Sunday, October 4, 2009
I don't think I've ever had more trouble getting an image translated from mind to paper than this panther. One of the songs in You'll Always Come Back is called "Panther Song." It follows the morphing of an image through a series of lucid dreams spanning from my early twenties to the present; panther, giant guardian, lightning. Because the giant guardian appeared as a man, then lightning, I associated the image with the Yoruba orisa Sango. When I began working on YACB, that association extended to Pete Dutton.
The first lucid dream that I had went like this: I was running along the edge of a bluff in a wild place, a wilderness area south of my home. It was the golden hour just before sunset and I was exhilarated at my ability to run on a little winding path, ducking under overhanging branches and taking tight curves with ease. When I came to an opening out onto the bald rock of the cliff edge, I looked out at the forest below, the three forks of the distant creek, realized that I was dreaming, and remembered to do the preset task I had assigned myself if I should realize that I was dreaming, which was to look at my hands. But when I pulled up my hands to look at them, I heard a, yes, bone-chilling, blood-curdling scream of the panther right behind me. I panicked and woke up.
I didn't see the panther in that dream. I didn't have to. Somehow I knew exactly how it looked - a black panther-shaped hole in space with two red eyes. One eye had an inward spiraling cyclone of fire into a pinpoint, the other shot piercing rays of fire outward from the same. The dream was so disturbing that I did not want to go back to sleep in my studio and left for a couple of nights. When I settled down enough to come back, I painted the panther, led on a leash by a strange, and naked woman, like a Japanese snow demon. I guess I painted over it eventually. It was hardly the sort of thing anyone around here would hang over their couch. Now I wish I could see it again.
People around here see panthers fairly regularly. They are mythical, except to the people who see them. I remember a friend of my dad's telling him about seeing one on the part of our road that used to be called Red Clay Hill, that when its head was going in the bushes on one side of the road, its tail was still coming out of the bushes on the other. He called it a "painter."
Some years after that dream, I was camping in the valley of said dream, with a friend, and heard a scream in the deep night, way too close, and quite inhuman, though the usual description is "like a woman screaming." It made every hair on my body try to leap off, and echoed into my dreaming I'm sure.
The dream panther returned every time I had a lucid dream for many years. Eventually I got used to it, I suppose, and instead of feeling fear when it appeared, always at a distance, I started to feel safer, that it was guarding me. That's when it changed form and appeared as a giant man, or I suppose I should say a man-shaped hole in space, blackness, except for the smile and the whites of the eyes. I liked him so much that he became lightning, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I feel about him the way I feel about lightning, like the thrill in the smell of ozone, signaling the approaching presence of a beautiful but very dangerous power. The flash of spirit.
If I can coax this into a painting, my intention is to make a blue grid-work of tile shapes with the two eye wheels penetrating through it. It should be simple, and I've painted something similar before this (Meg has one called "Two Lights" - same sort of image.) - but I haven't settled on the relative proportion of blue space to eye-balls.