield. Some of the scariest moments would be our regular calling in for blood test results. Sometimes he would say, “Can you please just call for that test? I just don’t have the courage today to do it.” Sometimes it was a good result, and sometimes it wasn’t. And the years and years and years of dealing with a looming cloud over your life is very stressful.
This factored into your work after Robert passed?
It all factored into my work, yes. Over the last few years, I think my work has been about confronting and integrating all of these experiences. I went into a dark hole for a while and really pulled back from the world to live in that space, and I feel my work has become even more authentic because of it all. It’s been my mirror, the mirror of my feelings and my journey through these shadow worlds, and my way of pulling myself through what I now know was a good-sized depression.
It’s normal and healthy to grieve. Are there any pieces that specifically speak to that?
Yes. For example, the painting Aligning to The Realm. It’s a friendly piece, but there’s a sort of looming entity in the background. I never felt threatened or completely incapable of functioning, but I definitely sensed there was this grief and trauma, and all these film-like memory sequences in my mind’s eye replaying everything that happened. Sometimes I would get into spaces where I felt a tangible energy, like a darkness trying to close me in. Often, I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I would think, “What happened to my life? I used to be such a happy-go-lucky woman, and my life was beautiful, and now all of that has changed.” I noticed some sort of a PTSD that was triggering certain strong responses to any form of stress, something I’d never experienced before.
This particular painting is called Aligning to The Realm. I named it because we can’t run away from what happens in life. The best thing I could do was stand my ground, focus in—knowing the guardians are present—and sail through it. “Aligning to the realm,” has become my mantra.
What do you mean by “the realm?”
I mean everything that makes up our physical and energetic reality. Everything that is part of our life as well as our larger reality, really. Not just the material, but also our expanded reality, the energetics, the vibrations, the spiritual connections, the guardians, the nature spirits, or however we connect in our practice.
Who is the woman standing in the painting Aligning to the Realm? The horned goddess? Would you say that is a depiction of yourself?
I think all artists always paint self-portraits. Whether they are actual depictions of our features or not, a painting is mostly about us. So yes, she’s an expression of myself. She’s very pagan, a little horned one, and wears her deer antlers and energy with pride. She’s naked and stands alone, but she has her snakes watching over her. I always see the snakes as my guardians.
I was going to ask you about the snakes—because of course, they’re the ancient goddess. They do tend to show up, especially with ayahuasca for some reason. As a child, I was always looking for critters, which I always released. Catching a snake was a big deal. But other than that, I didn’t really have much relationship with snakes aside from being a symbol.
It’s the same for me. While I think snakes are very beautiful, I don’t have any particular physical connection to live snakes. But they entered my awareness very prominently in my visions, during my first experiences with ayahuasca. They made such an impression that I now consider them spiritual guardians and allies. They hold powerful symbolism of transformational energy.
I experience snakes during ayahuasca ceremonies, too. I find it fascinating that so many people do. What’s that about?
Many indigenous painters, such as the late Peruvian ayahuasca shaman and visionary artist Pablo Amaringo, paint snakes. And he described and depicted the entire range of snake spirits inherent in ayahuasca mythology in his work. This was published in detail in Luis Eduardo Luna’s book Ayahuasca Visions. Personally, the moment I’d see a snake appear during a shamanic session, I knew the journey and the healing had begun.
Pablo was a good man. And yes, from what I understand from the indigenous ayahuasca healers, the snakes are aspects of the medicine communicating with the pasajeros. And for you, the snakes are also a personal totem and a death-and-rebirth symbol.
Yes, I believe so. As a November baby, they are also my animal totem in the native American medicine wheel. And since my first spirit encounter with them, they’ve really stayed with me. I trust them.
My past work was very much focused around translating and showing the language of ayahuasca. But I’ve not worked with the medicine for several years now and have not felt called lately. However, once the doors of perception have been opened, they remain so. Sacred plant teachers are sacraments and very powerful tools. They have a way of dissecting you and letting you visit all aspects of your being down to the deepest level, your shadow side included, so you may understand what you truly are and help remove any blocks that prevent you from becoming whole before they reassemble you.
I’m like you in that I don’t crave journeying with psychedelics. It’s more about intention—definitely quality, not quantity. And I need time to integrate fully and put the lessons to use in my life and do my work in the world.
