WEEKS 8 & 9:  The Nature of Reality


“You live in the image you have of the world. Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.”  ~Alejandro Jodorowsky

Flowing with momentum into weeks 8 and 9 of my watercolor class (nature studies), which started as a brief experiment in vulnerability but has now transformed into a life-changing experience, there are three things I know with conviction:

  1. I will die if I don’t create.
  2. I will not die if someone doesn’t like what I create.
  3. There will always be someone who doesn’t like what I create.
The "questionable" color combination.

The “questionable” color combination.

During our last “work sharing,” one classmate commented bluntly, “I don’t like your color choices.  They make me feel negative.”  My first reaction was extreme discomfort.  I couldn’t name the discomfort at first but I quickly realized I felt uncomfortable for making someone else uncomfortable.  After a whirlwind of feelings and potential responses buzzed through my body, I simply said, “Thank you.”

I explained that I was trying to create tension between the hard glass and soft cloth backdrop and apply a “mood” to an inanimate object.  I planned my composition and technique to a certain point and then let my emotions take over.  What I happened to be feeling that day was sadness.  My painting told that story.  I am comfortable sitting with sadness.  My classmate was not.

Going into week 8, our focus turned to botanical and nature studies.  We were to foster keen observation skills, work small-scale, use lots of detail and learn how to incorporate all of our senses to create a realistic illustration of nature.  Realistic.  That is complicated.  Reality is different to everyone.  I see color where it doesn’t actually exist and I sense vitality and life in inanimate objects where others may sense something completely dormant.

Prior to class, I meandered around my neighborhood on a quest for plants, and although I took some interesting photos and brought a number of curious looking specimens to class, I just wasn’t “feeling” any of them.

Plants in my neighborhood.

Plants in my neighborhood.

I reverted to painting an old, weathered shell – found and given to me by an old friend years ago while walking on the beach.

I am a minimalist.  I don’t keep many adornments displayed around the house, but for various reasons this shell has remained – displayed in a triad next to a smooth stone that a former coworker brought me from her property in Maine, and a large stone arrowhead I bought in Nebraska at a craft fair with my mom.  The seller priced it at $15 and claimed it was ancient.  I chose to believe him because it represented many potential realities.  My questions about its origins will always remain unanswered.  The stories my mind can create around it are endless.

WCshellstop  WCshellrealsides

Pictures of the actual shell (above).

Three views of the shell painted as I see them in my reality.

Three views of the shell painted as I see and feel them in my reality.

While attempting to paint a realistic rendition of the shell, I thought about where it came from.  Not literally.  I know that my friend picked it up from where the ocean meets the shore and put it in my hands.  But before that, how far must that shell have traveled to become so beautifully weathered and worn?  What was its story?

In the time between weeks 8 and 9, I watched a film with my boyfriend, Chris, called ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune.’

I should clarify that the 1984 version of ‘Dune,’ directed by David Lynch, is perhaps my favorite movie of all time despite the fact that it was a pitiful box office flop.  I saw it with a high school date when it was first released in theaters and have watched countless times since.  There are a few things I remember distinctly about that first viewing:

  • The fictional world of Dune was so complex that a glossary was handed out to moviegoers
  • It changed the way I see the world
  • My date thought I was crazy for liking it
  • We broke up shortly thereafter

That said, I was intrigued to discover that a screen adaptation had been created years before the movie version I fell in love with.  According to the official ‘Jorodowsky’s Dune’ website, the documentary explores the cult filmmaker’s “…adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune whose cast would have included such icons as Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger.  In 1975, following the runaway success of his art-house freak-outs EL TOPO and HOLY MOUNTAIN, Alejandro Jodorowsky secured the rights to Frank Herbert’s Dune – and began work on what was gearing up to be a cinematic game-changer, a sci-fi epic unlike anything the world had ever seen.”

For the cast, he even put his own son through “two years of grueling martial arts training to prepare for his role.”

