Dreams form one of the main pathways to the workings and special messages from the subconscious mind. Dream journals are one of the many ways to uncover the world that goes beyond our concrete reality and merges with a montage of ethereal symbols and realities to convey new meaning in our daily lives.
Here are some very strange and unique artistic captures of this other world we fall through while in our sleep.
Half our dayes wee passe in the shadowe of the earth, and the brother of death exacteth a third part of our lives.
(Thomas Browne, On Dreams)
…night after night, with calm incuriousness we open the door into that ghostly underworld, and hold insane revels with fantastic spectres, weep burning tears for empty griefs, babble with foolish laughter at witless jests, stain our souls with useless crime, or fly with freezing blood from the grasp of an unnamed dread ; and, with the morning, saunter serenely back from these wild adventures into the warm precincts of the cheerful day, unmoved, unstartled, and forgetting.
(Elizabeth Bisland, Dreams and their Mysteries)
Dreams have long proved a fertile ground for human creativity and expression, and no less so than in the visual arts, giving rise to some of its most arresting images. In addition to the many and varied dreams so important to religion and myth there has emerged, in the last few centuries since the birth of Romanticism, an exploration of the more personal dream-world. Indeed, with its link to the unconscious, the form has perhaps proved the perfect vehicle for those artists looking to surface that which lies submerged – desire, guilt, fear, ambition – to bring to light the truth the waking mind keeps hid.
No doubt, also, artists have been attracted to the challenge of giving form to something so visually intangible as a dream, a challenge taken up in many ways through the centuries. More often than not there appears the sleeping body itself, with the dream element incorporated in a variety of ways. Common is for the dream sequence to appear in a totally separate part of the image, as if projected on the walls of the sleeping mind: often in the midst of that familiar floating cloud, but also as emerging from nearby objects or events of the day (see the Toyokuni image below) . Also common, particularly in the depiction of nightmares, is for the figures of the dream to simply appear as though in the room with the sleeper, often directly upon the body itself (see the Fuseli below). With the advent of photography, and the potential of double exposures, we see also a different way of trying to capture that intangibility of the dream image. With both the Grandville and Redon images featured, and the work of the Surrealists they anticipate, we see a different approach entirely, one which looks past the sleeper to focus solely on the imagery of the dream itself, and in the process perhaps giving a more true impression of the strangeness and otherworldliness which so often characterises the dream experience.
Beneath the surface of these paintings by Nancy Hillis, there lies a secret key to unlocking the viewer’s subconscious mind. Just try gazing at these works and see what happens. For me, these images ignited the emergence of a new rush of positive dreams, I realized when I woke up the following morning. I hadn’t dreamed like that for many years. In fact, I had become virtually unable to remember my dreams upon waking. For me, it would seem that these paintings acted upon my mind as a catalyst for igniting the subconscious mind.
Invitation to The Artist’s Journey
“I have been an existential psychiatrist and artist for over 20 years and through this work I have learned that the secret to creating expressively alive paintings is by trusting yourself. My vision and the work of my life in art and psychiatry is helping others to trust themselves and to create meaningful lives through their work. Take the plunge and start on your own path towards making the work of your life. Show us what you love!”
Click on thumbnails to enlarge
“The art of activating the canvas and bringing your painting to life with your own personal lexicon of mark making, expressive gestures and brushwork is nothing short of miraculous.
To create authentic and alive abstract paintings that are unique to you and your own vision is the ultimate attainment for an artist and yet the most elusive.
One issue is that you can get stuck repeating what’s worked before in your work. Another issue is trying to recreate what you love about other artists’ work.
I’ve found myself in both situations. When I finished my residency in psychiatry at Stanford I became fascinated with abstract painting. I felt that it was a mirror into the artist’s inner world, a potent and unique personal expression of the artist.”
Painting by Nancy Hillis
“I loved attending museums and galleries that featured abstract artists, in particular abstract expressionist work. I admired the museum exhibitions with works of Cy Twombley, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. I’d feel excited to go home and try to create paintings as raw, immediate and expressive as theirs! I wanted to paint works that astonished me. I wanted my art to mean something.”
I wanted to breathe life into my paintings
“The day I finished my residency in psychiatry I started creating abstract paintings. I didn’t know what I was doing but I’ve come to learn that this is a good thing. Saying this brings to mind the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind where Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Cultivating an open mind and maintaining the teachable spirit of a beginner is a potent practice for artists at every stage of development.”
Being An Artist Is About ‘Not Knowing’
“One of the things I’ve learned on this journey is that being an artist is about continually evolving. It’s about searching and finding your way as you create. It’s about experimentation.”
In this video, Nancy explains the benefits of specific steps in painting for allowing the development of an open mind.