gestural painting, subconsciousness and archetypes in my series of gestural abstract paintings
gestural painting, subconsciousness and archetypes

gestural painting, subconsciousness and archetypes

gestural painting titled beast
pre 2020

Until 2020, I mainly painted figuratively. After trying harder and harder to reduce, I came to a dead end, so to speak. Then I started something like a new beginning and that with the help of what is generally described as abstract painting.

my last portrait painting – c. 1989

since 2020

Since I learned the tools of the trade, of course I didn’t have to start from scratch. What has been added is the examination of the subconscious or archetypal ideas, as Carl Gustav Jung has worked through them well. Much of that is psychoanalysis in the broadest sense, a western approach.


In the traditional Chinese theories of painting we naturally do not find any psyche-related approaches (those these are often hundreds of years old, long before there was psychoanalysis). And yet there are very clear overlaps and I am more and more fascinated by comparing and questioning these two approaches.

Works that arose from this reflection are those listed here. They are based heavily on Chinese thinking (especially yin :: yang, opposites, internal communication … ..), but also bring some aspects from Western psychology into play (driving forces, primal fears). Of course we find these essential themes in every form of western classical painting, and especially in more modern ones, but it is my aim to try to broaden this point of view.

I have heard several times that my pictures are “beautiful” and exert a strong attraction, but they are also: frightening, brutal, threatening … and finally I heard that they showed a tremendous anger that must be inside me.


So, I think, I am on the right path, namely to trigger something in the viewer that is located beyond what is depicted.
But maybe my thoughts on it are void and my work is done if it remains that the viewer finds a picture beautiful.

gestural painting titled beast
more than beautiful or frightening?

My articles on Chinese art: the essence of chinese painting

Zettl Friedrich

alive and well and having fun

11 comments on “gestural painting, subconsciousness and archetypes

Dear Friedrich, this time its both, beautiful and frightening,especially the last one, you showed today.And thanks again for your Chinese deepening of the subjects.

Thank you Rose! I also posted them in to response to our discussion on “Wut” in my artwork. Feeling frightened is a great reaction on the last one

I love the last painting. Often when I look at your work I find I’m more “moved” or ??? by color than the images made by your brush. Of course they are together so there is no real separation. They are dynamic and evocative.

Jung’s ideas have always seemed a little hysterical to me. The Chinese notion of constant movement between being and not being has always made more sense. It’s observable (I’m a very pragmatic person…) in nature where I spend a lot of my time (and time spent thinking). But I’ve never studied western psychology. It’s bad enough to have one (ha ha).

Last year I painted the momentary balance between being/not being as I had seen it. It was an enormous gift during a few minutes last March. I was given a large canvas years ago but couldn’t imagine painting on it. After thinking about it for a while, pondering what I’d seen in those moments, I knew it belonged on the large canvas. (1.3 m x 1 m) Even painting it was an experience in exactly that moment of balance.

https://marthakennedy.blog/2020/11/21/finished-the-big-painting/

Thank you Martha! Yes, I am trying to immerse myself more in the world of colors: colors play a very subordinate role in the area of Chinese painting with which I am grappling. I want to give colors a more promonent rrole while trying to keep my palette small.

I read C. G. Jung very early and he was / is important to me because he was the first European to delve deeper into Zen Buddhism. But I know too little about prychoanalytics to be able to say anything worth mentioning. I pick out the little that I understand better from the “subconsciousness” and that is the area of dreams, myths, fairy tales – and we’re back to the archetypes.

Congratulations on your painting, it’s very beautiful. In a way it reminded me of a painting by Gerhard Richter, even if his intention was a different one.
https://www.goethe.de/resources/files/jpg279/lebenmitpop_pos3a_gross-formatkey-jpg-default.jpg

I see the similarities between Richter’s and my painting — the main difference I see is that the stag seems to acknowledge the presence of the painter/seer. I’ve found myself in recent years attempting to wander through nature without bothering it; a departure, I guess, from earlier years when I wanted some kind of acknowledgment from it, even if I wasn’t aware of it. I like the panel of breakage that seems to have been cut out of the painting and pasted over the stag. Intriguing.

You’ve sent me a link from the Goethe Institute. Psychologically/philosophically –I foundered around for a long long long time then accidentally read Goethe, Italian Journey. That’s a long story, but the upshot was that here was a person who struggled with what I struggled with; the inability to distinguish between the internal and external world. And there he was, consciously or unconsciously looking for a rope out of the trap of his own psyche. He found it in the direct apprehension of natural phenomenon and the behavior of people in Italy. I was already wandering there. His companionship (it was) and tutelage possibly saved my life and certainly saved my artistic life. The line between the internal and external world became a creative relationship rather than an amorphous and dangerous trough. I don’t know how to explain it. But…

“The surest method for me to secure my future happiness was on the basis of my productive talent.” from one of the voluminous autobiography.

That crane painting is the Sandhill Crane and, I think, hope, it communicates the love I feel for them and all they gave me last year.

Goethe was of course a central figure in my school days. As is so often the case, the teachers managed to spoil one’s joy. But the older I get, the more often I discover new things about Goethe. Thank you for your reference to the “Italian Journey” and this sentence:

“….the inability to distinguish between the internal and external world….. He found it (the rope out of the trap of his on psyche) in the direct apprehension of natural phenomenon.

Well, that’s exactly what Chinese painting does. Through the meticulous study of nature (the inside and the outside) the student himself becomes the object of his studies and through the mastery of brush he becomes the creator. (yin::yang)

I guess you may have gotten Goethe the way we get Shakespeare, a lot of reverent, joyless, mind-numbing instruction. But then I saw The Tempest 🙂

I appreciate what you’ve written here. “Through the meticulous study of nature (the inside and the outside) the student himself becomes the object of his studies and through the mastery of brush he becomes the creator. (yin::yang)” That’s beautiful and apt.

Exactly, Shakespeare….You know that it was impossible for me to listen to Schubert (now longtime favourite composer) after I had music in school. How much must these teachers hate them that they try everything to keep the kids away 🙂

Yes. Hate them or don’t understand them. In graduate school I had a seminar on Hamlet and we NEVER read or saw the play. Just read one critic after another. It was ghastly.

Do we then have to go to Jung before viewing the painting? I don’t feel fear emanating from these – in the boldness of the strokes I sense strong definition, anger too, perhaps, but I also have a sense of maternity, of protective behavior, defensiveness, perhaps. This is what defines my love for art, I’m sure I see things the artist never intended! Spectacular paintings, though.

Thank you Frederick! Your words mean a lot to me as they come from a colleague whose thoughts and opinions I value very much. No, you don’t have to have read Jung first. I found it worth mentioning because for many years now I have been dealing more with western classical philosophy and psychoanalysis again. As you rightly say, you see something different in the works than other viewers. And that’s a good thing. We can only ever see what is fundamentally anchored in our thinking. However, I find it helpful for the viewer to get more information about the painter’s thinking, which of course is reflected in his work.

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