KAMBO COMMISSION

I always connect deeply to the work I am lucky to be able to do. Earlier this year, I was commissioned by a Kambo practitioner I know to paint a Giant Monkey Frog, aka a ‘Kambo frog’, for her new treatment studio space in North London. 

It was a special journey for me and as I’ve just delivered the painting to her I thought I’d share a little of the painting process. Kambo treatments are best described by the practitioners themselves but, in short, they involve a ritual during which the secretions of the Giant Monkey Frog – which is indigenous to parts of South America – are applied to small burns on your body in order to induce a purgative experience which is said to cleanse the body and reset its natural defences. The treatment has a host of other benefits but I’ll leave you to research those for yourselvesNominated for the Nobel prize, Italian scientist Vittorio Erspamer of the University of Rome wrote that this secretion contains a ‘fantastic chemical cocktail with potential medical applications, unequalled by any other amphibian’.   

It’s neither illegal, nor does it have any psychedelic properties. I’ve been receiving this magical medicine over the last four years (the last time was this February just before lockdown) and can vouch for its incredible therapeutic qualities, which I must say work for me. Ironically, I haven’t yet received the medicine from Anoushka, who commissioned the painting, but I wanted to capture the process of how the image came into being and how I made the painting become medicine in its own right, in order to support, enhance and enrich the treatments it will be witness to and hopefully help create. 

Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have received Kambo prior the creative process but as this wasn’t possible, I had to find other ways to connect to the medicine. The process started with a couple of hours on the phone with Anoushka during which I doodled and sketched – free styling whilst taking in the conversation. During our chat she told me of her experiences with what I will call from now on ‘the Frog’ when referring to the ‘spirit’ of the frog. It was amazing how we ‘vibed’ off each other, sharing stories of our experiences and our common connection with Greg at Sacred Tree Frog – who has facilitated my deep experiences with the Frog and who has also worked with and served Kambo to Anoushka along her journey. 

The below images are just a few of the initial visual thoughts and meanderings – a kick off of sorts – that I made during my initial conversation with Anoushka. 

Anoushka never asked to see any preliminary images, trusting in the process and understanding that I wasn’t just going to copy a photo of a frog from a book but that this was a co-creation between us and that I intended to ‘channel’ the image without knowing what was going to come. 

I remember Anoushka saying that she just wanted to receive what the frog wanted to show to us. The way we worked allowed me ultimate freedom to create and to trust the organic process. What followed was several weeks of drumming and mediating on my own connection with The Frog as well as contemplating the information and stories Anoushka had shared. 

Whilst journeying I would tune into some of my experiences including a mammoth Triple Kambo session (three treatments in one day) I had received from the expert hand of Sacred Tree Frog two years ago. Anoushka kindly sent me the Kambo stick (a piece of wood the Frog secretions are dried on for transport) she had used during her training and several other things she thought might support the process, including a piece of her chakapapa (a piece of the medicated incense stick used to make the burn marks); some Rape (a kind of sacred Shamanic snuff made of tobacco, ashes and herbs); some Paulo Santo wood (burnt as incense) and some ceremonial tobacco. This got lost in the post for a few weeks – which gave me time for contemplation, mediation and journeying. 

The next stage involved the creation of a few coloured images to ‘feel’ where the Frog might take me. I sent one of these preliminary sketches to Anoushka but regretted it as she loved it! I, however, knew there was more to come, so that was the last image Anoushka achieved until the painting was delivered. 

Rough image an elaboration on my notes ..

Playing with images as patterns – accidentally or sub-consciously creating what Anoushka would later comment on was possibly a portal into Kambo consciousness.

Then something more literal – closer to what I wanted to bring the inspiration into .

Initial image making .

This method of working came with some risk of course: In the back of my mind there was a little voice that whispered ‘what if she hates this?’ Here is that initial image, along with a few others I played around with. By this time September had arrived. I’d also been working on several other paintings and made some drums during that time. The canvas sat there staring at me… 

The next thought I had was to use some of the Kambo medicine on the canvas itself, mixing it with paint so it became an integral part of the painting. I put some drops of water on the stick and mixed the Kambo into some paint. Doing this really changed the atmosphere of my workspace – I instantly felt ‘woozy’, despite taking care with the medicine. I felt a faint nausea but also a connection to The Frog. Burning some Paulo Santo and using a rattle eventually led to the creation of a base layer. I just let it happen. 

Several journeys and layers later it looked like this …

Then a gap of some weeks elapsed as I sat with the canvas and asked The Frog how it wanted to appear. I knew the initial image I had shown Anoushka was to be part of the canvas – The Frog felt universally wise, mischievous, knowing and protective. Anoushka had mentioned that during her training she had felt a kind of supernatural wisdom she described as like ‘Yoda’ the popular archetypal wizard of Star Wars fame. But I also knew there were many more stories to tell and this was to be a canvas of storytelling, albeit abstract and meandering – I didn’t know where the stories were going or if they were ever to end. 

I used drums, rattles and an amazing Chakapa a friend made for me, which is now covered in the paint as I used it on the canvas in the process to attract and channel the images within the painting. 

There are many, many layers, and each one represented a painting session which lasted anything from 2 – 6 hours. I would drum, rattle, dance, sing, laugh and cry with this master. About halfway through I decided to burn some of the items Anoushka had sent me and mix the ash into the paint to further strengthen the bond she had with The Frog and the painting. At every point it was my ambition to create a painting that would be medicine in its own right – a tool that would help people on their own journeys with Kambo. 

Next came the second Frog – one that emerged from nowhere but who wanted to be shown peeking through the forest and gazing into the future with supernatural vision. He came really quickly, and I was worried he was too bright, too dominating. I tried to kind of ‘knock back’ the image with some darker colours but it was like there was some kind of force field around him! At one point I was flicking thinner paint at it and it was like it wouldn’t hit the canvas – so I had to trust that it was here to stay. That little Frog wanted to be seen! Another interesting thing happened when the silhouette of Anoushka started to show itself under the larger Frog – an abstract portrait of sorts. 

Creating this painting was a real journey for me over a period of five months – with too many stories to tell – stories which should be left for the viewer to extrapolate anyway. In early December I finally got the chance to drive up to Anouska’s practice and deliver the work. 

The rest of this story can only be completed by Anoushka. Here is what she has to say about the painting: “Seán is in a different league! The photo doesn’t do it justice to be honest: He’s creating medicine through art.” 

I’m so happy she feels that and I cannot wait to hear the stories that will hopefully come in the future and my wish is that this painting assists in healing, inspiration and transformation for many years to come.

The finished article temporarily in my kitchen for a quick picture before delivery .

Seek the advice of a professional before contemplating any form of Kambo treatment

Anoushka can be found at

https://www.phoenixdancingwithcrow.co.uk

Greg can be found at

https://www.facebook.com/SacredTreeFrog

All images ©Seán Ryan The ShamansHorse 2020

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