The Healing Power of Images

Painting the Inner World: Part Two“Our images are our keepers as we are theirs.”

JAMES HILLMAN, A Blue Fire

There are three paintings I will share to illustrate my own engagement of painting in relationship to dreams: the feelings they bring up, their images— all that can arise from the non-ordinary state of being.

The first is a dream I had of a visit from my father.

I dream I am at a resort or a place like that with my parents and family. (Both of my parents are deceased.) I am outside in nature. I see my father coming toward me but on a semi-circular pathway, on higher ground on the other side of a partial iron fence that curves between usand the feeling is that he has the intention of imparting something to me... He is dressed in a green silk jacket with gold pants and he is carrying a large green feather that is an unusual shape, somewhat like a branch. When he gets close to me I say to him, “You look so beautiful! I want to paint you with your green feather.” He says in response, “I would love it if you painted a painting of me.” The feather is unusual– in size and color and form. My father has dropped it by my feet and kept walking. I pick it up and am conscious of wanting to hold onto the image of the feather in my mind. End of dream.

vidi in sogno
vidi in sogno

When we receive a visit from our parents in our dreams their behavior and our relationship to them can seem other worldly, or unusually restorative or be unlike how we remember them. Sometimes this reflects our own evolution of the childhood relationship and sometimes it reflects a new potential that is being presented to us. A potential  by itself can be therapuetic because we have an actual experience of it in the dream state that imprints us, as it were, with "new information". Rarely is the imprint complete but it provides a new template with which to work in some arena of our childhood. At the time of this dream I had been in the process of some intense inner work for 15 years. In the dream, my father is walking toward me—he is on the 'other side of the fence' (which is often included in a dream of someone who is departed from us—so we can see them in their unique new state set slightly apart from us). Even the words "on higher ground" denote a distinctive way in which these characters are traveling and may call us onto that higher ground with them. The setting of the dream is that we are out in nature which is more emotionally neutral and a higher vibrational atmosphere, and so it would seem that this dream was not associated with the past. We were in fact on holiday, relaxing at some kind of resort,  a restorative place. Alluding to the remedial potency of the dream.

In real life I am a lover of birds and I find myself collecting their feathers. So the fact that my father was carrying a large green feather to drop at my feet was felt as a very supportive gesture that bypassed the need for words–in the dream I felt the utter magic, love and paternal guidance in it. My associations with the color green are with Healing and with Nature. And in exploring my association with the feather, I find a deep connection to an ancient, wilder part of my self — I see the feather as a symbol of freedom and elevated seeing. The fact that I expressed my desire to paint my father within the dream and the fact that he heartily agreed with this desire spoke to me afterwards. I was to paint my father "anew", to allow my father this new image in my eyes.  It was like a direction that was being given straight from my dream character to follow. I saw that the painting of it would continue the healing in a more profound way than simply processing the dream through my writing of it. If it is true that we keep evolving after we leave the life of the body, then in that way all that we do in our lives affects the lives of others even if they have passed on.

While painting this dream I was very surprised how clearly I remembered my father’s face that I had not seen since 1993. This too alerted me to the timeliness of the dream and the significance in painting it.

“Draw near to the dream with respect and attention, enter its culture like a foreigner open to new ways. Befriend it, participate in it, enter into its imagery, and mood, want to know more about it, understand, play with, live with, carry, and become familiar with it – as one would do with a friend…Stay with the dream, let it take you to places rarely glimpsed. “— JAMES HILLMAN, A Blue Fire

In the next dream that came a few years later it was revealed that a part of myself had been muted in childhood. I retained very few visual details of the actual dream but the feeling sensations were vivid and clear when I awoke. The feelings were of having been silenced by my parental figures.  And the silencing carried the sense of a threat to my safety if I did not capitulate.  I felt quite young.

So for this dream painting, I painted the feeling of the dream rather than the literal scene of the dream. I was drawn to paint the entire painting in green and I understood from that the recognition that this aspect of myself had begun to heal. When we look at these images we have painted, especially if they depict some aspect of our selves or our history that we did not know or remember, the images flood us with compassion for ourselves, they imbue us with the same innocence we inhabited at birth.  We are new again in them.

I display paintings like this, whose images are suffused with the medicine of the dream in my visual arena for a period of time. And sometimes, I can put away the painting, even for a number of years and then suddenly bring it out again when the memory of it arouses some need I have to be re-impacted by the curative energy of the dream-infused icon.

The depth of even the simplest image is truly fathomless. This unending, embracing depth is one way that dreams show their love.

JAMES HILLMAN, Dream and the Underworld

A third painting arose from an experience in which I was in a deep state of awareness and suddenly I was being rushed to a “Center” by a force outside myself and as I was being ‘taken’ there I passed by an image of myself – a head with his mouth open — talking. I identified it as myself even though it was a man’s head. It was like I was passing some scenery in a car that was being driven by someone else and I said, “Oh, there’s Patti.” The experience eventually stopped on its own and I was left with a very real sense of having been dipped momentarily into the ineffable.

When I painted this painting, I felt my potential as a Human Being in a way I had not acknowledged as deeply before, that I was someone other than the familiar Patti, talking— that “s/he” was in fact off to the side of the screen and the true “I” was in the hands of a larger force taking me to the “Center”. After I had painted the head off to the side, this huge egg shape appeared and then the image of the hand appeared, like a shimmering apparition within the egg coming to the surface—When it appeared it felt almost like the cave paintings of hands I have seen. To paint and experience it I actually laid my hand in dark pigment and swiped it across the belly of the egg — the egg that for me was the symbol of an unknown potential I was experiencing in real time in this state of awareness.

man with egg
man with egg

In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions.

CARL JUNG, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

 

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: www.bufflecake.com.

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