Casa Onírica Isabel
(page under construction)
Riera Pare Fita 10
Arenys de Mar, Barcelona, Spain
Dedicated to M Isabel Pinyas de Mills, in our home in Arenys de Mar, Spain, as a gesture of love for my wife and muse, in recognition of her strength, vulnerability and her impressive transformative powers. I started this mural in November 2022 with an initial sense that the mural should be loosely about, as a point of departure, Alice in Wonderland, (Alicia en el País de las Maravillas), a favorite of Isabel. Since then, our personal histories and psychologies played an increasing role in the formation of the imagery, as did my improvisational impulses did as well. We came to identify with the main characters. A deeper theme, realized more fully late in the process, has emerged that I am ready now to articulate. The work remains incomplete, and may be so for some time as ideas and associations continue to develop. I suspect that as I work further, especially when the murals continue up the spiral staircase, a fuller reading may be available, but here is where we are as of April 2023.
The work is in charcoal, acrylic paint with some over-painting in oil. The walls are about 4 meters tall (roughly 13 feet tall) with beams and intermittent Catalan vaults. The house was built in 1887.
The Oneiric: My fascination with the unconscious, the dreamlike, hallucinatory, half-formed, realm of Morpheus, particularly as it relates to creativity, has been, for me, a unifying intellectual-spiritual-artistic and emotional conduit through life. The interest has animated a persistent interest in improvisation, as a teenager dabbling in automatic writing; having been inspired by Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (which got me into trouble, pitting Christian conservatism against modern psychology) later, and perhaps because of that with psychoanalysis, especially Jungian studies and dream work, the anima, active dreaming, improvisation as a fundamental and ecstatic process in music and painting; through reading D. H. Lawrence’s romp through the unconscious as “another word for life” (Fantasia of the Unconscious); Phenomenology, especially the work of Merleau-Pony; Carlos Castaneda’s wild and inspiring exotic ride through Yaqui shamanism, the “second attention” of the brujo; nagualism. It has continued through field studies of indigenous animism and shamanism in Costa Rica since 1986 with my colleague Jorge Luis Acevedo; research leading to a large mural on Quetzalcoatl in Cuernavaca, and other mythologically informed mural works in San Pedro, San Ramon and Santa Ana, Costa Rica and in Corvallis, Oregon.
The present mural is another manifestation of a conscious submission of will to unconscious impulses through my art. Most of my previous murals have been infused with a great deal of preparatory study to understand and compose within mythic traditions appropriate to the location and thematic purpose. At that point I improvise and hopefully it becomes more than I realized initially.
This work, composed in our 1887 home in Spain, is more personal in many ways and spans and hopefully conjoins many literary, psychological and mythic references pointing toward a reading that is perhaps accepted intuitively as a whole rather than as a coded text, per se. And so, dear reader, I can here offer my understanding of my own work but I am aware that there may be much more that my unconscious mind has embedded without asking permission. That is what I accept and embrace as an artist. The abstract theme concerns dreamlike, hallucinatory, half-formed imagery; the realm of Morpheus, (Morfeo in Spanish) a Greek god of dreams working vis-a-vis with his muses; the main characters wrapped in a dreamlike oneiric sense of time, creatures and memory where things are capable of being more than one thing at once. They emerged in my reveries rather than appear, per se.
Sacred Time, the Rabbit Hole, the Realm of the Marvelous: The mural, particularly the niche to the right, is about a mythic, primordial time, sacred time in Eliade, an innocent, nascent place of beginnings, prior to adult judgements with the inevitable traumas, complications and rationalizations that composes so much of rational thought. It is about the child’s safe, protected experience amid the spectacle of magic, the unexpected, the “marvelous” in surrealist thought. The experience of delight. The entire salon is in effect the the Rabbit Hole…a refuge from judgments, losses, and unhappiness, free of criticism, misgivings, a space of imagination, dreams, fantasies and impossibilities. To be “in the arms of Morpheus” means to be asleep.
Muse/Calliope/Iris/Anima/Queen of unspoiled hearts, the lover and muse of Morpheus, Calliope is one of the Greek muses who inspire creativity. She appears multiple times as the anima, the feminine principle. She is in mythology as the muse of Epic Poetry, the “fair voice” eldest and more important of the muses. Iris is also associate with Morpheus as his lover. She is the goddess of rainbows. In the mural, the female archetype is depicted in several forms, most notably in the mural as a maiden over the fireplace, but also in the inset niche as a child, a fetus and a young girl watching all that transpires from aloft. The maiden is also the Dama de las Espinas, related to the rose thorns. The half shell on which the maiden is standing is of course a reference to The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. The shell (conch) is also a symbol of life, the sea, and of the Camino De Santiago. It is also a leitmotif of the carved antique furniture in the house.
The red rose the figure carries, and the falling petals were originally felt to be poetic offerings; gifts of love, reminiscent, I later found, of the Saint Queen Isabel who carried roses that transformed to bread for those who were hungry. This detail is an example of either a happy accident or an emergent memory in the unconscious. That my wife’s name is Isabel, to which this mural is dedicated makes the “coincidence” all the better.
