Transformation through Painting

By Marie Perret

I started to paint regularly when I was living in Zurich and struggling to learn German. I knew that I had to find some other freedom of expression because my verbal expression was so limited and I wanted to develop and strengthen my intuition. So I started to go to an ‘Ausdrucksmalen’ (free expression) atelier. This was a closed room with no windows and a palette of eighteen gouache colours in the centre of the room. We painted standing up, using the walls as a support. There was no teaching of technique.

At first I was terrified when I was confronted with a white piece of paper looming hugely on the wall in front of me. My mind would start to panic: “You can’t possibly do this, you can’t paint, you’ll make a fool of yourself.” Somewhat used to this reaction when confronted with new situations, I took a few deep breaths, looked at the colours and began. I wanted my paintings to come from within, and not to interfere with my thoughts. I simply let my hand move as it wanted, and eventually I would get caught up in a flow of inspiration that had its own dynamic and great certainty.

I was absolutely overjoyed when I realised that I could actually produce a painting and I really started to enjoy myself. Once I got in contact with a flow, I painted rather fast and could finish even a large paintings within an hour. Sometimes I painted two or three one after the other. There were many times when I contacted strong emotions while painting and sometimes I got physical reactions in my body during or after the session.

After a while rather unusual things began to occur. I came into contact with sound, with inner music, with movement while I painted. Sometimes I had the impression of a high pitched sound linking to colour that would lead me towards an opening where my awareness would go into another dimension. It was like a video, a space where I would know about birth, about death experiences and experiences in the Bardo state. I also gained information about my own thought processes which I could never have expressed verbally had I not experienced these truths through painting.

Often I would begin to dance and then, later, I began with my own kind of Tai Chi movements and with singing. In the weeks between painting sessions I practised meditation and purification exercises. My experience showed me that painting was like opening a visual dimension of my inner journey, hitherto inaccessible to me. It has led me to reflect on creativity and its meaning and usefulness in our lives. It has also caused me to become fascinated by polarity: the relationship between male and female principles, between light and dark, yin and yang. We need to have an evolving balance between these aspects to be able to function in a satisfying and harmonious way in our lives.

When we paint or play music and concentrate on the experience in the present, then we are working on this balancing of the male/female polarity. We are able to go into unknown dimensions of ourselves and finally move into a dimension beyond polarity. It is important not to go into chaotic and undisciplined expression that is cut off from feelings, as a way of escape.

My experience with painting showed me that it was necessary to put aside ideas I had learned about art, and trust that my intuitive knowledge would guide me. It is not by chance that we employ words like “bubbling up”, or “flowing” or “outpouring” when we talk of creativity. This links us to water, to the flow of life, to the watery realm of the unconscious, to the water area of the body. When I first painted I seemed to be journeying through a watery and emotional realm, in an attempt to balance the opposites within myself. Now I see that in order to receive the unknown there has to be a space and that my first paintings were a record of that process of creating an inner space.

To work truly with creativity is a delicate process that demands both a discipline and a trust on the artist’s part. We must open up and trust a flow which is intangible, fluid and uncontrollable. It has to do with opening to a non-physical dimension that can be received and transmitted on to the physical plane. If this dimension of feeling/spirit is missing in art then what we get is either a record of individual despair and neurosis or simply a display of technique and skill.

Our western societies are like the kingdom of the Fisher King that has become a waste land. The source of water, of creativity, of living spirituality has dried up. We are badly in need of renewal. It is only through individual transformation that society can heal. In the last few years I have integrated this dimension of creativity more and more in my healing work. Since living in France I have worked for two years with adolescents which has been a fascinating and enriching period for me.

Their paintings have brought forward two different dimensions: on the one hand their own wisdom and search for meaning and, on the other, paintings which reflect their lack of balance and their problems. At times there has been a holy and beautiful atmosphere in the atelier. If this life energy could be seen, respected and validated for what it is, then we as a society would greatly benefit. Once we can open up and allow paintings to flow out, so can we open up to allow ourselves to create our lives. We learn to go beyond the conditioning that we have received and which has so often limited our lives. We learn to listen to our intuition that will always be ready to guide us.

If we understand the principle of creation through learning to create in a supportive and encouraging environment, then we can slowly transfer this knowing into our lives. The process of creating a beautiful garden, a business, a house is not so very different from creating a painting. Once we learn to link feelings to actions by practising with a creative art form, then this mental routine gradually becomes second nature.

The interpretation of paintings is a fascinating subjects as each colour, shape, form, figure gives precise information about a person’s body, emotions and unconscious processes, although it is not always necessary and, in fact, can be counter productive to interpret a person’s work. It is sometimes enough to be seen and silently acknowledged in the act of being fully alive. At other times it can be invaluable to understand the symbolic language that the unconscious uses to communicate. Above all, painting in this way is a wonderful means to study and closely observe the way a person uses their energy in the present, and thus is a living therapy.

To sum up: a non-product oriented art form (painting, clay, writing, music, dance) can be used as a powerful tool of transformation if we allow the feel­ing aspect to speak freely. The emphasis must be on the experience of creativity as it is lived in the present moment.

True creativity is the coming together of opposites to produce a third and previously unknown aspect. Our relationship to creativity reflects the relationship of the male and female polarity within us, and will eventually evolve into a harmonious relationship if we continue to work regularly with our creativity. We may need some guidance in this process. The creative process is then rather like a meditation in action and this can have a deeply transformative and healing effect on the artist. After a period of emotional clearance the artist can contact ‘spiritual’ or higher consciousness energy that can be integrated and expressed into a physical dimension through the chosen medium, for example, painting. This process is beneficial for the artist, but can also have the effect of renewing the spiritual life of the community.

Creativity helps people to learn about pleasure, and joy. It therefore opens a path out of fear and the paralysing effect this can have on the body, the mind and the reaching out towards spirituality. Creativity teaches us something about the dignity and the beauty of spirit that abides in human beings.

Marie Perret has experience in healing work and in esoteric anatomy. She lives in France and is art art therapist and counsellor. She is planning to run a residential workshop in Ireland in the summer of 1995. Anyone interested may contact Judith Ashton, telephone: 056 24928.