Category: art work
Exploring Dreams through Art- a search for Divine Presence
My recent paintings have been heavily inspired by the language of dreams, and how we engage in spiritual realities when our conscious, problem-solving minds are at rest. My deep longing is to understand how God engages with us in our dreaming unconscious state…Do we fly freely in our inner world, a solitary orb? Or is the Divine Spirit a tangible presence there just as it can be in our waking life?
Perhaps God is healing and helping us during our sleeping sojourn because we are too limited and distracted otherwise, laying the foundation for connections and those ‘aha’ moments later realised in waking life.
For me, attempting to remember my dreams and writing them down has become a form of contemplative prayer, a way of yielding and accepting what God is doing in my life. This yielding is not passive- it is a kind of active open-handed-ness. It’s an attitude of co-operation borne from the belief that God is a good, kind and benevolent force in the universe who loves us perfectly and wholly as precious children.
Through this practise, I am learning to notice the details of my life- even in waking hours as being significant. When I say details, I mean emotions, reactions, memories, places or thoughts of a person. These details work in synergy with the content of my dreams, giving life as a whole a sort of super-charged meaning. It’s like a seed planted at night, which later springs up and grows.
So, I’ve developed a pretty solid habit of recording dreams. However, I have come to realise how enriching it can be to interact with and explore them creatively. My hope is to find greater depth, clarity, and an ever -increasing grounding in my spiritual life and understanding.
Carl Jung developed a technique called ‘Active Imagination’ which involves using creative expression as a way of engaging with dream elements and characters. Using the creative arts in this way seems to help us bypass the logical left hemisphere of the brain, and utilise our more intuitive, image-rich right hemisphere. Jung himself was a painter, and it is fascinating to look at his artwork and how he has been able to dive into the content of his dreams and emerge with messages from archetypal characters.
How I utilised ‘Active Imagination’ to Understand my Dream
To enter into my own dream interpretation, it was important to remind myself that the technique as a whole is not about “getting an answer” or “solving a puzzle”, but to engage with it loosely and playfully. Allowing curiosity and an attitude of experimentation leads to open ended questions- “I wonder what would happen if I ….drew my dream/ interviewed a dream character/ created a song or poem? What would this character say to me if I asked who they were? What does this colour/place/animal mean? ”
Dreams are fluid, energetic and organic. Their meaning is richer and deeper than one answer or understanding. They can change over time, and bring different offerings to us according to our circumstances and emotional states. Dreams originate from a vast landscape. Their content is both particular to the dreamer and universal as part of what Jung describes as the ‘collective unconscious’. Think of the well known idea of the iceberg…our conscious mind being what is above the water, our unconscious the massive iceberg below. The invitation is to look below the surface- as deep as we would like to plummet. In this analogy the ocean represents all of us- the collective unconscious where we are all united and knit together as one.
I engaged with a recent dream by creating a painting about it. It is much shorter than most of my dreams, however, since the colours and imagery were so rich, it demonstrates how much can be gleaned by just a little bit of material. As such, I had a very strong idea of what I wanted to depict. I also found it beneficial to give dreams a title.
Here’s a brief overview of the dream.
I was by the sea, and there were 3 budgies in a cage. One was orange, one was blue and the third was a colour I cannot recall. I took them out and they were tame. I was wearing orange, so the orange bird felt comfortable with me. My youngest son was with me, and he was wearing blue, so he held the blue bird.
The process of painting this, with my dream as a guide was interesting and different. I was very aware of allowing the painting to become what it needed to whilst maintaining some of the main features. I changed the image of the woman holding the canary- which in my dream was me- based on an imaginative dialogue where I interviewed her as a separate part of me. In my journal I asked, “What is your name?” and the answer came, ‘Golden Shadow’. Many dream analysts suggest doing this by writing the question in your dominant hand, and the answer in your non-dominant hand. However, another way is through getting into a meditative and ‘attentive’ attitude by focusing on relaxing and being aware of the breath. (I found this way works best for me). After this, the woman holding the orange bird changed from having dark hair, and being almost like a self-portrait, to a ‘separate’ person altogether.
The water element is also very important. In this dream, the ocean speaks of the unconscious, going below the surface (this is not always the case as water has a strong connection to emotions). In my imaginative meeting with the dream character in the orangey/red dress, she took me from the window down a staircase where there was another window showing under the water. I could see jellyfish and tropical fish. She took me down another staircase leading to a window of a deeper sea- telling me “keep going” “You can go as deep as you want”. The invitation was also, significant to the birds, to allow myself to be affected by “the little ones”: in other words, it is safe to be soft and tender of heart in the world, rather than trying to shield myself from it.