There are many paths to expanding and gaining consciousness…and journey work is definitely not for everyone. But I feel it’s most essential to be doing our individual work in loving awareness of the interconnectedness of all life things and the interdependency of all parts of our ecosystem, if we truly wish to help human progression. There’s so much need for this right now. The changes we’re going through on a planetary level—that’s what’s really important to me.
On that note, I’d love to hear your thoughts about where we are as a species and how we’re caring for the planet.
Well, personally, I feel positive in that I see many people — surprisingly from all walks of life — waking up these days, being quite aware about what’s going on and expressing concern. When I talk to people at the store, the outdoor food market, anywhere really, they know. People understand that we’re being poisoned by the chemical agents in the air, water, and soil.
Let’s talk about Universal Mother. It’s a masterpiece.
I would say it’s one of my most important paintings right now. I created her after my mom died, so a part of the energy I was putting into this piece is about the transmutation she underwent. The two phoenixes, symbols of rebirth, are guarding her throne. In my memory, she’ll always be my physical mother, but now she’s also become my universal mother. This piece is all about the feminine principle – and by feminine, I mean aspects present in all sexes. We can only move toward wholeness if we become all-inclusive.
More change happens with love and moderation than with fighting energy or aggression, even if it comes from women. Everything is easier when it’s achieved through love, hope, and inspiration. Depicting and supporting this in my art is my way of supporting all aspects of the feminine, material as well as spiritual, and is my authentic power.
Tell me about the Crest image. Is it new?
Yes, that’s very new. I created it with tempera and crayons on paper. Crest represents a scarab and is reminiscent of my trip to Egypt in 2013 with Nicki Scully. We took a small group down the Nile in an authentic Egyptian sailboat and stopped at every temple along the way to do initiations and rituals we created by visioning the night before each temple visit. I was blown so open at that time. It was just a few months after my husband’s passing. I was alone as well as free to create something new, and what better place to start than in this magical country where so much of our culture originates.
All my life I’d been feeling a strong attraction to Egypt, but nothing prepared me for this journey. As soon as the plane descended onto Cairo and I saw the vast stretches of dusty desert below, I felt like I was coming home! This little Crest drawing encapsulates a small portion of my amazement. The scarab symbolizes the death and rebirth cycle of life, my reliving many past life memories, remembering information that I had no intellectual knowledge of prior to my trip, and my personal rebirth into a brand-new phase of my life.
Your work is about visiting other worlds, visitors from other worlds, and envisioning the future. I grew up on good science fiction and futurism, so I’m very open to the idea of aliens. The idea makes perfect sense to me from a probability perspective. It’s foolish and arrogant to think we are the only intelligent life form in the vast universe.
Yes, and there are three new pieces that I feel are really related to this way of thinking. When writers and filmmakers imagine spacecrafts—UFOs and alien ships—coming to visit Earth, they’re often portrayed as some sort of mechanical/metal or material machine. Well, maybe there are other kinds of ships and other life forms? Maybe what we imagine to be space vessels are also the entities themselves, and they may be gaseous, energetic, or perhaps purely vibrational—there are so many possibilities! Whatever they may actually look like—should they really exist—perhaps they’d be completely unrecognizable to our eyes and human senses.
So, for the past few years, these fluid, translucent forms have been emerging in my work. It makes me wonder whether there is some actual truth to them. Perhaps these entities and vehicles of transportation are not machines at all but biological, alive, and conscious.
There’s a movie I really love called First Contact because the spaceship or the craft is very simple looking and organic at first sight. But it is infinitely more complex and “other” than we can imagine. Well, as it turned out, I painted my piece called Contact just before the movie came out and without knowing the specific nature of this biomechanical vessel as portrayed in the film. So, are we beginning to collectively tune into some energy that is already here with us, or are these visions of alien life forms that might be coming to visit soon?
Why not? Who knows? At the very least, these visions are emerging in the collective consciousness. Another one of my favorite new pieces is The Arrival.
In my most recent paintings, more and more of these forms are coming through that are—for lack of a better word—channeled. My art is always channeled. I don’t plan or question what I do; I just do it and trust that what needs to be expressed and manifested is emerging naturally. I’ve just completed a large triptych for the HR Giger Museum exhibition called The Landing, which represents a form akin to my paintings Alien Life Form and The Arrival. It’s translucent. It’s energy.
