Painting the Inner World

Painting the Inner World: A Creative Response to DreamsThe most powerful way to inhabit a dream is to bring it into this world by painting it... singing it... building it... sculpting it... writing it.   Dream images are often so richly otherworldly, so ultimately creative, it is no wonder we are driven to reenact them in some way. In dreams we find "machines that we make to do unusual things—an espresso maker that one carries like a back pack that only needs water", "architectural plans for the construction of water"…they sound so weird and yet in our dreams we are intent and unquestioning on being their creators.

For the next few posts I will feature the art and ideas of several artists who use their dreams as the subject of their inner experiences from which to create art and to learn and how they have used the painting of their inner world of dreams as a window into their own process and soul.

Hank Brussselback is a painter and sculptor and accomplished builder living in Taos, New Mexico. His website where you can see his work and learn more about him is:

russian lesson_
russian lesson_

"The Russian Lesson", —HANK BRUSSELBACK

I interviewed Hank in his studio on September 14th on the subject of his work from dreams.

P: Hank, how did you come to start painting your dreams?

H: When I was in grad school I was painting paintings of my son and myself and the conflicts we were having at the time as a way to process them. At this time in my life I was heavily involved in being a political activist. A friend noticed that my paintings did not reflect my corresponding passion for political activism and questioned why I was painting my personal world when my true passion was social activism. At the time I strongly disagreed with him but shortly afterwards I began to paint political paintings.

And then a few years ago my spiritual mentor put a big question mark on my political activism and what was actually driving it…I started thinking about the self-righteousness of my thinking, all the positions I found myself taking and as I uncovered what was underneath it, it began to fall away. At the same time I was doing a lot of dream journaling and I began to notice that there is kind of subtlety there that could really only be found in dreams. So for the past few years I have been developing this work of painting my dreams.

P: Hank, when you begin to paint your dream, do you paint it as you saw it or is it a feeling representation of how you experienced it?

H: I begin the painting by painting it as I saw it in the dream but the process of painting has its own will. The dream I want to talk to you about— is called "The Balloon Dream"

balloon dream
balloon dream

What was exciting about this was when I initially dreamt it I had this interesting perspective that dreams can give, and the perspective was floating up in a balloon and watching the behavior of someone I perceived to be a particularly recklessly cocky person who was riding a motorcycle down an alley and crashing into a building and jumping up and getting back on the bike and going another 50 feet and running into a tree… so my immediate reaction which is typical for me was some kind of hostility toward this person for risking other peoples lives …for being flagrant, a scofflaw. When I painted it I painted in many of his crash positions and I saw that this person, rather than being some kind of braggart or show off that he could do these things and jump up and keep doing them and enjoying the process, was rather actually really struggling and I hadn’t seen the struggle and the determination and the courage that he was showing. It was very powerful to face an awareness like this because of how many strongly held beliefs it contradicted.

Painting it helped me to see all those things and in painting it helped me to put it into a different context… then it seemed like this was also about the painting process itself. The most challenging thing about painting this painting for me was painting it in perspective, painting down on buildings and straight over to the balloon people and straight down to the motorcyclist crashing and so the painting and the dream helped me to have a different perspective on this person who was willing to risk even perhaps failing. And like in my experience of painting, not really knowing where he’s going because the motorcycle is telling him where he’s going… I saw all of that in the painting of the dream.

balloon dream detail
balloon dream detail

This is what it feels like to paint a narrative that is going somewhere without being sure where. And finally I realized this character who was taking all these chances and getting knocked around quite affectively was appreciating the motorcycle and what it was offering to him—again like so many times the dream showed me my first thought, my instant judgment put me in a righteous place and put this person in some sort of undeveloped childish foolish place. And as I worked with the painting I was able to see I could be this childlike foolish person and that there is a very exciting thing about that which makes me so grateful for having [the vehicle-] the motorcycle …that without it there would be a lot of passion lost.

P: How do you feel about sharing these dreams with people that you either know or don’t know?

H: It feels like it’s a lot like making art in general which for me is that I am trying to get it as close to my own personal truth as I can and the better I can do that the more it will have a universal impact… its really about everybody. It [painting my dreams] would be embarrassing if it weren’t just human and I would want to hide it if I didn’t see that it is what everybody does.

P: What is the response of other people to your work on dreams?

H: There’s a full range— I think that the work demands a lot from the viewer— that they have to climb in to see it. They might not care for the painting style, or the colors and they may just glance over it. And a fair number of people come in with a curiosity and wonder — they see that I’m in this lair that’s full of paintings …Or say,  “wow there’s sure a lot of colors here” and for those folks that is often as far as they want to go. Some people are used to a gentler art… But then there are a handful of people who are really excited about a kind of art that they haven’t seen … which is narrative and figurative and let’s say for some people it seems really gutsy, juicy and full of human emotion. And for me, I think that’s what expressionism is really about.

P: In the world of writers there’s a group that uses their memories as their subject matter to write from because they are familiar and seemingly inexhaustible. I wondered if that aspect appealed to you in any way or if it’s just a by-product?

H: Well that’s sort of wrapped into dreams …AND for me it seems like that’s the only legitimate source I have to work from. [Otherwise]…It would flip over into a different kind of art— an intellectual conceptual thing (if I worked without the dreams). I went to a high school that was pushing me very hard toward left-brained intellectual expertise, but pretty much ever since I stopped teaching school I pushed my self in the opposite direction.

P: How has the painting of your dreams changed your work and changed your life?

H: It’s added compassion and some kind of gusto for life that doesn’t need to be protected, an open-heartedness …

And it’s been a way to get past that giant stumbling block in making art —all those little voices that say, “ why do I bother…the masters have all done everything better than I could do and its all been done…—if I listened to those voices they would rob me of “my motorcycle” which would be a real pity. Because it opens me up, deepens my connection to the world.

It’s a little bridge into the magic world of paint and pushing colors around. I don’t know what paintings are going to give me or anybody else at all. [But}It exposes my humanness.

My hope is that people would look at it and realize that they have dreams or similar feelings inside themselves.

P: Do you think it is a level of intimacy that a lot of people are looking for that your work touches in them?

H: I think so…. I think that if I have enough nerve to express these things then that’s enough mileage to get me thru any negative judgments I might experience in my life. Laughter.

P: Thank you, Hank, for contributing to this series.  I have really enjoyed our conversation and I wish you the best wish for any creative "Carry on!"

The featured image at top of page is "Falling House", —HANK BRUSSELBACK