So, the woman in my painting became ‘Golden Shadow’, with red-gold hair. Her message to me was to encourage me to ‘keep going’ . Notably, the orange bird became a canary. Canaries are symbolic of joy and compassion as well as freedom from limitations or shackles (especially pertinent because the symbol of a cage was also in my dream). I added tears to the woman’s eyes, which is serendipitous since part of her message to me was to allow myself to feel and be affected by the world. The birdcage became a pretty decorative planter- a container of life as opposed to captivity or oppression.
Here’s a little snippet of my painting process- as I said it changed quite dramatically as I engaged with both the dream and the emerging artwork itself.
Water Baptism- a dream reflection
I want to share with you a dream I had, as the imagery was so powerful, it has given me much to reflect on. I’ve called the dream (and the painting above) ‘Water Baptism’
In the dream I was up in the clouds. There was a teacher with me, relating all sorts of wonderful things about a global perspective. I could see the horizon and the earth below, and it was glorious. But somehow I was slipping and wasn’t able to stay in the sky. So I fell. But the fall wasn’t dramatic as in many dreams, it was soft. I gently landed in the ocean, and woke up as I emerged, face first from the water, which was a beautiful aquamarine blue.
It feels like sacred ground to try to interpret this dream in a linear fashion. I think I will only be able to catch the overarching message, and trust that my deepest soul understands more than my conscious understanding. The most obvious metaphor to me, of the water at least, is baptism. Baptism is a way of representing an inner surrender, as death yields to life.
Submerged in the ocean, we are utterly engulfed by the water, but also buoyed up by it- if we relax. When we are drowning, they say the more we struggle to stay afloat, the more likely we are to actually drown because we are expending so much energy in our panic. To swim, one must learn the skill of relaxing into the water and thereby the body becomes its own life raft and floats. There is a humble beauty in yielding. To circumstances, to God, to who we are. In dreams every element can also be understood as parts of ourselves. So, even the body of water that held me is a part of me, perhaps that sacred space in my heart where God also dwells.
Dreams provide wonderful inspiration for art, and this one is no exception. For me, to paint a dream is a way of imprinting it onto my psyche, and I’m sure the meaning of this one will evolve just as I am evolving. Hopefully others too will be able to resonate with it, since after all, dream symbols are part of our collective unconscious.
St Theresa of Avila describes spiritual metamorphosis in terms of a butterfly which emerges after days and days of being in a cocoon spun around it’s body. It is changed on a cellular level, no longer resembling in any way the lumpen worm that chews its way through mulberry leaves. It’s not merely a worm with wings, it is utterly different, transformed. This body of water can also be seen in terms of a chrysalis. When we are in our mothers’ womb, we float in water, before we emerge into another reality…Truly, as the psalmist says; “Your ways are too wonderful for me too lofty to attain”. Some things are so beautiful and true that we can only trust that somewhere deep in our soul there is a flicker of understanding.
May we all find quiet trust in these waters as we surrender to it’s depths.
Angels and Archetypes, a Tribute to my Son
Angels and Archetypes, a Tribute to my SonI’m in the process of working towards an exhibition I have entitled “Angels and Archetypes”. It has caused me to really look at what is at the heart of my artwork and why I am drawn to certain images and themes. Most of the paintings are from 2018, however, there are some I have included from earlier. They are all linked by their archetypal element- people, places, animals and objects that have a symbolic meaning. The archetypes highlight the connectivity of human beings, since they are found in the collective unconscious, a place of myth, legend, dreams and folklore.
This exhibition is dedicated to my son Jordan who died tragically in a car accident in 2016. It feels like a wonderful way to honour his continuing presence in my life, not only as my son but now as a guide and source of inspiration to me. He is a creative soul, blessed with an inexhaustable curiosity about the world and everything in it. I wonder what he is doing now. I hope he is playing music and making new discoveries, free, unfettered and joyful. I know he is beside me always giving me so much encouragement. My creativity will always be a way to connect with him while we are separated in this life.
So much love to you my son, always, always.
This painting was created using a lot of texture, from paper to fabric from Jordan’s old board shorts….it’s been interesting using his clothes in such a way, for me it has carried a lot of meaning….creating using something of his, I feel I am sharing with him in the whole process of painting. Jordan has always been involved with my art; from being the subject of Portraiture, to being a model for Jesus for a mural I did once in Bruce Rock….not sure if this one is quite finished, I may add some stardust in the angel’s hand. The angel in this piece has popped up in a couple of paintings now… it always fascinates me when this happens!