If you look at the workings of the body and of nature, it’s quite extraordinary. If you look under a microscope, for example, it’s very alien looking.
Oh yes, yes, and so much in deep visions of altered states of consciousness are of a fractal nature, but so are all forms of life and everything in the universe, the basic building blocks. Our cells, our bodies, and all of nature grows in fractal patterns.
We just saw the movie Annihilation. It’s an ambitious movie, and some parts worked better than others, but what did work was truly remarkable. When the alien finally shows itself in its true form at the very end, it’s pure movie magic.
I’ve only seen the Annihilation trailer, but my first reaction was that I was looking, for the first time, at visionary art that was expressly created for the screen. Many science fiction and futuristic movies are getting closer to what is portrayed in visionary art or fantastic realism.
The movie Avatar was also inspired by major visionary artists, but Annihilation seems even more transcendent and alien, less material—more about energy and more about, what could life forms or other worlds really be and look like? The moviemakers also made a great effort to portray otherworldly energy, which is complex and complicated. I mean—how do you portray other worlds that are made of elements we don’t even have here on Earth?
How do you express a multidimensional space, unlike ours? We live in three dimensions, but perhaps they live in multiple dimensions—who knows how many? This is also something we may see during shamanic journeys.
The word “alien” actually means “other,” so when we’re talking about extraterrestrial, we’re talking about something so different that we don’t yet have language to describe it –not necessarily alien as in from another galaxy, but more alien in the sense of difficult for us to fathom.
I’ve often asked myself during my past shamanic journeys—especially when things were very visual—whether this was me or “other” as the visions often seem extremely alien, yet very familiar at the same time. I like the shamanic analogy that says the spirit worlds and our consensus reality are interconnected and everything in this reality has a spiritual counterpart. Here the other worlds are the true nature of things and the real cause of events in this world.
How do you connect yourself with such worlds or how do these things come in?
What I paint oftentimes has no basis in this reality at all. It just arrives. I can never be quite sure how.
Your newer work, especially, appears to be a poetic or archetypal depiction of something universally human coming from somewhere inside you.
Yes, totally. I agree. And it’s positive! It’s loving. I don’t know how other people see my art, but when I paint, whatever I do—even if it’s unusual or alien-looking or strange—I never feel that it holds aggressive, negative, nor evil energy. While it is definitely in the range of “other,” it is positive in the sense of no harm and keeps a certain aesthetic of beauty. I’ve never had an attraction to the grotesque.
I don’t like portraying nightmares. I know people have them, and I’m no stranger to knowing that those realities are very real to some people. Some even live in them perpetually. It’s interesting that I’m going to be showing at the HR Giger Museum because his (Hans Ruedi Giger’s) work depicts such a particularly dark realm. Yet the way he painted it was absolutely beautiful.
There was artistry to it.
It’s a gorgeous aesthetic, but it’s dark. I saw Giger the last time in 2012, and he passed away two years ago. He shared with us that he was worried about the possibility that after he left his body he would have to live in the reality that he created in his paintings. It will be very interesting to show my work and Robert’s—which is so much more filled with light—in juxtaposition to Giger’s.
Tell me about the exhibition.
This exhibition came by invitation of Carmen Giger, HR Giger’s widow and the museum director. She too loves the psychedelic realm and is passionate about expansion of consciousness. The show will primarily show my art with a smaller but very comprehensive selection of Robert’s best-known work. It’s also going to show the co- and cross-inspiration that we had during our 30-year relationship.
I chose the title “Transmutations” because it’s the process of transmuting a body, spirit, or substance from an inferior nature to a noble nature. It was Robert’s desire to bring people towards the light, and it’s my desire to offer viewers visual gateways so they can open their eyes, hearts, and minds to other possibilities—because that’s what we need most right now. We need to break out of our conventional thinking that Earth on some level is still the center of the universe. We’ve known for the longest time this is not true, but we still often act like it is….
Like Earth is the center of the universe and humans are the most important beings on Earth?
Yes, and we create our own reality at all times, have the choice of whether we identify more with the shadow or the light side of things. In any event, we are just a small, yet important, part in an infinite universe of possibilities.
You are representing the medicine with your work. That’s important.
