For quite some time, almost all of my inspiration came from dreams and nightmares. The bizarre images and illogical strings of events my subconscious produces have always been fascinating. I was not only intrigued by their strangeness, but also by the emotional and psychological effects they had on me. Many of my dreams or nightmares seemed to haunt me once I was awake, as if I wanted to find meaning in them (even though I know most of them have none). Perhaps it was this obsession with thinking about my dreams and nightmares that made me want to create art from them, to share some of these experiences (at least visually) with others. It felt like something I NEEDED to do.
I worked hard on trying to draw and recreate scenes from dreams as accurately as possible, and then attempted to capture the mood in the WAY I painted or added value to each piece. This was always a fun process, and the end products were always... interesting. I knew exactly what each "thing" was but others had no way of knowing what was inspiring me. However, as I have never felt the need for viewers of my art to know exactly what is going on, I was happy for the fact that they found the images interesting, regardless of why.
However, there was something missing from these pieces. They were so personal that even though someone else found them interesting, a lot of their power was lost without the story behind them. For example the drawings below, "Dream Creature 1" and "Dream Creature 2" are very interesting images. From a distance they just seem to be drawings of people, but as you look closely you notice the odd faces and the scorpion claws and tail attached to the feet. Yet, without a story behind it, they seem to lose their charm after a couple of minutes.
Sometimes the dream was so disturbing that I HAD to materialize it, as if turning the image into a work of art would transform it into something more positive--or at least something less terrifying. For example in the nightmare that inspired my drawing "Giant Vultures Overhead", a group of friends and I were huddled under some kind of straw-roofed shelter, hiding from giant vultures. These birds were hunting us, picking people up off the ground, dismembering and eating them. Several people I knew were killed and eaten by these damn vultures.
I guess I succeeded at transforming the image because the more I worked on it, the less disturbed I was by the nightmare. It was no longer a terrible nightmare from which I awoke in tears; it was just a creepy drawing. I had become desensitized to it. Yet, once again, something was missing. Without the story behind it, the drawing seems to become less interesting. Just as I became desensitized to the drawing as I worked on it, viewers of the drawing would also become desensitized to the image over time. Perhaps the art of sharing a dream or nightmare with others is best done in writing, a medium through which each person's imagination can fill in the blanks, building a more personal experience.
So far in this blog I have worked myself towards explaining why I eventually moved away from trying to recreate scenes from dreams and nightmares. Basically: the charm of these images faded away with time. Yet, as I poked around my studio and rearranged furniture and artwork, I found myself looking at lots of these drawings and paintings again. And I came across my "Nightmare Series", a sequence of 5 self-portraits that told the story of a nightmare. I then realized something quite funny, something that led me to another (much more romantic) possible reason as to why I stopped working from dreams and nightmares. This was the first nightmare that inspired me to create art, and also the last one to actually be completed. The dream came to me one night in the Spring of 2007, but I didn't complete the series until sometime early in 2011.
I was in a bit of a dark place and extremely unhappy with how things were going in my life when I had this dream...
I was looking at myself in the mirror when I noticed a little worm coming out of the freckle on my nose. Apparently, I had pierced my nose and was thinking: "I should not have gotten that damn piercing".
I began the painful process of pulling the worm out, but it just got longer and longer and thicker and thicker until POP! Like a cork out of a bottle, it was out of my nose. I was holding a long, bloody worm and staring at myself in the mirror once again.
Instead of my freckle, there was now a big, black, gaping hole on my nose --and maggots were wriggling out of it. I leaned in closer to inspect this hole and found myself looking down a dark, blood-and-maggot-lined tunnel. At the end, staring back at me, was a veiny, bloody eyeball. Startled, I jump back from the mirror and realized the hole was gone. Relief started to set in when I noticed something on my forehead.
I pulled my hair out of the way and noticed that the skin on my forehead was slowly peeling back, revealing an oozing, bee-hive like texture. Panic set in as I clawed at my skin, trying to pick the gunk off. Once again I backed away from the mirror and it was gone.
My face started morphing slowly, the skin drooped down like it was melting off, and my jaw hung open. My skull was gone and I was just a mushy sack of skin and blood. I couldn't breathe. I tried to scream but all I heard was a disgusting gurgle coming deep from my throat. My vision was blurry, my chest constricted, I heard myself making more gurgling attempts to scream. I was melting away.
Then I awoke drenched in sweat, heart pounding, cotton mouthed... but I could breathe. My face felt normal. There was no piercing in my nose. I stumbled out of bed for a glass of water and made the inevitable late-night trip to the bathroom. I was afraid to look in the mirror, maybe I was still in the dream and I was afraid to see what had happened to me. I looked at the mirror. I was wearing the same shirt as in my dream, my hair was the mess it always is at night, and I was squinting because I can't see much without my glasses. Everything was normal. No maggots, no blood, no holes, no skin peeling back. Feeling a bit stupid, I dragged myself back to bed and obsessed over the dream until I fell back asleep.
Some time after that, I don't know exactly how long, I decided I wanted to paint a series about this nightmare. However every time I tried, I failed. The drawing was off, the colors were wrong, the emotion wasn't there... It just didn't feel right. I only felt extremely frustrated. Besides, I had other school endeavors to worry about and plenty of other strange dreams from which I could draw inspiration.
Months went by. I kept working on art, pursuing different ideas, but quite frequently making failed attempts at creating this Nightmare Series. Finally, nearly four years after I had the nightmare, I had at least somewhat succeeded at creating my "Nightmare Series". Something finally worked.
It was only a few months after completing "Nightmare Series" that I stopped working from my dreams and nightmares. I still find them fascinating and I don't deny that there is still a dream-like quality to my work, but I am no longer trying to recreate exact scenes from dreams. My inspiration has moved on; I have grown and changed as both an artist and a person.
It's funny and oddly interesting that the nightmare that began this process of working from dreams was also the one that ended it. Maybe the need I felt to paint my dreams and nightmares was a long cleansing process I needed to go through. I guess the cathartic cycle was finally complete.