Variation On A NIGHTMARE
La Tour aux Serpents - The Snakes tower
Oil on canvased paper - 2018
45 X 57 cm
Johann Heinrich Füssli
1781, oil on canvas
Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts
The starting point of this painting is a dream. The dream is a powerful source of inspiration for many artists. One of the most famous paintings inspired by dreams is undoubtedly that of Füssli entitled « The Nightmare » from 1781. We see a woman lying there, deeply asleep. Her body is totally released. On her sits a dark figure who observes the watcher. In the background a mare appears behind a dark red curtain.
My experience was not a nightmare at first. As often, when we start to doze we feel a sensation of falling. This is related to a natural blood pressure drop. In my dream this meant a long fall into a dark well. The longer the fall, the less pleasant the feeling. I realized that I was falling along a wall. The wall seemed to move. A yellow glow began to arise as if a twilight sky appeared from below. I tried to focus on the wall which seemed to whisper or hiss. I realized with horror that the wall was covered with angry snakes. Millions of snakes. They were trying to reach out and bite me, but they couldn't seem to get away from that tower. I tried in my fall not to get closer to the tower, but it seemed impossible. I replayed this fall several times trying not to get caught. Sometimes I plunged into the mass of terrifying jaws, and sometimes I only bumped into their cold, wet scales.
Writing down your dreams or sketching them in a notebook is an extraordinary experience. We have the impression that our life is multiple and absolutely illogical. In art, this translates into an incredible source of inspiration, often very original.
For this composition it seemed logical to me not to represent myself since I wanted to relive the same immersive effect as the dream. This is the wall of an endless tower, so a vertical composition seemed quite appropriate. To break the static effect of verticality, the axis is slightly inclined.
It is impossible to remember exactly the details of a dream. In reality, dreams are not very detailed and we have a false impression of them. If you were shown in pictures exactly what you have just dreamed of, you would surely be disappointed. I did not remember exactly the shape of the snakes. So I decided to give them spontaneous, intuitive shapes between hydra and dragon, sharp teeth, open jaws.
The drawing is made on the ground directly with oil. The shapes are painted with burnt sienna on a cadmium yellow background. The morphology of the snakes is subtly specified with earth tones, titanium white, cadmium red and alizarin crimson.
The composition is covered with a flemish glazing.