“Elizabeth (Isabel in Spanish), born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1271, was the daughter of Peter III of Aragon and was married off to King Denis of Portugal in 1282. From the beginning Elizabeth showed a great compassion to the poor. Legend says she would leave the palace disguised, in order to take food to the poor. She was very devoted to God and also passed great part of her time in prayer. One of the miracles attributed to her is the “miracle of the roses”. After the king had discovered she was leaving the palace to take food to the poor he forbade her to do it. He threatened to lock her up and confine her to the palace. She never gave up and every day she was still leaving behind the king’s back. One day in the winter time she was carrying pieces of bread hidden in her dress. The King saw her going out and stopped her asking, “What you are carrying?” She answered, “Roses, my lord.” He didn’t believe because it was winter. He asked her to show him the roses. Obediently she unfolded the dress and there were roses instead of bread.” (Carlos Ferreira)
Morpheus/Mad Hatter Sorcerer: Morpheus is derived from the Greek for ‘form’ or ‘shape’. In Greco-Roman mythology, one of the sons of Hypnos (Somnus), the god of dreams and nightmares was Morpheus, father of a thousand siblings. Hypnos, his father, had many children, but he selected Morpheus to be the god of Dreams because of his uncanny ability to assume forms and mimic living beings. Morpheus is said to not have had a wife, but some interpretations would have seen him paired with Iris, another messenger of the gods and the personification of rainbows. Some statues of Morpheus have been sculpted that depict him having one winged ear. This is said to symbolize him listening to dreams through his regular ear and delivering messages from the gods through dreams with his winged ear. Other sources suggest he has two full wings. In most versions he has two wings on his back that allowed him to travel great distances and at great speed. Morpheus is said to arrive in the underworld through a horn and to sleep himself with poppy seeds, the sedative in morphine. He came to people in sleep and assumed the forms that people dreamt. Morpheus was an artist of dreams, he could shape images and visions and make them seem alive. He could perfectly imitate a person, their voice, their walk, mannerism, and moods.
The Mad Hatter character from Alice and Wonderland is here generalized more broadly as a Morpheus character, a magician, a mago, a shaman and a trickster, creator of transformative creatures, the lover. I associate with this character, a bit whimsically but I do. A little intoxicated with magic, with the sublime, the beautiful and the marvelous. He is our host in this fanciful world. The Rabbit and the Cat are his naguals, a animal spirits, his allies, his familiars. He is the ultimate transformer, composed of his own creations. Thus, Morpheus is the god that forms the dreams, his “thousand children”. Like the Mat Hatter in Alice and Wonderland he welcome to us to the table, to enter into a stage of dream, imagination. The dragon appears overhead as the source of the power to conjure, to spawn new life.
Dragons, the Id, the Life Force: dracs” in Catalan, are ubiquitous in the portrayal of the patron saint George and the Dragon; a carnal, primordial energy, over which George triumphs. Here dragons are shown in nascent form, reminiscent of our dogs, Frankie and Calçot. The dragon is about raw energy, not yet a threat, per se, but as a symbol of teeming vital force, the id, the energy to permeate existence. The Life Force. The room is surrounded by huge coils of dragon scales…emerging and submerging, wrapping the walls in muscular coils that reminds us of the powers, seen and unseen, that which composes and surrounds us.
Morpho Butterflies and Dragon Flies: The blue tropical Morpho butterflies reiterate Morpheus, and are drawn from a personal memory from Isabel and my travels to Costa Rica. To me, they add to the theme in a beautiful, poetic way, consistent with Calliope’s inspiration and an exotic magical moment. The butterflies are allies who hover in space…transform and transfix the viewer, they portend happiness and joy. Dragonflies are intended to represent happiness, new beginnings. In world mythologies the dragonfly frequently signifies hope, change, and love, and is a self-chosen symbol of Isabel’s independence and sense of freedom. To some Native Americans, the dragon fly represents the souls of those who have passed into the realm of the nonphysical. In general, they represent to me happiness, freedom and prosperous new beginnings, signifiers of Isabel; her nagual….light and pretty, delicate.
Intertwined White Swans: Symbols of purity, beauty, and elegance. Swans are known to mate for life. And so, having a dream of interaction with two swans could be a premonition of love and what’s to come. Spotting two swans together is a symbol of true love, intertwined even more; an unfolding romance, a good omen of a long-lasting and happy relationship with a partner. It is also a representation of the trust and loyalty that is shared between two people in love. They represent, in the context of this mural, healing, protection and magic. Swans also symbolize harmony and the ability to endure with grace and purity in your heart. In Ancient Greece, the swans were associated with Aphrodite.
Landscape: The forest, hills and sky is depicted in Catalonia in winter and later I plan to leaf it out this summer, but time not linear or consistent in this realm. I was inspired by the local landscape in Alella around Isabel’s old family home, in Tossa Del Mar and in the hills of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Local references: From the carved cornices at the Calisay cultural center and fountains in Arenys I borrowed certain animal and bird elements for the murals. They have been substantially reworked.