Monday, August 24, 2015

The Horse in Art, a Jungian View

For 17,300 years, dating back to the cave drawings in Lascaux, the horse has been featured in art. Even up until today, the horse is a common theme having survived so many trends and isms as a subject. Is it the athletic beauty of its physicality , its role as a companion in sport, now that its no longer a neccessary helpmate, or is there something illusive but intrinsic, an essence artists continue to try and capture? I ask all this since throughout my artistic life, the horse has appeared in both my art and dreams. A few years ago, when I first started painting horses, it coincided with a series of dreams and I came to realize that to me the horse symbolized spirit. So it doesn't surprise me that I'm painting a series of horses. This is at a time in my life when I don't feel like I have complete control since I have to have CT scans every three months to see if my cancer has returned. Its hard to plan things such as trips or signing a lease for an art studio since if I have to start chemo I will quickly be too weak to drive or paint. I think this is why I'm returkning to horses as a subject. To me they represent spirit and freedom and are also, in my view, messengers from the subconscious. In Jungian writings, the horse is a complex archetypal figure and an important ally once acknowledged and assimilated. Jung connected it with the primal and intuitive side, especially when hidden in the subconscious. the horse can represent a means to reach into the subconscious world to confront the shadow and access the energy and awareness we can find in any exchange with the unconcsious forces we have relegated to the unconscious realm. Once in the realm of shadow work within our dreams, creative imagination or art, we are often confronted with paradox. When we work with the horse archetype, we are harnessing our energy to deal with the inner conflicts we encounter and the desire to paint horses can be sign we are ready for such a journey. Because, every three months, I have to wonder if my cancer has returned, I find myself trying evaluating my life. As I did, I turned to art which serves to ease the worry but also as a means to communicate internaly. The first horse scene of this series I chose to paint wet on wet on wood. I just started layering on colors without a subject in mind. The orange horse appeared and shortly after the blue figure who I considered a man in a hat. It didn't take long before I recognized the vague figure as Picasso from a documentary I had watched a few days earlier. I decided to leave him vague, as if a ghost was speaking to me from the past, perhaps a symbol my unconscious choose telling me to continue using art as a means to reach the subconscious as he had. the architectural lines of the ancient town were evident in the grain of the wood so i brought them out to remind myself that internal work involves heeding not only archetypal aspects but also history, ancestors and those who have lived before us
James Hillman and Sonu Shamadashani , their noteworthy book on Jung's "Red Book" describe how Jung's message through his own art, was an attention to the dead and how such recognition taught him much about his own internal life. When dreams and images, such as those an artist may repeat in their art, are mirrored to historical theme, Joan Chodorow, notes in her book, "Jung on Active Imagination," we view the larger picture and see what it can mean to our ownn future. The second horse I painted in oils in a wet on wet technique and it is more highly colored and expressionistic than my usual style. It looked to me like a harlequin once he was finished and the harlequin has appeared in my art with a horse before. The harlequin to me is representative of the mercurial figure of Hermes, the trickster or communicator all depending on one,s level of awareness and moral state. The sunrise was inspired by the photograph of another artist, Susannah Melee. and the finished painting seems to be influenced by Picasso's work, although I had not seen many of his paintings of horses.
In another oil painting, this one larger and square, I realized that this final draft looked I finished. I had painted a reddish brown horse, rearing up in a vague sort of mystical setting. I painted this piece without, plan, forethought or any idea about message. I just kept standing back and viewing what appeared. The areas surrounding the border came from mistakes where I removed excess paint when finishing the horse and layered it over the sky and what eventually even became the ground. This is not my usual method at all. I also let the painting sit for days drying. Usually I work wet on wet since I'm in a hurry to complete a project. But on this one I decided to see what would strike me. I did fish for ideas, looking up paintings of horses by famous artists and paintings by artists who were familiar with Jung. Most of the rearing horses I found were either threatened or being threatened. After seeing some of the alchemical paintings by Anne Mccoy, the daughter of Andrew Wyeth, I found one she did with a very beautiful horse. However it was not a testing horse. Then a few days later I saw a painting of a woman offering a tray of food to some people. Something about her pose struck me and I realized I needed a woman reaching out to the horse. At first I thought I would paint the same pose but it ended up with the woman comforting the horse instead. She also came out looking fairly ephemeral do the underlayer if paint and I looked ger that way, looking almost ghost-like. It seems to be second step in my interactions with a horse. In the first painting I did at least five years ago, a female figure is offering a mask to a blacvk horse, which in my Jungian way of thinking is my ego trying to place a persona s mask on myself. In two even earlier paintings, I depict alone up a mountain with a huge skeletal face in the foreground. And in a later painting a horse is barely visible outside a window while a woman inside burns letters. Three two paintings seem to me know to represent my detachment from spirit, while me recent one, still in progress is representing an aspect of myself trying to comfort spirit, which is fairly accurate since I await results to see if my cancer returns and am in the midst of moving out of my art studio. Jung considered the horse a symbol of the mother in addition the the subconscious. And her aspect could symbol the maternal care one needs when confronting the confusion and chaos one encounters with.the shadow. We may have to find our personal internal mother to deal with some of the issued we unravel during any sojurn into the subconscious realm.

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