Sunday, November 27, 2016

How a Dream Turned into a Painting

Carla: Elaine Drew links one of her paintings directly to a dream. In this post she'll show us the path that took her there.

Elaine Drew
: The inspiration for this piece, called Journey was a dream in which I was to about to be sacrificed in a primitive religious rite. (That scene is represented in the 3rd panel of this 4 panel painting.) What, I wondered, was that all about?

Because the dream seemed to embody a spiritual quest of some sort, I organized the artwork along the lines of a medieval predella, a small strip of narrative scenes that appear at the bottom of an altarpiece. This organization reflected my asking myself what was at the bottom of the dream?

This led me to think that consciousness, the great gift that makes us human, might be a double-edged sword. That is the theme of the second panel. Here the figure carries consciousness like both a precious gift and a burden.

So, in the first image we enter life, unconscious, enclosed in a particular culture and point of view. Our first task is to break out of our shells, hit the road, and experience life in all its complexities. As we do this, in the second panel, we attain consciousness, and this includes the awareness of our own mortality. In the third panel we face the threat that this hard earned consciousness will be obliterated.

Wait a minute! I thought. I've been told that dreams come to us to tell us things we don't know. My piece needed a 4th panel, one that would get me past the limits of my current understanding.

It took a while, and some of the false starts most of us are familiar with when we try to solve a problem. Finally, as you can see in the 4th panel, the idea of the renewed self emerges into a built environment. And then the meaning of the piece became clearer to me: while I will probably never understand the mystery of life on earth, I can understand the process of death and resurrection that often plays a part during our lives. We are asked to sacrifice, and at times it feels like too much. Or we find our hopes or ideas dead in the water. But then a kind of natural salvation kicks in. We re-emerge with an expanded consciousness. It engulfs us, and we see the world through it. We are now in the world we built, no longer wandering in a barren wilderness. The sacrifice is behind us.

So, the Journey begins again. The painting is about life, about change, about learning as we go, and about the hope for an ultimate understanding that makes sense of it all.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Paw of Condolence

This dream springs from the same  space in the unconscious that creates religion. Do our loved ones go to “another place” when they die? This dream says yes. Whether or not that's right in any objective sense is unknown and unknowable; nevertheless, it is consoling.
The Dream: I am a young teenager, staying at the seaside with my family. I look out from the screened porch, on the second story of the old-fashioned beach house. I see my younger brother Greg out in the ocean, clinging to a railing. I call to him, “Stay there! I'm coming!” I quickly change into a swimsuit and run downstairs and into the sea.

By the time I reach the railing he's gone. I search frantically, unable to find him, then head back to the beach house for some help. I go upstairs and find my sister in law, who is about my age. As we start to head down the stairs, two pet lions are ascending, obscured by a cat flap. I hear the first one before I see him. He says, “He's gone to another place.” I'm frightened when I hear this, thinking it confirms my fear that my brother is dead. I'm also surprised that the lion has spoken. The lion emerges through the cat door and repeats, “He's gone to another place.” He looks at me empathetically, as if he is sorry for my loss. He holds out a paw, gently, claws retracted, to shake hands.

I look out at the sea, its waves forming a beautiful pattern, white caps going on and on in v-shape formations. It's beautiful but hazardous. I don't think Greg could have survived its power.

My sister in law and I go to the deep beach, filled with tourists sunbathing and swimming. We search and search, to no avail. How will I tell Mother? I wonder, feeling her grief as I think about it. How will I tell my other brother? The words I choose echo the ones he used to tell me about Greg's death when it happened several years ago: “The worst thing you can imagine has happened.”

Interpretation: I had this dream near the anniversary of the deaths of both my brother and my mother. Two feelings are intertwined, grief with the hope inherent in the lion's godlike message. In one of C.S. Lewis' famous books, the lion represented Christ as the symbolic sacrifice that defeats death.  For me, the lion symbolizes the inevitable sad way of things in the natural world. He tells me that Greg has gone to another place. By stepping outside his own natural role as a mute and savage beast, the empathetic lion implies that there's something we don't know. As I experience the fearsome beauty of the sea, I know that this mysterious life force is incomprehensible. Yet there is solace in realizing the possibility of a dimension beyond those I know: this other place the lion speaks of.