Grinning jaguars and fluorescent lizards peer through curtains of delicately detailed foliage as a trio of hummingbirds flit through a variegated purple sky. The watchful gaze of an owl traces their path from across the room, bearing witness to a multitude of vibrantly colored scenes unlikely to have been inspired by any worldly experience.
This is the work of the Peruvian artist Pablo Amaringo and his students, and their creations are all currently on display at Yakima Valley College’s Larson Gallery. The paintings depict the brilliant scenery of the Peruvian Amazon, many of them the result of visionary experiences with Ayahuasca, a psychoactive plant brew used in traditional Amazonian medicine.
Amaringo was born in 1943 and began painting at age 17 after severe heart problems rendered him unable to work. He credited his recovery to the work of local curanderos and vegetalistas — those who harness the physical and spiritual power of plants — and began spreading his newfound knowledge of these traditional healing practices to natives and tourists alike. He combined his passions for art and ayahuasca by creating meticulously detailed paintings of his visions, which he eventually published in his book, “Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman.” In 1988, he opened the Usko Ayer School of Painting, with the goal of using art to help impoverished children develop confidence and avoid turning to theft and delinquency as means of survival.
While Amaringo himself died in 2009, his legacy lives on in his students, several of whom presented at the gallery’s opening reception on Jan. 17 and in a handful of art classes the following day at Davis High School. Mita Lozano, one of Amaringo’s first students, spoke at the high school about Amaringo’s deep connection with his natural surroundings and the many ways in which he influenced the lives of his students. Mauro Perez and Alfredo Zagaceta joined her at the school to provide art demonstrations.
The “Mysteries of the Amazon” exhibit will run until Feb. 23 at the Larson Gallery at the corner of 16th Avenue and Nob Hill Boulevard. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free, and prints and T-shirts are available for sale.
Kathryn Conley is a senior at Davis High School.