May 22, 2010

Accessing the unconscious mind

From time-to-time, Black Hills Monitor will share perspectives on different art forms. Good friend Dick Hicks, who grew up and went to school in Detroit, later taking a degree from the University of Iowa, has lived in Spearfish for many years. A retired art professor at Black Hills State University, Dick wrote this piece about painter Roy Kramlich and shares it here.
Roy Kramlich, local artist, has a display of paintings at the Green Bean Coffeehouse. The building, a remodeled older house, is located at 304 N. Main Street, Spearfish.

Roy, a native of Mobridge, attended Black Hills State University. He is now employed locally. Independently of this, he works as Artist in Residence at the Spearfish Art Center

Roy’s work has been influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, a movement that existed in New York City from 1940 to 1960. In this movement, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline have had the strongest impact on him.

Looking at Roy’s work, I see more of Jackson Pollock than anyone else. Pollock, a native of Wyoming, came to New York in the 1930s to study with the Regionalist painter, Thomas Hart Benton. Later, because he was an alcoholic, his family sent him to a Jungian therapist. Unable to get Pollock to talk about his problems, the therapist tried to reach him through drawings, which he subsequently analyzed in terms of Jungian symbolism.

The therapy was unsuccessful in that Pollock was reticent about delving into the contents of his personal life. However, the technique did open a pathway for him in terms of personal artistic expression.

Jung, along with Sigmund Freud and others, was responsible for the discovery of the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind exists along side the conscious, rational mind of everyday consciousness. They resemble two parallel rivers each flowing in the human soul. The unconscious mind contains drives, experiences, and imaginations the mind is not aware of. Nevertheless, they exist and exert their influence on the human being. For Freud, the sexual drive exerted a strong influence on the conscience mind.

On the other hand, for Jung, the unconscious mind exhibits itself in a series of archetypal symbols and images. Examples of this would be the evangelical animals of Christian art of the Middle Ages. The four writers of the gospels have their symbols: Luke – bull (will forces); Mark – lion (heart forces); John – Eagle (intellect); Matthew – (blend of others).

Neurotic symptoms such as hysteria, panic attacks and other abnormal behaviors can be considered as expressions of the unconscious mind. The strange and seemingly irrational content of dream images flow from the unconscious mind. These impulses have been repressed and pushed down into the sub-conscious mind where they wait to resurface.

In his artwork, Jackson Pollock attempted to access the unconscious mind. The result was an art that was non-objective. That is to say, there are no recognizable images from the physical world – it is a world of swirling lines and colors bursting with energy. He painted on huge canvases that were laid flat on the floor. He dripped paint onto the canvas using vigorous motions. One looks through layers of dripped paint, which creates a feeling of space.

Like Jackson Pollock’s work, Roy’s paintings are non-objective and executed energetically. There is no relationship between the lines and forms in his work and the shapes of the physical world. Various colors can express a mood: reds and yellows could mirror a happy mood. He uses reds and blacks a lot. He begins with no plan in mind and states he doesn’t want to think about it too much. The ideas seem to be tied into the physical act of painting. And his source of inspiration is the unconscious mind.

To Roy, experimentation is more important than making a finished product and making a sale. He refuses to add flowers that possibly would make his work more popular. The power of the lines and colors seem to extend beyond the limits of the canvas which is why he likes to work so large. He is following an inner impulse which has to do with freedom and self-expression rather than reproducing an image of the physical world.

The painting “The Cold, Cold Ground” (above) shows a layered colored surface. Patterns of black, red and some yellow lines stand out over a green ground. The lines, vigorously done, seem to be mainly vertical with some diagonals. The whole surface is energetic and full of movement. .

This movement seems to extend beyond the surface of the canvas into the space of the room. The drawings of very young children consist of mainly verticals and horizontal lines. We are told this is an exploration of physical space for them. Also, where lines cross each other in children’s art, the X shape stands for the emerging ego. What does the repetitions of these basic patterns in Roy’s art mean? Is it an asserting of the ego, seeking self-expression and freedom, and an opposition to normal conventions?

On the other hand, the painting “News” seems to be quite different. Instead of dramatic verticals and diagonals, quiet horizontal lines move across the picture. A toned down yellow surface stands in front of a newspaper collage background. It seems almost minimalist (art reduced to its simplest forms). Sometimes in his work, a kind of script or writing comes out of the background. Does this show an oriental influence? In contrast to the first painting, this message seems quieter and more contemplative.

Therefore, if the external aspect of art is a reflection of an inner state (originating from the unconscious) and, as such, not known to the conscious mind, we are seeing a diversity of expression. The two paintings described here indicate this. If nothing else, perhaps this reveals the complexity of the human soul.

The ancient Greeks believed, under the influence of the sun god Apollo, art would follow rules, be logical, ordered, and have an intellectual content. Thus, a Greek temple exhibits all these qualities. The disadvantage of this influence is that it can become too rigid.

The Greeks also believe that art, under the influence of the god of wine and theatrical arts, Dionysus, was wild, frenzied, emotional and sensuous. This type of art would be mirrored in Abstract Expressionist art. Its disadvantage might be that it is too personal and repetitive.

Personally, I find the art of Roy Kramlich to be vibrant, free, and expressive. Examining it more closely has given me the opportunity to delve into the realm of the unconscious mind and its importance for everyday life.

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