If we really want to advance visionary art and the consciousness attached to it, we have to be absolutely impeccable, show the world the most inspirational work possible, and put our best intentions and level of artistry forward.
What is your advice for young artists?
The most important thing is that you stick to your vision. Then work, work, work. Dedication, discipline, learn your techniques, and stick to your palate and do it. Robert used to say, “No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist.” And trust in your expression. Young artists are often easily dissuaded by outside criticism. A great artist has her own world and her own reality and reigns over her own magical space, which is a universe in itself. There’s only one like yours.
I guess what I always look for in all artists is, how authentic are they? You can tell by the way people talk about what they love to do. It takes a lot of spirit and determination to be an artist. It is also tremendously important to have a fine technique, but this by itself won’t suffice. To become an exceptional artist, it takes personality, persistence, and strength, and this takes time.
You’re in a beautiful new relationship with French visionary artist Pascal Ferry. Can you talk about that?
Pascal Ferry is an amazing human being and very talented artist as well! He started out as a musician (guitarist), then he founded a publishing company called Sidh & Banshees and represented 35 international visionary artists for 14 years. He’s returned to painting and is catching up on all the years he gave his energy to promoting others, and now his energy stays home with him.
When we met, I was still grieving for Robert, but we felt a deep connection. When we saw each other a year later, we were ready to look into giving us a try, and it worked. We got so lucky! When I met Pascal, he told me he had “met” me 23 years before, via Robert’s book Noospheres and the portraits Robert had painted of me. Pascal felt that magical something immediately. But when he read the book and realized I was married to the artist and lived in the USA, he resigned to never meeting me in this life.
Well, fate obviously had other ideas. And we both feel we met through Robert’s wise and well-prepared introduction. Even more astounding is that Pascal amicably separated from his partner of 27 years the week Robert transitioned—destiny, angels, guides? Both of our previous relationships are well integrated and included in our relationship. There is no jealousy nor competition, just love. And true love remains eternal!
Transmutations at The Museum HR Giger
The Museum HR Giger is delighted to invite you to the exhibition
Martina Hoffmann & Robert Venosa
“Transmutation; the process of a body or spirit changing its substance from the Inferior to the ‘Superior’ through technical (alchemical) and/or spiritual (initiatory) means.”
Further information at: www.hrgigermuseum.com
“Transmutation is the process of a body or spirit changing its substance from an ‘inferior nature’ to a ‘noble nature’ through technical (alchemical) and/or spiritual (initiatory) means.”
This exhibition takes the viewer on an extensive journey through other worlds and Martina Hoffmann’s and Robert Venosa’s inner landscapes. It is distributed into three galleries: The first represents Hofmann’s earlier work which was inspired by shamanic practices with sacred plant medicines in the Amazonia Rainforest. These images are executed in a rather colored, symbolic style; they are her interpretations of powerful Ayahuasca visions, as experienced in indigenous, South American rituals.
The second gallery shows her more recent paintings which have been created in darker tones, reflecting the artist’s personal experience with the ‘shadow,’ namely, working through loss and grief and showing the light that remains present throughout it all.
Martina Hoffmann’s art is decidedly feminine. It places the human being and his/her confrontation with ‘the other’ in an intimate cosmos where the awareness of our connection to the Universal Matrix allows us to discover the tools for healing and transmutation. She transcribes her ecstatic experiences, as well as her subtle reflections on our place in the universe, in a symbolic, visionary style where the fantastic touches the sacred.
The third exhibition gallery features a selection of works by Martina Hoffmann’s late husband, the Fantastic Realist painter, Robert Venosa. Representing different periods of his artistic path, they span from his early work of luminous, crystalline astral planes, through other-worldly landscapes, to his mesmerizing Ayahuasca visions.
The exhibition, “Transmutations,” shows the co-inspiration that both artists enjoyed and the mutual spiritual understanding they shared during their 30-year relationship. It also explores the mysterious and essential nature of consciousness, expressed as energy, that exists in all living things.
ZOE HELENE is a cultural activist who is unyielding in her fight for the rights of women, wilderness, wildlife, and sacred plants. She is the founder of Cosmic Sister, an eco-feminist educational advocacy group championing women’s healing, self-liberation, and empowerment through legal work with nature’s most profound medicines, including cannabis, ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin. (@CosmicSister)