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Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis of Juan Carlito Cruz

When I decided to collect images, videos, audio recordings of Juan to build this website, I went to his closest friends and asked for whatever they would be willing to share with me. Rachel, who wrote Juan’s bio gave me access to a treasure trove of photos of Juan, of Juan and Rachel and Juan with friends. Most of the photographs that Juan took were selfies.

In the Summer of 2022, I spent many hours parsing through the hundreds of pictures that Rachel shared with me.
This is how I stumbled onto series of selfies that Juan had deliberately modified to make himself look more grotesque .
This is also where I found pictures of Juan’s early paintings.

I decided to pull together some of the selfies where Juan deliberately made himself look more grotesque. And, I also paired specific selfies with some of his early paintings as those selfies seemed to be the inspiration for those early paintings.
The paired images are quite stunning. You can see them here, here and here.

Similarly to the photographs, most of Juan’s paintings were self-portraits. Juan’s more recent paintings that were exhibited at the Imperfect Gallery and that you can see in three virtual galleries on this website were a continuation of his efforts to show how he saw himself.

I became somewhat obsessed with understanding why Juan or anyone would deliberately make themselves look awful?
Of course there is the obvious explanation. Juan’s grotesque self-portraits were a reflection of how he felt about himself. Yes, and no every alcoholic decides to paint amazing, colorful and grotesque self portrait of themselves.

“Metamorphosis” at the Linbury studio, Royal Opera
House, London – 2011. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Juan’s process of self degradation brought me to Kafka’s short story: The Metamorphosis.
I started researching what has been written about Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
I particularly like what Wyman Richardson wrote on the website: walkingtogetherministries.com about Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s main character in the Metamorphosis, and the 100 thoughts the author Richard T. Kelly wrote in 2015 in the Guardian newspaper to mark the one hundred anniversary of Kafka’s Metamorphosis publication.

Here is what Wyman Richardson writes about Gregor Samsa’s character:

“The downward metamorphosis ends in dehumanization, a loss of meaning and significance, and then a death that is welcomed by the others who were so burdened by his grotesque existence.  ….”

“I am struck by the note of existential despair in the story, Gregor’s horror [Gregor Samsa is the main character in Kafka’s Metamorphosis] at realizing that his very existence is a burden, that his presence is loathsome to those around him, and the utter futility of his life theretofore.  Who hasn’t at time felt a bit like Gregor:  alone, misunderstood, barely human?”

Here are three of Richard T, Kelly’s 100 thoughts for 100 years of Kafka’s Metamorphosis:

74. “A great and terrible moment comes when Gregor’s sister argues vehemently that the “monster” in Gregor’s room cannot possibly be Gregor – that its pestilent presence in the Samsa home is proof of its inhumanity. Gregor remains sufficiently human to hear those words and to feel them, and his response provides the story’s climax.”

75. “Some of the most distinguished writers to have written on Kafka have taken the view that Gregor is a suffering saint, and his family a collection of monsters.”

76. “Gregor”, Nabokov told his students with maximum moral punch, “is a human being in an insect’s disguise; his family are insects disguised as people.”

A lot of this seems to fit Juan’s final years; except for one thing: his paintings.

I see Juan’s incredible paintings as his attempt to create beauty from inside his dark place, from inside his self destruction trip.

That is unique and a way for Juan to affirm his humanity, and from my point of view, his genius.

Jacques Sapriel