How surrealism and the subconscious ties into my work
In a recent post, I talked about how my interest in scientific topics impact my abstract art. Arguing that my paintings are documentations of events that could possibly take place, these images perhaps aren't abstract at all, but instead more akin to photographs of real events. Unlike a photograph, however, the image is composed with layers of seemingly random mark making.
Part of my art making process includes automatic drawing. It's a technique more than 100 years old, rooted in surrealism and dada. It was possibly first utilized by Hilma af Klint, a relatively unknown, but revolutionary artist for her time.
Doodling is an exercise practiced by artists and non-artists alike. It's a way to unplug your mind and to simply fill a canvas with material. When your allow you subconscious to drive decision making, you might uncover hidden thoughts and feelings, learning about yourself through the process.
In school, I spent way more time drawing pictures than listening to the teacher. I would take notes, but those often devolved into doodles—repetitive shapes that would fill a notebook page. A lot of my classmates had their own types of doodles and I think the practice for most was therapeutic, and not necessarily intended for an audience. It was also a way to build motor skills, allowing the hand to relax, creating shapes without an objective, but practicing against an ideal of how the shape should look. By making the same marks over and over, you build an adeptness at your own style of doodle.
While I've doodled all throughout my life, I didn't think of it as a particularly interesting technique in art making until my early 20's. During that time, I began questioning if we, as humans, really had control over who we are. I was asking these questions because a close family member fell victim to mental illness.
Schizophrenia is a disease that inhibits a person's ability to interpret reality. It can cause them to hear voices or have ideas contrary to their previously held beliefs. At some points, they may be aware of the contradictions, but at others they may embrace it; allowing the cyclical logic take hold. Many people will exhaust their mental energy into forming ideas coherent enough to be communicated to other people. Schizophrenia seems to ignore the crucial step in bridging a connection with another person, instead putting energy into a conversation with the ego, feeding into its own set of criteria. The reduced ability to communicate with the outside world is offset with an ability to communicate with oneself, albeit in a manner that is more likely be self destructive than productive.
My close family member with schizophrenia happens to be a very prolific creative person. They are a musician, and have written hundreds of songs that will probably never be performed. As I read their song lyrics, I began to think that it was a sort of code that could be interpreted to understand their inner thoughts:
He went loco too soon
They say he flew to the moon
And the local two room
Are told to tell a new tune
Having a mentally ill family member takes a toll on your emotions. Particularly when its a person you've looked up to as a child and when their transformation takes place during a formative time in your own life. As a recent college graduate, trying to find my place and career, it was difficult to know who I truly was, and what the difference was between how I saw myself and how the world saw me.
Automatic drawing felt like a way to channel my inner-self; to use the visual language to form an abstract idea and to see if other viewers saw what I saw. I wanted my pictures to be interpreted through a psychoanalytical lens. I wanted to bring security in a sense that I still had a grasp on reality. But also, I wanted to see if I could harness a latent, savant-like ability because of my family history.
While I don't really ask these questions anymore, to this day I've retained some techniques in art making that previously helped me explore my subconscious. I still use these techniques, because it removes inhibitions and allows me to simply create without overthinking.
Today I believe that knowing myself is less about an internalized exercise in ego, and more about how I relate to others. Since those days, where I was confronted with the possibility that I could fall victim to schizophrenia, I've grown more confident in who I am and have formed new life-long relationships. I'm focused less on my pain and more on the things that I can control and the ways I can help other people.
Automatic drawing is a way to learn about yourself, but it's important to maintain a sense of perspective, as not everyone will see the same things you do. Be careful not to get caught in thought loops that take you to places you cannot easily return from.