Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dream Watching

My first engagement with Dream Watching occurred when I was about 20. A peer at a social gathering posed the question: "Do you dream in Technicolor or in Black-and-White." (At that time "technicolor" films were a novelty).

Even though my dreams felt very real, I did not know the answer to this question, nor did my peers. So, in the nights that followed, I observed my dreams.

I found:

  • Dreams are in technicolor.
  • The dream-master uses a policy of extreme economy of "paint." You see the detail of what you are focused on, but the rest of the picture is more "understood to be there" rather than actually seen. When you move your focus, the detail in what you are newly focused on is immediately provided.
  • The style of painting is Caravaggio, rather than El Greco
  • The technique of chiaroscuro is widely used as part of the policy of economy, although the dream-artists are allowed to give extravagant colour-patterns and impressionist effects as special exhibits when required. (I think the latter are more often viewed in the "vacant or reflective mood" prior to sleep than in the actual dreams, which follow Caravaggio pretty loyally).
  • Perspective in dreams is always perfect. This is amazing considering how contrived perspective is in paintings. Dream-artists get it right first time all the time at perhaps 30 frames per second!
Around that time, I took my sketch pad and box of paints up into the mountains. I had an idea that, just by being there, rather than stuck in a room at home, I could magically "capture" the atmosphere of the scene. It was a dull day, and my picture turned out to be a brown-grey mess. Painting is an artifice, and, whether in the studio or en scene, must be contrived.

It is remarkable how Caravaggio managed apparently to copy dream images extremely faithfully. In sleep, or in reflection, we can conjure up amazing images. Stand in front of a canvas, however, and all you have in your head is blank space. You can't project those amazing images onto the canvas: you have to re-create them by artifice.

A few years later, I had occasion to visit Jesuit, Micheál Mac Gréil, at Miltown Park. I paused on my way in to view a large painting that hung over a stairs. "What do you think of that?" asked Mícheál. "It looks like a Caravaggio," I said. "Do you think it's a Caravaggio?" asked Mícheál, "it came down from our house up in Scotland, and it is thought to be by a minor Scottish artist." "Ah no," I said. "I am no expert. I only said that it looks like a Caravaggio. It could, of course, be a copy by a student-artist, or a picture 'in the style of' Caravaggio." The net point of this story is that years later the Jesuits submitted the painting to the National  Art Gallery for cleaning and evaluation, and it turned out to be a genuine Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, now on view in Ireland's National Art Gallery.

A note on perspective is relevant at this point. We all learned at school that all parallel lines meet on the horizon, and I have seen art-critics rehash this principle as if it were gospel truth. A neighbour of mine (now deceased) propounded to me the theory that the preaching classes (teachers, preachers, journalists, politicians and critics) are people who are not able to do anything (i.e., do not excel at any craft) and, therefore, make out in professions where all they have to do is preach. The idea that all parallel lines meet on the horizon is true only where the landscape is flat.  Every incline in a landscape produces its own false horizon where its parallels meet. Indeed, where the slope of a rising or falling road is not constant but increasing or decreasing, every change in the slope produces its own horizon.

Here is a photo of a picture I painted about ten years after the initial experiment described above. This again is a "grey" scene: a wintry stormy sea-scene. I did not stand at the location vainly trying to capture the atmosphere in the rain-spotted wind, but took a photograph and returned to my chalet to do the  painting. A photograph itself must be artificed. You can't just whip out your camera and expect to "capture" the atmosphere of the scene. You must select your objects and walk around until they make a satisfactory composition. When you come to paint the scene, you can remember the feeling of the place, leave out unnecessary detail, re-arrange the objects, and manipulate the palate to give the feeling you wish the painting to have.

The over-all wintry grayness is alleviated by choosing objects of high contrast.  The furthest objects are misted down. The golden-brown yellow of the grasses is reflected in the grey sky and brightened with touches of red in the foreground. The road leads down to the sea-front, so is drawn in perspective to a false horizon way below the real one, and leads the eye in to the turbulent waters.

My next bout of dream-watching came years later. I was reading the autobiographical "Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman," of Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner, and observed how he engaged in a period of Jungian dream-watching. The technique is simple: when you go to bed,  tell yourself that you will observe your dreams. This keeps a part of the brain alert while you are sleeping and you are able to watch the dreams as if you are an outside observer rather than a participant. If you don't understand  something in the dream, you can ask "the Director" of the dream, and he will keep you informed.

