Art From the Land of the Dead
This is a selection of art accompanying the article by Nick Opyrchal. These drawings were produced during the group and are in roughly chronological order. No art work by the inpatients is presented here owing to patient confidentiality.
This is the first picture of the group – there is vomit and horror, poison spilling and a lack of containment. a large eye hovers in the background.
The next few pictures are confused – these were attempts to conform, to produce something that was not so literal in accordance with the wishes of the therapist I was assisting. The confusion emerging from trying to be what ‘someone else wants me to be’ reflected the confusion of the patients, adapting to the power dynamics of the ward.
again there is confusion here but also something more organic. The two therapists sitting opposite each other are in this picture as the two faces. One face has lightning and psychedelic colours hitting it, the other calm trees – showing the splitting going on in the group perhaps. faces can be seen inside of the spirals.
This next picture shows a theme of containment and imprisonment, a castle holds a world inside it, outside the world another castle, outside the castle another world.
In the next stage things become far more dynamic, there now appears the theme of devouring serpentine creatures and the sun. It is interesting looking at the very alchemical symbol of the dragon which emerges at this stage, past the mid point. As well as the sun itself, which holds the solar, generative masculine principle in alchemy. There is a sun within a sun here, as there is in the following picture.
These next two pictures show a fracturing and re-organization. In the first of these the black sun is a wrecking ball, about to break through the barrier protecting the mosquito which is allowing it to continue to drain blood from its host.Again here there is the sun-within-a-sun,
In the second picture the sun is still present but black, a popular alchemical symbol. The symbol of the black sun or Sol Niger is said to be a symbol of the alchemical stage of nigredo – a stage in which difficult material emerges. This association is also true for the symbol of the lion devouring the sun (as the wolf and serpent are) shown earlier in the sequence. The participant was unconscious of these associations during the group.
These two pictures were created towards the end of the group – they both show natural images, animals which are more earthly rather than arcane. The elephant has a trickster quality – it escapes the circus on rollerskates accompanied by a Lacanian play on words. There is a clown in the bottom right of the scene.
The crow is again the black sun (the black in the centre with fire around it) returning in a different form – the name for the black sun in the alchemical process was the ‘crows head’ (Ficinus, 1702). The dogs bark ineffectively at it.
The final picture at the end of the group is filled with many symbols and seems to show a real difference from the start of the sessions. The feeling is of an alchemical diorama, with the dove, the radiant serpent and the rainbow. All elements are present fire (flame breath, rocket jets), earth (serpent, ground under the feet), air (dove, rocket, lightning) and water (the cloud raining, the sea). There is a feeling of completion here.
Marsilius Ficinus, ‘Liber de Arte Chemica’. Theatrum Chemicum, Vol 2, Geneva, 1702, p172-183. Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss.