Friday, August 7, 2009

Unconscious Expressions, Exposures, Enigmas

I first decided to exercise my artistic yearnings and abilities a little over a year ago. Having no training whatsoever, I was unsure of how to start. I did not have the confidence to pick up a brush and approach a blank canvas, so I took a Gustav Klimt artbook that had sat on a shelf for years and decided to be very bold - and cut it up. I cut up Klimt's paintings (I know, a sacrilege!) and took cut pieces with colors I liked and assembled them into a collage. This is the first I produced and I was satisfied. But how can one produce something horrible with images of a master? (The photograph of the work leaves a lot to be desired too.)

The next try I made (below) was still with strips I cut from Klimt, but this time with less color and I thought, a bit more drama. I was not trying to produce anything in particular, I was simply working with color. Neophyte that I was, I was quite happy with the one below.

My next attempt, still with cuttings from long-suffering Gustav, was with images of landscape, plants, and houses. I was not happy with the results I was getting and in a fit of frustration, decided to cover over most of what I had done with ripped pieces of coloured tissue paper. I still was not happy, figuring I should never have thought I could produce anything of value and that I should put my energies where I have some skill. (Such discouragement typical, I understand, of the creative process.) I set this piece on a mantle and proceeded to clean up all the mess I had made cutting up the Klimt artbook. I happened to look up and was SHOCKED to see two eye staring at me from the mantle. Spoooooooky. I sat down to savor what my unconscious mind had produced, in spite of my conscious mind's doubts and judgments.

In this close up of the same piece, below, you can see that what appear as eyes are actually two Klimt houses where I tore off pieces of tissue paper that I had just applied. The light in the windows, give the appearance of light in the eyes of this collage. I knew that my unconscious could get a nice little opportunity to express itself in my attempts to be creative, but I did not expect it to reveal itself so soon and in such a surprising way. I had to make an effort after that to not think about what could be being expressed by my unconscious in any of my abstract works, think about colour and form and just let it happen.

I graduated from just experimenting with collage of artbook strips, to finally just working with acrylics on canvas, and produced several pieces of art that pleased me. However, when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer last September, I put my art supplies away and did not resume any painting until after the new year. In May I was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma on my forehead. It is the least serious form of skin cancer and I was not too concerned. The next piece of artwork I did after my little diagnosis was a piece where I applied black paint horizontally to a textured background of white/beige. I worked fast with a metal spatula, scraping the paint along over the rough surface. Nothing special as you can see below.

Then, I rotated the piece to a vertical position and was shocked to see that my unconscious was telling me I was more concerned about all these "brushes" with cancer than I was allowing my conscious self to realize. It looked to me like the Grim Reaper visiting a female figure also in black. I do not take this kind of thing as an omen about the future. I interpret it as information about what my unconscious fears are - what my unconscious is trying to come to terms with for me. So I thanked it for the information, and knew I had to pay more respect to my diagnosis and not just dismiss it out of hand, as being nothing in comparison to my daughter's diagnosis.

I share all this with you to give you a glimpse into the power of the unconscious to project its concerns outward - be it on canvas - in our dreams - in our poetry - in our slips of the tongue - in our behaviors - or in our interpretation of the world around us. The unconscious speaks, but are we listening?


  1. only a year ago...whoa! I'm impressed. :)

  2. the power of your/our unconscious is amazing. this makes me want to pay more attention to mine - and to explore different venues for doing just that.

    thank you.

  3. Very interesting post. I love collage, it,s a great art form I think. I've uniformly hated everything I've ever done though...

  4. If you ever decide to learn to draw (which I think is a better place to begin than painting), get a copy of Drawing Made Easy by Lutz. My brother and artist James Gurney happened to post about this book today (if you believe in synchronicity, then look it up). It's a great book and will get you off to a great beginning in drawing.

  5. Bonnie, Your work is beautiful and insightful. The last one reminds me of a Franz Kline, powerful and dark. Yet, really confident. Impressive!

  6. You know, Bonnie, I will daily scan the blog postings of my favorites. Some days I don't have much time, so I skip through some of them rather quickly, thinking I'll have time later to return.

    I never skip yours.

    Sincerely, EFH

  7. You discovered a talent that you didn't even know you had. I'm impressed. It is so amazing how art work can reveal what the unconcious is really thinking.

  8. I salute your attempts to free your creativity. Your results are remarkable.
    As for your question, no, I have never looked for signs of my unconscious.
    I wouldn't know how to go about it.

  9. bonnie - i love your openness and especially your ability to play. slice up klimt - well yes you can!!!! there are no rules in creative expression until you decide to find them or make them up yourself. i am drawn to the black painting that you rotated ninety degrees and saw what you saw. i'm also relieved that you skipped the "omen" interpretation and understood that it's a privileged access into the unconscious world. you are so creative and talented. thanks for sharing these pieces here bonnie. have a lovely evening. steven

  10. I think that you have created some very interesting pieces, it will be interesting to see what you create next.

  11. As in dreams. I relate my dreams to my husband and he says, 'flick them away, they're not true' but I hang on and try to diagnose them. Then they fade.

    I do like the eye pic and the last one does look like two people meeting and about to grasp hands.

  12. Oh, I forgot to add; you cut up Klimp!!!??? One of my favourites!

  13. I don't think the t connected on Klimt; I'm having a bad morning, time for my walk!!

  14. I never have a clever reply. All I seem to be able to say is, great post. But it is!

  15. Painting with your mind's eye!

  16. Fascinating really. Such powerful visuals you've provided. I too believe we get messages all the time and that we have to be still and listen and pay attention.

  17. Fascinating process! I love your first attempt. Can't believe it's your first! Love the haunting "eyes" too.

  18. Noelle:

    Thank you for your comments - much appreciated.

  19. Dan: Thanks for the link. I checked it out.

  20. Barbara: Thank you - hate to admit I do not know Franz Kline - will look him up on wiki.

  21. Expat From Hell:

    Well thank you - I am honored that you make it a point to visit.

  22. Choices: Yes, our poor unconscious is trying to send us messages all the time - the thing is whether or not we are paying attention.

  23. Friko: Thank you. Start paying attention to your dreams, if you are interested . . .

  24. Steven: Thank you for affirming my "creative" impulse to cut up Klimt. And I love how you describe what ended up on the canvas as "privilege access" to the unconscious.

  25. acornmoon:

    Thank you so much for your comments on this post. I do appreciate them.

  26. Alaine: Thanks for dropping in. I like your husband's comment about "flicking them away" - sometimes that's the right thing to do.

    Yes, I have to admit it was an outrageous act, to cut up Klimt. I did not intend it to be disrespectful - I would never cut up a fine art print or poster. In my insecurity about beginning to do something artistic, I guess I thought if I started with excellent materials I might produce something good. And the artbook was well worn and had been highly appreciated for years.

    Forgive me. :-)

  27. Sandra: Thank you and I look forward to your new blog on politics which you tell us about in your post today at

  28. Hi Bonnie

    Our stories have some strong parallels...

    About a year ago I gave away all work and voluntary positions and decided to let my creative side play...and I made collages and funky postcards assembling images and words, made backgrounds with paint and tissue paper collage and cut up art books... In my case Matisse...
    actually I cut up almost anything I could find, like a bower bird I gathered papers, scraps, images, flyers...any coloured print...

    This year the creative energies have been swept into photography and blogging and there are days I miss the collaging and assembling...the peace and the joy of pottering with papers and paint and colour...I will return soon...

    I used sandtray and symbols in expressive therapies in my practice and was constantly amazed at how the unconscious delivers it's messages...and so were the clients...

    This is a wonderfully thoughtful post Bonnie. Thanks for bringing it to us.

    Happy days

  29. Bonnie P.S.

    Both Beloved and I have had BSCs and SCCs removed- they are common here in this climate...
    Qld has a very bad skin cancer record...

    'Slip slop slap' the jingle we often hear on the TV or at schools...

    Slip on a t shirt
    slop on sunscreen
    slap on a hat

    Happy days

  30. Delwyn:

    That's amazing because we have already noticed other parallels!

    See people - some one else cut up an art book!!

    After reading the surprise some had at my audacity in cutting up a Klimt art book - it occurred to me that maybe those eyes looking out at me from the piece - were Klimt's eyes - saying "what have you wrought?".

    Years ago when I worked with a group of other therapists, one used sand tray and all the little miniatures that go with it, with his clients. It was fascinating. Never used it myself, but have certainly read about it.

    We have harsh winters here and I figure then I will be indoors more and go back to collaging and painting.

    Thanks for comments and reflections.

  31. Really fascinating Bonnie. Our subconscious does speak to us all the time, doesn't it? I think it usually gives us the answers we are seeking, if oly we pause to listen.

  32. You are incredibly artistic to rip out a book and make your own interpretations, this is not something that would even cross my mind. I feel I have to try really hard to think out side the square.

    I really enjoyed the eye piece. I think its funny that as an artist you can be your own worst critic. Often I hate my photography and sometimes it best not to look at it for a while.

    I hope you and your daughter are both doing well.

  33. Fascinating artistic journey and some excellent examples of the power of the unconscious to surprise and enlighten us.

  34. Dearest Bonnie,

    We stand silently at each others side
    Nothing we need conceal, nothing to hide
    We speak and our words already known
    For all that life and time have shown
    A vision of beauty and peace within our heart
    From there each anew we to start
    Promise and pain, promise and pain
    The envisioned glory and the inane
    We reach to express in parts and wholes
    We grasp life's gifts and bear the tolls
    Your words, your post this very day
    Your visit, your comment, inspired souls at play.

    In gratitude,

    Rose Marie
    APOGEE Poet

  35. Jayne: Yes, I think it does hold many answers. And, in my work, I have seen the way lives can be changed, for the better, when we "get" the messages from within.

  36. Liss:

    Artistic or outrageous! I have learned that "outside the box" does not always mean you must do what has never been done before. You do similar things (nothing is new under the sun) but with the light and love you bring to them.

    My daughter's recent battery of tests were all negative. Hurrah! She is doing very well, and so are we. Thank you.

  37. Barry:

    Thank you for your visits and comments - they are highly valued. I so admire your courageous heart.

  38. Rose Marie:

    After your visits I always feel like I have just been sprinkled with fairy dust. Thank you!

  39. Hello Bonnie,
    It is a pleasure and a delight to meet you.
    I am looking forward to reading your journal and following your creative process. I also am on the creative living path and find allowing the sub-conscience room to express helps the body and the mind. Last Autumn I awoke with the word "fiber" in my mind. I now am spinning and knitting and have joined a weavers guild!
    Live is an adventure if we can let go and just be who we are....
    I love the way you opened your self and began honoring your creative aspect!
    Looking forward to reading your past entries.

  40. Great post...I'm just now getting back after loosing my power lines. Yes, our subconscious always speaks to us...if we only listen. It can come is such varied forms..through creativity or as you say, the slip of the tongue. Love your work...the last one speaks to me though!


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