Here are some of the animal skulls painted by Parksville resident Kucutzi Ribe now on display at Realm Food Co. — Adam Kveton Photo

Channelling spirits by painting animal skulls

Shaman Kucutzi Ribe on her unique animal skull art on display in Parksville

A local artist and shaman is turning the bleach-white skulls of animals into intense and colourfully speckled works of art.

Kucutzi Ribe, a Parksville resident originally from Mexico, has been painting animal skulls for about 22 years as part of a spiritual process that she feels can both aid troubled animal spirits in healing, and provide people with an animal guide.

Some of her work is currently up at Realm Food Co., and will be part of a Forward House Community Society exhibit Dec. 3-5 at the Quality Resort Bayside.

“For me, it’s more of a spiritual art than just a pretty item to sell,” said Kucutzi of her work. “I’m a shaman so I commune with the spirits of the animals, and when I find the bones of these animals here and there, or even trade them with farmers, I try to bring back the spirit of the animal into the world again … using my art.”

Coming from a long line of artists, Kucutzi said she draws on the painting style of a Mexican folk art called Alebrije to create her unique and colourful dotted designs.

“The Alebrije is an art form of mythical creatures that the purpose is to make you smile when you see them. And they are always decorated with dots,” Kucutzi said.

“This is my very own way of using those dotting patterns.”

Every piece is unique, and is based on her feeling of the animal, she said.

Working with everything from bat skulls to snakes, buffalo and walrus, Kucutzi said the most intense experience she’s had in her painting practice was when she painted a “beautiful, enormous grizzly bear skull.”

“This animal was hunted for a trophy,” said Kucutzi, adding that she had been commissioned to work on the skull.

“It was a very old animal,” she said. “It was an 18-year-old grizzly. The soul was overwhelming. I couldn’t stop crying, getting things ready to be painted.

“And as I painted it up, the energy got better and better and better and better. By the time I finished, it was a strong, healthy energy coming out of the skull.”

Not everyone sees her work as positively, she said.

“Not everybody likes my work, of course,” she said, saying that fear of death can sometimes affect people’s perception, and that some people just don’t like skulls.

“I respect that,” she said. “Not everybody is ready to look at what I have to offer.”

Nonetheless, Kucutzi said, her work is also meant to help people.

“When you acquire one of these pieces, you are acquiring a spirit helper… a totem animal,” she said.

Several of Kucutzi’s pieces are on display at Realm Food Co. in Parksville until the end of November.

Then she will have pieces in the Forward House Community Society art showcase running on Dec. 3 (1-5 p.m.), Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 (3-7 p.m.) at the Quality Resort Bayside in Parksville.

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