For painter and philosopher Robert Venosa, art and spirituality were simultaneous. Venosa was a visionary in the most real sense of the word: much of his artistic expression was deeply connected to visions that he had of higher dimensional beings whom he perceived as angels, although a different sort of angel than you might see in popular religious art. At several crucial moments in Venosa's life he was visited by an entity that seemed transcendent of time and space, yet was partially visible in the third dimension. These experiences affected Robert deeply and he attempted for the rest of his life to paint them. Many of his well known works were inspired by these visions, including twin angels Castor and Pollux, and Seraphim.
Spirit energy, like all universal energy, must manifest itself in form and texture at its own vibratory level. We, in our present stage of time-space evolution are unfortunately limited in our perception of these transcendent substances. But the visionary, in his creative expression, must overstep these limits if he is to resolve his task of bridging the gulf between accepted reality and spiritual postulation (Manas Manna, page 3).
Robert Venosa was born in an Italian family on Staten Island in Rosebank, New York. After graduating from high school he married Edith Strofield and fathered two children, Laura and Steven. Over the course of his lifetime Venosa became one of the great masters of technique and produced hundreds of paintings and sketches, graphic design, cartoons, album covers, and three illustrated books. He worked as an art director for Columbia Records, designing the well known Santana logo and album covers for Carlos Santana's classic album Abraxas and the later Silver Dreams, Golden Reality, published under Santana's spiritual name Devadip. During this period Venosa also directed music videos for Columbia Records, amongst them the Four Tops top 40 single, Runaway Child Running Wild, one of the first music videos ever made. Later he started his own commercial art and advertising agency in New York City, designing and creating music cover art for Blue Note Records, many of them prize-winning.
By the late 1960's Venosa chose to move away from the world of commercial design and embraced a personal spiritual path which involved meditation, eating a vegetarian diet, living a nomadic lifestyle, and studying religious texts and art from around the world. Venosa's spiritual quest led him to experiment with LSD and change his life's path from the lucrative yet often vapid world of advertising and graphic design, focusing on the ideas and information that were really meaningful to him. For years he studied the literature of religion and the spiritually-influenced counterculture. One of his first psychedelic works, a drawing called Atomic Christ shows the face of Christ transposed with a pulsing cosmic pattern, an atomic energy web.
This drawing caught the attention of Fantastic Realist painter Mati Klarwein who encouraged Robert to develop his skills as a painter. Venosa move to Europe and studied with one of the founders of the Fantastic Realist movement, Ernst Fuchs. From these masters he learned variations of a venerated painting technique developed in the mid 1400's called the Mische Technique which involves underpainting in water soluble tempera with transparent oil paint glazes.
While living in Vienna he met his second wife, Jutta, with whom he had children Christian, Marcus, and Celene. Eventually Venosa moved to the coastal village of Cadaques, Spain, where he lived for fifteen years and befriended the consummate surrealist painter Salvador Dali. There he also met his third wife and partner for thirty years, the painter Martina Hoffmann. Utilizing his personalized version of the Mische technique and creative advice from his mentors, Venosa developed his own visual style of painting with content integrating his spiritual studies and intense mystical experiences with hallucinogens, which his wife Martina describes as painting light.
Venosa was powerful in pioneering a style that has become known as Visionary Art, an aesthetic that has achieved widespread popularity in the counterculture of the last two decades. Visionary Art is multichromatic, organic yet technological, heavily influenced by the mutable fractal textures and resonating energetic patterns usually experienced while in the shamanic mindstate of psychedelic plants, also generally reflecting the superconscious, a term Venosa enjoyed to describe his primary source of inspiration. Another theme in Visionary Art is the presence of nonhuman entities, referred to as spirits or angels in shamanic cultures, which are mostly hidden within physical reality, yet part of the human psyche.
Venosa's approach to painting could be described as improvisational, like many of the musicians he was fond of. He avoided pre-sketching and planning while painting, preferring instead to be moved by inspiration in the moment and follow it through on the canvas. His technique evolved into mastery, producing radiant and sublime images that offer a divine visage of the human soul. He achieved magnificent detail and realism blended with the ethereal landscapes and surreal emotions of the astral realms. We experience a world where humans and spirits are intermingled, surrounded by mysterious and wonderful energies, as we see in pieces like Astral Circus and Ayahuasca Dream.
In his later years Robert lived happily with Martina in Boulder, Colorado, teaching painting workshops at Naropa University, Esalen and Omega Institutes and across the world, in countries such as Greece, Spain, and Peru. Robert and Martina taught a whole new generation of painters how to use a modified version of the Mische technique involving underpainting and layers of oil glazes to create flowing, surreal colors and shapes. Many of these painters who have joined them for workshops throughout the years are now well respected in their own right in the Visionary Art scene including Carey Thompson, Luke Brown, Vibrata Chromodoris, Delvin Solkinson, Roman Villagrana and many others.
Venosa spent many years studying spiritual wisdom and was well prepared for the inevitable ascent into the astral realms. After a long healing journey with cancer Venosa transitioned on August 9th, 2011 out of his material body and into the ethereal world he had painted so masterfully for most of his life. While he appreciated many aspects of Eastern religions, Robert did not believe in reincarnation. In Manas Manna Venosa writes, Our individual spirit comes this way once; to think we can return again and again until we get it right is the rationalization of a lazy spirit, and a misguided belief that man can reject the guidance of his God-Consciousness until a later date. And conversely, the religiously-motivated ascetic who attempts to prematurely escape from the bonds of flesh is also on an illusory quest: in one way or another he, like all of us, will be eventually released, but only to enter, however transcendent, another body (Manas Manna, page 24). On the same page Venosa sketched a butterfly emerging from its cocoontransformed.
Robert Venosa lived an exemplary life, focused on understanding the universe and his place in it. His art and writings are the result of a life lived well, in pursuit of truth and beauty. His example will live on, inspiring artists and philosophers for generations to come. His plans for a visionary art center/museum collection located in Boulder, Colorado entitled V.I.V.A. (Venosa Initiative for Visionary Art), are being brought forth by his partner of 30 years, Martina Hoffmann, one of visionary art's foremost painters.
The paintings reproduced here are titled, in order of appearance, Yage Guide, Astral Circus, and Enlightenment.