The film was never made.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, “Was Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ a Film Better Off Unmade?” (authored by Don Steinberg in March, 2014 just prior to the documentary’s opening),  “Jodorowsky’s Dune” tells the story of a lost film masterpiece, or maybe just the weirdest unmade movie of all time.”

“The documentary has a happy ending. Crew members whom Mr. Jodorowsky had brought together went on to bigger things. Mr. O’Bannon wrote ‘Alien,’ a film for which Mr. Giger won an Oscar for designing the monster. The documentary ends with a montage of other films—‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Contact,’ ‘Prometheus,’ even ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’—that could reflect the influence of the unmade ‘Dune’ and its lavish storyboards, which had been circulated to every studio.  It’s legitimate to guess that had it been made in 1975, Mr. Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ might be considered a campy relic today. By failing to come to life, it became legend.”

To make matters even stranger, Jodorowsky chose ‘Dune’ without having read the book. “I wanted to make something sacred. A film that gives LSD hallucinations without taking LSD,” he says in the documentary. The Wall Street Journal Article mentions that the filmmaker, “…comes across in the film as passionate but not crazy.”

At the end of the documentary Jodorowsky says, “we must try.”  He says he wanted to change the consciousness of the entire planet.  He says he would die for it.

Immediately I felt that if he was willing to fearlessly try and fail at something of that magnitude, I could at least be willing to express my own consciousness without fear of criticism. I don’t know if my ‘projects’ will change the planet but they have already changed me and that’s a start.

I’ve never been a fan of Jodorowsky’s avant-garde style of filmmaking and I suspect if his version had been made, Dune would not even be on my top 100 list of favorite movies.  It’s his conviction and passion that intrigue me.

These thoughts were floating through my mind moving into week 9 – watercolor washes with ink ‘overdrawing.’  And to be honest, it was freaking me out because unlike the Wall Street Journal author, I did think Jodorowsky came across as somewhat crazy, I didn’t like his film style, and yet I felt inspired by him.  I wanted to pull back …step away from the ‘crazy’ line.  It made me uncomfortable.

A "warm-up" exercise using a 3' long stick with a brush on the end to "loosen up."

A “warm-up” exercise using a 3′ long stick with a brush on the end to “loosen up.”

Luckily I got a reprieve because our week 9 studies were right smack in the middle of my comfort zone.  My strength is drawing (particularly pen and ink), not painting, and the technique we were practicing involved lots of linear detail.  I wasn’t excited about the subject matter – vegetables and fruit – to which I certainly had no inherent personal connection.  And then I remembered – Jodorowsky began making ‘Dune’ without even having read the book.  Surely I could find some small inspiration from these objects that were right here in front of me.

As I sat there staring at the virtual veggie tray, I saw the life in them.  I saw the story.  Someone (or something) had to plant the seeds, feed them with water and fertilizer, tend to their growth, and bring them to harvest.  Someone had to bring them to market.  And after class, someone would prepare them and eat them and their nutrients would foster life.

The following images represent the original object followed by a painting of the object in “my reality.”

WCpineapplerealWCpineapple

WCcabbagerealWCcabbage

WCcarrotsrealWCcarrots

Even more interesting was to see the “reality” of other classmates side-by-side with my own (shown below).

WCpineapplegroupWCcabbage group

The more connection I have to a subject the better I can depict it. Personal connection works best, but if I observe anything closely enough, it will always have a story to tell.

Some people may prefer the reality of others’ stories over my reality.  I can’t predict how my stories will be received.  But I know one thing with certainty:  I want to be a story teller. I want to describe how things look and feel and taste and smell in my reality.  Maybe my reality will never be known – never be brought to market.  But I must make my life an artwork …or die trying.

“Every person, every artist makes his life an artwork.”  ~Alejandro Jodorowsky


To learn more about the ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ take a look at the official website of the documentary here.  

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