Jenny Badger Sultan
My intentions as an artist are to work from my inner experiences and bring them into relationship with timeless human spiritual and emotional realities through the process of image-making and experimentation with materials. Art has always been for me a process of self-discovery, healing, and integration. I have focused for many years on the inner world and the coming together of life experiences, feelings, dreams, visions and their manifestation in visual imagery.
While working I often enter that timeless space where I feel connected to the ancient past, the symbols and archetypal images of peoples of the world, my own personal history and symbols and current world events. The painting becomes a container where insights can occur at many levels through the process of interacting with the materials and the imagery; very often physical layering takes place as well.
I have been keeping a dream journal since 1969 and grew up in a family where dreams were shared. In my journey, through dreams, inner work and the process of painting, I have made contact with images which have been very important and moving to me in developing the spiritual basis of my life. Much of the imagery that has emerged has dealt with spiritual processes, initiation, goddess beings, chthonian sacred places and sacred landscapes. Since I was a child, I have been strongly drawn to the myths and art of ancient cultures and to the art of indigenous peoples around the world.
My own commitment to painting from inner sources became clear to me in l968 with a painting called The Doors to the Moon, which came from a dream and felt like an initiation, a path. Sometimes I work with a specific dream image or a group of dreams. Other times I am inspired by an image that appears in meditation, visualization or active imagination. And very often I work spontaneously and without conscious intention, applying color and texture to the canvas until the image begins to take form on its own. One painting may include all these ways of working.
In many of the large paintings that are based on dreams, I work for quite a while to create a fertile ground on the canvas. This could consist of a highly textured surface out of which images may begin to emerge or it can consist of a place, a setting, an environment to house the dream images. As I am doing the groundwork, cultivating the surface of the the canvas with color and texture, then the main dream image comes to me, and I say, "Oh, yes, that is what I must paint on this canvas, that is what I have been doing this preparation for." It might be a strong dream which comes while I am preparing the ground or it might be an earlier dream which suddenly comes forward. Occasionally the painting is an evocation of one clear dream. But often, once I begin to develop the main image, then other dream images and symbols come up, either from current dreams or past dreams, and I recognize that they, too, are part of this painting. In this way, new insights, new relationships and meanings emerge. Since the large paintings develop over many months, I like to stay open to new information from the dream world that may appear during the process.
Some of the play and experimentation involved in the early stages of a painting might include collage elements, monoprint and silk-screened images, decalcomania, stamping, resist, pouring and scraping transparent glazes. There is a chaotic quality that I enjoy, keeping me open to spontaneous ideas and accidents.
Masks have played an important role in my life. When I was very young, 2 or 3, and we visited friends who had made and displayed many masks in their home, I would scream and scream as I looked at the masks. Finally our friends put them away so I wouldn’t have to see them.
As an adult I was moved to make a mask because of a frightening dream of The Mother who was Trying to Kill me. I used a balloon and papier mache to create this one-eyed bald person from the dream. I had hoped to be able to dialogue with this figure but found the mask to be so disturbing that I didn’t get very far. This started my involvement with making masks. Mad Man was an effort to give form to anger--both as I had encountered it from others and from within myself. Old Weirdo was a super simple mask made on a balloon which took on all kinds of personalities when someone wore it and spoke for it.
Gorilla was made of papier maché over a clay base. It represents my affinity with gorillas, who feel like totem animals to me, as in Two Gorillas in the Field in Box of Dreams. Doll for the Exorcism of Pain used a latex mask made on a plaster cast of my face. It came out very distorted and I decided to sew it onto a doll I had made to help release childhood pain.
After a while I wanted to make masks that were more comfortable to wear. I found out about plaster bandages, which at the time I had to buy from medical supply stores. Many of the masks from here on used a plaster bandage base formed on my face, with additions, either on the face itself or the superstructure, using papier mache. They are very comfortable and I have worn them frequently in Dia de los Muertos processions.
Many of these masks were just experiments, without any deep or symbolic meaning--Red Bird (1985), Dryad, Alien, Solar Disc, and Star. Luminosity uses an idea for creating light using the value scale--an assignment I used to give in my Basic Design classes.
The Mask for the Circulation of the Positive came directly from a dream (Dream of the Negative and Positive Masks). It was formed from canvas on a chickenwire base. I made it and the canvas robe for a ritual celebration that was the culmination of a class called “The Universal Mask” that I taught at U.C. Santa Cruz in 1983.
My most recent mask, Forest Spirit, is a musical one--the hanging bones are from a dead pelican I found at Ocean Beach. I buried it in my backyard until the bugs had cleaned the bones.Being hollow, they make a beautiful sound when they clink together.
Decalcomania is a technique I have used for many years to access imagery from my unconscious. It is a surrealist technique and was used by Max Ernst, Oscar Dominguez, and Remedios Varo among others. My version has many variations but the goal is to create a surface with lots of textural variety and interest so that when I gaze at it, images begin to appear from the accidents of the paint and I am able to clarify them using glazes and small additions of paint. As a child, lying in bed and looking up at the ceiling, I saw pictures in the uneven surface of the unpainted stucco. Looking at clouds and seeing creatures, landscapes, castles, etc. draws upon the same imaginative sources.
When painting with oils I would apply paint to pieces of paper, textured wallpaper, etc. and press them onto the canvas (which usually had a colored ground). This process would go on for weeks or months (letting the oil paint dry between applications to avoid muddiness) until the surface felt varied and rich enough to allow the imaging process to begin.
Examples of this approach are: The Great Goddess (inside the figure), The Pool in the Garden in Chaos (outer portions), The Child’s Room (inner portion) and Desert Vision of the Goddess.
When I began to work with acrylic a whole new world of possibilities opened up. For one thing, I could do many layers much more quickly because of the rapid drying time. For another, water has very different qualities than turpentine or paint thinner. Often I would apply a transparent glaze on a horizontal canvas, then lay pieces of thin bond paper on top, press gently, watch them wrinkle up and then pull them up quickly, revealing wonderful textures. I might repeat this process many times, until the colors and textures seemed ripe with possibilities.
Examples of this process are: Diving Deep, Snaketree, Moon and Fire Rising, and Emergence: Fire Under Water (left).
Once the images start to appear I use many additional ways of adding to the surface, direct painting, pressing on painted pieces of foam, plastic, packing materials, snake skin, leaves, anything that can leave a trace. For me, part of the wonder and excitement of working in these ways is that there are lots of surprises, images I never would have come up with otherwise. In fact, the first time I did an extended drawing in this way, using colored pencil on a varied ink print, the creatures who appeared were so weird and unsettling that I felt somewhat nauseated as I worked on it. After that initiation, I began to accept and enjoy the strangeness.
ON COMPOSITE IMAGES
Another approach that has been an important part of my working process is the creation of Composite images. Composites can take many forms, from a strict grid or other pattern containing separate images, as in the Calendar Drawings or Personal Excavations, to the actual stitching together of separate pieces of canvas, as in Dream of the Dance. The Box of Dreams puts separate small dream paintings into a physical container out of which they can be taken and arranged in various configurations. For details and examples, see the Gallery of Composites.
With the Composites, relationships through time and proximity can develop.