Headcase

Here is the other main idea I'm currently working on. Like the tree-people paintings, it involves another set of metamorphosing figures, but rather than showing bodies dissolving into foliage, I wanted to paint a kind of portrait - but a picture of the inside of someone's head, rather than their face. I really had no idea how to go about doing it, though. How on earth would I represent all the thoughts bouncing around in someone's skull visually? I knew that I wanted the body below the head to be painted smoothly, without a fuss. The focus should be on the inside-out head, which would probably end up being fairly thickly impastoed by the time I figured out how to paint it. This would physically represent the fact that we all live in our heads anyway: the contents and colors of our mind are the lived reality of our experience, and our tangled thoughts are the thick smeary glass through which we view our world. Very few of us actually pay our bodies that much mind, unless something is awry which brings them to the forefront of our consciousness. So the body should just be a kind of cipher, and the tricky part would be how to paint the head.

I came up with a list of images that I felt could function as symbols for the thoughts that whirr constantly in our minds. Don't we all mostly think about the same things, or at least, don't our specific circumstantial thoughts all fall into larger, general categories (food, sex, family, career, fear of death & the meaning-of-it-all?)

Here's my working list:

  • Clouds. (Ignorance, self-deception, intellectual laziness, misinformation, mental fog, forgetfulness.) Clearly a big category. There should be lots of clouds.
  • Arrows. (Representing the movement of thoughts, a kind of flow chart of data, things going in and out, up and down, round and round, ceaselessly and without pause.) There should also be lots of arrows.
  • Speech bubbles. (You know, those ovals used in cartoons, with a little piece-of-pie triangle poking out of one side to indicate which person is uttering the words it contains. Representing speech, obviously - all the mental muttering, both our own running monologue, and also other people's voices. Words, words, words.) There should be lots of these, too.
  • Penis and breast shapes. (Biological drive to propagate the species. Pleasure.)
  • Houses and their constituent parts: doors, stairs and windows. (Home. Wherever that is. Where the heart is?)
  • Hands, pointing or indicating something.
  • Facial features.
  • Boats. (Representing travel, transportation, movement to and fro. Sailing ships, because they're a lot prettier than motor boats . . . and cars, for that matter.)
  • Waves. Rain/teardrops. (well, the boats need something to float in, for one. And do I really need to wax poetic on the significance of water in human life?)
  • Quotation marks.
  • Birds. (I like the notion of the mind as a bird, darting about, ceaselessly cocking its head at the world with its small bright limited eyes, pecking at morsels. And I'm captivated by the image of a bird flying out of someone's mouth, although I don't know where I got it.)
  • A chorus of floating, disapproving heads. (The court of public opinion. Fear of censure. Desire to be liked and approved of.)
  • Fruit. (Food. Desire. Temptation.)
  • Foliage. (The natural world. Growth.)

 

The level of realism, or not, with which to depict these images is an ongoing dance. And how to fit them all together into a coherent but organic structure, well - hard. The word 'mandala' kept coming to mind, and while I know a tiny bit about its usage and meaning in Buddhism, I haven't looked into it other than calling on every blogger's helpmeet, Wikipedia, which says that "In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from a human perspective." While this seems sort of like what I'm trying to do, it also sounds too neat. My head portraits need to be less symmetrical and orderly, more unplanned. Ours minds are messy. 

So here's the progress so far: 

 

First version. This is small: 16" x 12". And like the tree-people, it was done this way as a trial run for a larger version. I should note that I didn't document the first incarnations of this painting, so we're kind of starting in the middle here. I flailed away at the top for awhile, then decided it would be helpful to use cut-out shapes to work out a basic composition, as it's much easier to move little pieces of paper around than to paint them, wipe them out, and paint them 2 inches to the left. Why did it take me so long to figure this out? Do you want me to kill myself?

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Painting in the collage:

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A little more complicated (sorry about the glare):

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And:

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And:

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A bird flies in:

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Getting closer (maybe):

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