Jungian Psychology with
Art Therapy 2018-19
Interpretation of a young contemporary Irish Artist in a Jungian context:
Clare Hartigan and her creative
This essay was written by me and in my own words, except for quotations from published and unpublished sources which are clearly indicated and acknowledged as such. I am conscious that the incorporation of material from other works or a paraphrase of such material without acknowledgement will be treated as plagiarism.
“Happy Days” 2018 Oil on Canvas
Interpretation of a young Contemporary Irish artist in a Jungian Context:
Clare Hartigan and her Creative Alchemical Transformation
In this essay, I look through a Jungian lens at a great contemporary Irish artist, Clare Hartigan (1975), whom I am fortunate to have encountered on many occasions. I have observed from our conversations that we have artistic and life approaches that are very similar.
Like her, I often perceive myself as an artistic alchemist in my studio. I mix materials, colours, liquids and, through their combination, I excitedly await and observe their reaction. This process is contained within a shape, a stroke or any creative action. Clare Hartigan is in this way transforming a personal internal and external world with all intents and purposes into a magical process, the creative process of visual arts.
From reading and researching, interviewing and knowing a bit about Clare, I found out how creativity has always surrounded her. Where she grew up in Castleconnell, County Limerick, she was surrounded by the beautiful nature of the river Shannon but also by the amazing art work of her mother Barbara Hartigan. I have walked the same steps along this particular part of the river and met her mother at various exhibitions and can see and feel how both could be so inspiring. These elements created the perfect metaphorical womb to give birth to a beautifully sensitive, deep, energetic and talented artist.
She was a student at the Limerick School of Art and Design in the Printmaking section, creating wonderful etchings. She has spoken in the past about the sense of freedom she felt in this department of the art college. Once the technique was learnt she was able to explore any subject matter without having to conceptualise it. We are so often asked to explain every detail about our work and sometimes it has come from such a depth that we ourselves don’t understand yet. This is especially so in our formative years.
“Watergate” 1996 Etching
Her initial technique in printmaking entailed the use of bitumen to create instinctive natural flowing images. This was to be a major influence later on in her work. Bitumen is described as a dark treacle-like substance that derives from petroleum and is used to create roads as well as in printing. Symbolically, it helped Clare create the beginning of her artistic and healing path. The use of this medium, a thick but fluid substance, has something really quite alchemical about it; her printing and her more recent Jackson Pollock style of painting both evoke a magical, chemical transformation. One can see a process integrating her psyche, individuation through her artistic career.
Thus simply put, individuation is a kind of circular odyssey, a spiral journey, where the aim is to get back to where you started, but knowing where you’ve been and what for (Sharp 1998 p.53).
It’s in this light that I would like to explore Clare’s artistic journey. She started with a continuous flowing line, diverted into different but really powerful painting techniques and found herself back with that flowing line but at a whole new level.
I have noticed in myself and other artists certain separations in the creative procedures. To explain this more, I can describe it as three different attitudes: impulsive, analytic and therapeutic. Sometimes, these are combined together at different stages of our creative growth.
In the first instance, impulsive art is a spontaneous process: the themes and techniques are chosen in an instinctual way, purely for the artist’s enjoyment and based on no other necessity than to satisfy oneself. This is how I would describe her art college years, learning techniques and finding out a bit about her likes and dislikes.
In the second, analytical process, the artist is inquisitive. Messages are being received from our personal and collective unconscious and we start creating using archetypal images without a full awareness. Collective unconscious is an internal database we all tap into, very separate from our own personal unconscious experience. It has existed from the beginning of time and is filled with images, emotions and thoughts that we see repeating themselves through cultures, the world and time. It is in this communal pond of information that we become aware of archetypes: the Shadow, Anima/Animus, the Great Mother, the Trickster, the Divine Child, and many more.
Therapeutic artwork is where the artist creates with a deep perception of themselves and their inner and outer world. It’s a meditative and contemplative procedure; we can often find ourselves in a trance-like state. Clare Hartigan’s artistic journey definitely goes through these stages and more. This I believe is what Clare has been building up to. Her individuation process through art is not finished; she is young with plenty more to explore. If one observes her work progress from the beginning to where she is now, we can see a very clear path. She is at first establishing herself, learning techniques and becoming aware of the images and themes she is attracted to. Her journey continues into that of self-discovery (turning inwards, finding her Self, Shadow, Anima and Animus) to an interrelation with complexes and archetypal images.
