Painting and the Subconscious Mind

How much painting comes from the subconscious mind? Reading an article today made me think of this, this quotation is the focal point, “One feels there is an unveiling of subconconscious thought in (Bonnard’s) work, and that by through not rushing, and by constantly questioning and responding to ideas as well as the materiality of the paint, he is able to embark on a journey that eventually naturally arrives at a point that creates a painting full of expression, with just enough ambiguity to intrigue, and a vision entirely unique, honest and fascinating.”

I don’t know about the “constant questioning,” but I have painted from my subconscious mind without being aware of it. Perhaps that is a kind of questioning. Oddly, with the paintings I’ve done that I KNOW were driven by something in my subconscious, I think they were painted without a lot of input from my conscious mind at all. I would. never have told myself to paint them and yet I did tell myself to paint them. In fact, I thought I was painting one thing, something else completely, from what the paintings turned out to be.

I have no idea, but two of my favorite (of my own) paintings definitely came from there. One I did in 1980 after a horrific bout of the flu and not having painted anything for myself (I’d worked for the Denver YWCA as their artist which was great) for nearly 10 years. It was my first painting after that long hiatus. It led to a period of intense creative work. What I had to paint with were acrylics, linoleum print ink, lace paper, watercolor paper. Here is that painting:

At the time (I was 28) I was looking for something, but this was still strange. I did another and another and ultimately ended up having a one person show of mostly figurative art. My good friend Wes and I were going to life drawing sessions every Monday evening, but this painting happened before that.

Then in 2012/13 I did a painting that was inspired by the bizarre coincidence of having written a novel about my ancestors before I even knew anything about them. That novel is Savior and I learned about the ancestors from a Swiss reader who’d read Martin of Gfenn and suggested maybe I had Swiss ancestry. I pretty much finished my novel when I got his email. I’d suspected the Swiss ancestry after many visits to Switzerland and discovering my grandmother’s cooking here and there throughout the countryside. In any case, when I found my family — which went back to the 10th century — the people in the 13th century, when Savior is set, lived at exactly the spot where I’d placed the family in my novel and had the same names.

You can imagine this was a little weird and upsetting. One afternoon at a conference, I sketched a kind of allegory for what I thought had happened, considering that the earth is really one enormous cemetery anyway. I painted my idea when I got home from the conference. Here is the painting:

Ancestral Memory

A couple years ago I realized I’d already painted this image, years before, in 1980. Weird as that was, there was also the bizarre reality that a couple of years before I moved here or seen this part of the Valley, I had painted the San Luis Valley, not just the Valley, but the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, looking south. Sadly I cannot show you at the moment since the photo that does that is buried somewhere. I have a photo taken last spring of this very scene with a virtually identical sunset. It’s creepy and wonderful.

Another painting from the subconscious is this one:

The World is Out There

I didn’t even know I’d painted advice to myself about retiring until I’d retired and moved to Colorado. Then one day I looked at it and understood it completely. It says — clearly — “Get Out!” Originally it was going to be a painting of New York City (??) that my step-daughter-in-law wanted, an image that turned out to be better as a water color. Thinking I had a “wasted” panel, I attempted painting velvet and loved it. Then it sat around for a year or so (practice panel) and I painted the figure (inspired by Sean Connery in a 007 movie walking resolutely out of a room). I dressed it in my favorite dress EVER. The flowers and bunnies are from a medieval tapestry. It was just fun.

These two paintings hang in my living room. The painting with the skulls hangs on the south wall so that IF there were no wall, no trees, no town, you’d see that view from my front door.

Here’s the link to the article. It’s very interesting!

8 thoughts on “Painting and the Subconscious Mind

  1. I like the article it makes me wonder if painting isn’t a little bit like writing. Anyway, I do like the red velvet divan and the exit that the woman makes. It makes me wonder what the beginning of the story was that had the ending depicted or is it the beginning of the story and I will have to wait for the next chapter…

    • Painting is (for me) a lot like writing but maybe more fun. The mystery of the painting (to me it isn’t mysterious) is what makes it cool, I think. It was in this show. It wasn’t the winner, however. The winner was a pencil sketch of a gas cap… đŸ˜€

      Contemporary Expressionism – The Creative Spirit
      International Art Exhibition 2013
      At Lyceum Gallery, San Diego, California, and
      The San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild Online Gallery
      September 7- October 13, 2013
      Juror: Derrick Cartwright

  2. very nice paintings and good article, Martha! I reacted to your statement by writing about my reflections on unconsciousness in my new blog entry.

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