Following Feynman's lead, I spent a while observing my dreams. Amazingly, I solved the riddle of all of my childhood nightmares, which had continued to my middle age, but disappeared when resolved.
These nightmares were:

The Greek Temple
I seemed to be inside a Greek Temple. Life was cosy enough there, but I  desired to visit the world outside. (I had wondered if this nightmare was a memory of a previous life). When I approached the door, however, the sunlight outside was so strong that it hurt my eyes, and I retreated to the dim inside. When I was dream-watching, I noticed those spikes that are found in the triangular architectural feature over the door. "How," I asked the dream, "can I see those spikes if I am  inside?" Then I focused closer on the spikes. They were not spikes at all, but frills. The frills, in fact, of the ribbon-thing that hangs down from the shade of a baby's pram. Suddenly, I knew the true story of the dream. My mother would often put the baby's pram outside in the sunshine. The sun gradually moved across the sky, and the pram had to be turned around to keep the sun out of the baby's eyes. On one occasion, the pram had not been turned in time and the sun blinded my eyes as a lay in the pram. This was quite traumatic, and my sub-conscious mind kept stirring the memory until a satisfactory explanation was found, through dream-watching.

The Abyss, or Migraine Dream
I used to wake  up from this dream with a migraine. I dreamt I was but a speck and was hanging from a very thin filament, suspended between two cliffs and overhanging a bottomless abyss. My situation was very  insecure. A good shake of the filament, and I would be thrown off into the abyss. There was a great voice shouting from one cliff and being answered by an equally great voice on the other cliff. The roar of their voices made the cliffs and my filament shake, so I was in grave danger. The voices were those of Hitler and Stalin. Their foreign words were unclear to me, but their meanings were, "I will rule the  world," "No, I will rule the world." Now, observing the dream, I asked, "Are they really the voices of Hitler and Stalin," and no! they were, in fact, the muffled voices of my father and mother. The words were not discernible, but indicated a disagreement. The muffling of the voices was like the muffling of sounds during a migraine aura, so here is the explanation: I was having a migraine while still in my mother's womb. This was the correct explanation, and this dream never recurred after that.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Great Stadium

My elder brother died on Christmas Day, and I think this dream is a reminder that life goes on.

I dream I am in a great and magnificent stadium. It is more extensive than any stadium I have ever seen. There are places in the stadium for multiple activities: a skating area next to a parkland; a swimming area and areas for multiple sports, hurling, football, hockey and so on. There are also cafés and restaurants, theatre areas, concerts, folk groups. There is even a church: a traditional, light-filled, neo-gothic church; but the congregation is outside the building, sitting at café-style tables. Sitting, yes, but also moving around from table to table, smiling and conversing and exchanging ... ideas. They listen to each others' opinions, smile and laugh and shake hands.

Over the entire stadium there is a great dome of a roof. Up there near the edge of the dome there is an extensive platform, and on it is ... my neighbour "Emmet." He is standing on the platform with the nozzle of a hoze in his hands, and with this nozzle he is spraying the ceiling of the dome. He points the nozzle towards the ceiling and sprays a thick stream of cream-coloured paint onto the ceiling. When the stream of paint meets the ceiling, the paint spreads out evenly in every direction. The roof is very large and wide, but Emmet's stream of paint is so strong and copious that it quickly spreads the cream colour over the entire ceiling. The stadium is, however, continually expanding, and, as it expands, the cream colour is stretched and thinned and ultimately begins to crack into a network of little cracks. "Not to worry," says Emmet: "I have it covered," and true to his word, he quickly re-sprays the dome, restoring its lovely cream colour. In all this spraying not a drop falls on the people beneath.

It is clear that "Emmet" is working under the supervision of his brother. No, not his brother "Barry," but his international financier brother that only exists in my dreamland.

Then focus shifts to other people in the stadium, surprisingly ordinary people that I know. But as focus shifts to each one in turn, I see that each featured person has an important function to carry out. A theatrical performance, for example, has a stage-designer that really sets the atmosphere for the performance, besides a stage-manager that keeps the show going like clock-work, in addition to the front-of-stage performers. Sports' teams have trainers and jersey-minders. Throughout the stadium there are myriad people working away, all independently, and all necessary to the smooth operation of the stadium's activities.

Emmet's financier brother does not seem to interfere in anything, yet, in some mysterious way, has a pervading oversight over all.

Oh, oh! Focus shifts to me. What am I supposed to be doing? I stand, up to my waist, in soft potter's clay. I am trying to apply the clay to the moving walls around me to create forms and shapes. A potter normally stands beside a rotating table and, with his hands, shapes a pot from a ball of clay as it rotates. I seem to be inside the rotating thing, trying to shape it from the inside. Well, not entirely: I also  seem to have an external view of the creations. I am using the clay more like a sculptor than a potter, I think. A microphone is placed in my hand, and I am supposed to address the crowd in the stadium. What am I supposed to say? I say:

"Who am I? Well, I was a civil servant and I retired. I was a Chief Examiner of Titles and I retired. Then I became a consultant, a Land Registration Consultant, and then I retired. What am I now? I am trying to be a ... modeller, perhaps."

I saw the eyes of the multitude looking at me approvingly. I had a flash of inspiration. I extended my two arms, palms towards the crowd, and declared: "I am one of the  creators."

At this point I woke up.