Material Imagination

Charcoal drawing by Judith reeve

What is the origin of one’s creative ideas or source of one’s imagery? Although, I myself, am constantly creating new images, I find this question of interest too. Pinpointing the source of images or dwelling on the moment when the image arrives or creating the space for what is calling for expression to rise up are of profound interest to the artist. My blog has sought to focus on this as well with what I feel is a hallmark of creativity- that being attentiveness. In Edward Hirsch’s book, “The Demon and the Angel” he uses Lorca’s idea of Duende as the starting point to locate that inner material or spiritual energy that will transform the artist’s intentions into the poem or dance or painting. Duende is the vital source from which all great work emerges.

Duende could also be described as prima materia in a Jungian sense. This primary matter is described as dark because it is hidden from consciousness and cannot be seen clearly. It is similar to what physicists describe as “dark matter” that exists in the universe- we know it is out there but we cannot clearly identify exactly what it is. There is an earthly connotation to duende because it springs from within or as Rilke describes it, it descends from above to join with earthly matter. Images appear in painting and literature that are direct descriptions of this dark underlying force. In “The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley, the stallion represents that force vividly. In the scene where the boy takes the Black to the race track for the first time, he mounts the horse in the dead of night and races, letting go of the reins and clutching the mane with white knuckles. The boy loses consciousness because of his inexperience and the tremendous speed of the Black. The trainer must mount another horse to bring the boy and the Black to a halt. And he must pry the boys fingers from the stallion as the boy descends into a faint. The Black could be nothing else but duende personified.

Rainer Marie Rilke explains the necessity of attentiveness (for duende) as a ‘consciousness of death.’ Consciousness of one’s mortality becomes the impetus for one’s creativity. We must “seize the day.” When one comes face to face with death, not always a literal death, it creates a compulsion within the artist to complete the work and bring it to fruition. Time becomes the chariot, driving one along, the horses moving at break neck speed. One feels compelled to attentiveness and to accomplish the task at hand. Bringing any image to reality in the world is a kind of death to self- where the ego lies. It can also be described as a kind of ‘possession’- the image takes charge as it seeks form. Baudelaire, Delacroix, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy describe it as such. Sometimes this possession takes on an imaginative form. Baudelaire once described a dream he had where his companion in the dream was a ‘dark figure, almost dwarf like, crude and malformed who followed him, always appearing out of the corner of his eye.’

Hirsch states that Lorca’s poems were filled with what Lorca called “hecho poetico (poetic fact or poetic event), images that followed a strange inner logic ‘of emotion and of poetic architecture,’ metaphors that arose so quickly that in order to be understood they demanded a sympathetic attentiveness, a capacity for rapid association and for structured reverie, and a willing suspension of disbelief.” (Edward Hirsch, The Demon and the Angel,p.5) Lorca’s idea of rapid association (or the ability to link objects and ideas metaphorically) relates, I think, to the artist’s sense of intuition. Although, most artist’s work in isolation it is amazing how years later when their work is viewed it is seen as having a direct association to a larger context. Intuition taps into a form that lies hidden under the surface of things. Intuition allows the artist to believe in his own solitary voice and that his voice matters. Intuition gives one a key to embracing a deeper center. It allows the artist to see hidden associations and relationships between things. It allows one to recognize forces that lie outside oneself that are not easily controlled.

Reverie is key to creativity. Bachelard’s sense of reverie as the true source or window which the artist can peer into the world of his imagination and call forth an image that dwells there, has been recognized by Hirsch as well. Structured reverie allows the mind space to flow between one’s inner life and images that reside in the world that surround him. Reverie creates an active and free space open to all possibilities-one’s we have yet to imagine. Duende finds its potential through reverie. Duende in a sense is passion. Passion opens the door for the image to enter.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

0 thoughts on “Material Imagination”

  1. Judith,
    Reading this blog put me in a kind of reverie I wanted it not to end. Your writing complements your art work very well. I am curious about structured reverie. Would that be contemplating a particular idea or subject and seeing what images unfold?

    1. Whit,
      Structured reverie is just what you say- it is contemplating a subject or a piece of writing or poetry and allowing one’s mind to wander around it and take the journey of it’s own choosing. One cannot force an image or idea to come. One has to allow it to come of its own accord. When I know I am approaching the end of one area of work and am going to begin something new shortly, I allow time for reverie- not expecting anything at first but giving myself the time to see what will emerge. With such a practice in place, one can be easily be surprised by the images that rise up from this “empty” space. One needs to have this intimate relationship between one’s interior self in place. When one has aligned oneself in this way images will come at the appropriate time. They will make themselves known without provocation.

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