The images in my paintings and drawings are influenced by the artwork of the European surrealists, primarily Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, and Rene Magritte. Early surrealists explored free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious in order to develop images that liberate the imagination.
Composition in surrealism is more aligned with the essence of the subconscious vision than with set conventions of visual balance and straightforward rational representation. The images disregard the formal aesthetic appearance, though not to the extent of the earlier Dada movement.
As I studied surrealism and delved into its history, I discovered the underlying reason why I admire the art of its practitioners. I see a certain freedom in their works that appeals to me as I express myself in the same manner. The idea of surrealism that Robert Short expresses in his book, Dada and Surrealism, is “…to cultivate every experience which permitted the imagination to challenge immediate circumstance and receive wisdom or to liberate desire.” Short goes on to say, “…as he (man) revealed the world that might be, so man would endeavor to convert the potential into the real. The artist was leading the struggle to raise reality to the level of man’s dreams.”
Surrealism is a way to perceive the world through the connection of the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. This connection, I believe, is the source of imagination. It is a way of thinking that liberates the mind. As Andre Breton states, “…from the constraints of the conventional with the aim of recovering the original powers of the spirit.” After all, we are spirits trying to make sense of our physical world. Man has, from his earliest times, used images to relate his journey to greater knowledge and understanding. This concept is one of the motifs in my painting The Space Between. On either side of the door is an image of a bull. On the door’s right is a cave painting from Lacroix and on the left is a Picasso assemblage, The Bull. The space between the two images is not only time but also the span of growth and awareness accomplished because we as a species can actually make our dreams come true. But most importantly, we can imagine things that have never been seen or thought of before. In Peter Gabriel’s song, “Mercy Street,” the lyrics state:
Looking down on empty streets, all she can see are the dreams all made solid, the dreams all made real. All of the buildings, all of the cars, were once just a dream in somebody’s head.
So the visions you see in my artwork are derived from this perspective of making dreams real. When I first sit down to sketch, I consider that any possibility is potential material for a painting. This infinite openness allows me the freedom to use as a starting point anything that pops into my head. From that point, a stream of subconscious insight manifests associations that I consciously accept or reject. The process is like randomly selecting images for a collage from pictures found in books or magazines. The images are then consciously selected, cut out, and arranged into a final alternate form that creates a whole new image and meaning. I am not sure where the line between one’s conscious choice and subconscious choice lies. I often wonder if this undefined area is where imagination forms in a melding of tangible thought and complex concepts. We have dreams, visions, and fantasies. Perhaps these form a common ground on a subconscious level where our spirits connect with nature or the universal spirit of which we are all a part.
Nature is the world we wake up to every day. Using landscapes in my paintings is a conscious choice to connect abstract vision to reality. This connection symbolizes that man and his spirit are one with nature and not separate. Additional symbolic characters or elements I choose for a painting, such as dogs, birds, or timepieces, invite the viewer to relate to the symbols and participate in the narrative.
I am inspired, and I see a world in which our spirits can play. William E. Young