This is the beginning of her individuation process in the art and alchemical sense. Jaffe (1964 p.245) describes the connection between the two as ‘the artist like the alchemist’ who is unaware of how to psychologically cast the psyche into creations or lifeless objects giving them a sense of value and worth.
I met her the first time in Cork City; she had moved there after her graduation and she started to paint. We associated socially and, although we had both recently graduated, we were on two different paths. I was grounding myself in a new country as I had just left Italy but I recognised that she was dedicated, worked hard and was consistent in her creative path.
Observing Clare’s work and reading about typology in Carl Jung, I see Clare as an introverted thinker. Now I’m sure, as we all do, she has gone through many types in different stages of her life and taken on many functions. Her latest work would seem very extraverted.
Her very sensitive personality has brought her to approach a lot of external, political and bureaucratic issues. When I describe her as introverted, I mean she has a huge interest in the inner and spiritual world but she has a thinker side too, as described by Jung:
When the life of an individual is mainly governed by reflective thinking so that every important action proceeds from intellectually considered motives, we call this a thinking type (Jung 1971 par.584).
Thinking is described as a rational function and although Clare is sensitive and open, I sense a rational grounding presence in her.
The painting below is one of her Cork pieces
and for me it symbolises a melting physicality bringing her inwards,
contemplating, and unconsciously embracing her Anima. She is innocent, a
celibate archetypal image. The figure is looking inwards but emerging from
darkness, blindness. Being the unconscious, feminine side of man, the Anima has
no real form but is naturally attributed with human traits so that we can
comprehend and connect with it. For Clare, it is fairy-like but her wings are
heavy and melting, she cannot take off in flight, she must sit, listen and
learn. Beside the figure is a collection bowl. I believe it is representative of
needing knowledge and soon it will be filled.
“Remember” 1998 Oil on Canvas
In the following painting, Clare shows her awareness of society and everyone around her flowing along, just surviving, maybe even really enjoying the possessions of a materialistic world. Sometimes in a community it is hard to be individual, to separate and turn inwards for a while. It’s easy to forget and, as she portrays, we can get lost in a crowd.
“Realise” 1999 Oil on Canvas
You can see the Shadow in the mist, transparent but a black head in the crowd; she is searching inwards, connecting with her Shadow. Clare writes about her approach to her creative work:
For me the painting is about the society and the similarities on the outside while not being able to see ourselves but feeling the potential depth inside. Feeling like a black hole or something (Clare Hartigan 2015).
I can recognise these archetypal images appearing when she started painting back in Cork. It seems to me a natural but very intense process that a person/artist would go through if they were the kind of deep-thinking personality that she is. Her images are in contrast showing light and colour coming out of darkness. Her painting shows her, at this time in her life, as searching for something. She could feel it but not totally grasp it.
When she returned to Limerick, her painting technique took another turn. It became strongly symbolic of an internal turmoil.
“Stop”, “Listen”, “Portrait of Erin” 2008 Mixed Media and Oil on Canvas
We have conversed about these pieces that are enormously important to her, not only personally, but evoking a sense of sadness and loss with the abandonment of the Irish heritage at that time: the precious doll full of memories and emotions, forsaken for materialism and fancy possessions.
Looking at her work at this stage from a Jungian point of view, I see her dealing with her shadow and other shadows in the world. She created a series of work where the presence of a child or a young girl was portrayed in a very static environment. They are by a door or window, motionless with closed eyes, faceless or turned around. Her colours turn to the grey scale, dirty browns and undefined. Her circular brush strokes are substituted by geometric linear ones and her technique is mixed media. The use of red is only present in her stop sign, very severe and aggressive, a message that cannot be ignored. The octagonal shape registers in all of us as a severe warning to halt and reflect on the directions, decisions and beliefs one has before feeling safe to move on. Clare was depicting from her soul but it was pensive and uncertain. I am wondering is it the child within she was trying to protect, the abandoned/lost doll symbolic of an innocence that has left her. She is lonely, staring out of the window of what looks like a very old dirty house. The Divine Child Archetype resonates through her work. If we listen to our Divine inner child, we will feel a true sense of hope for the future. Jung writes about the shadow as a ‘moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality’ Jung (1951 par.14). He explains how we can only become aware of the shadow with a true sense of ethics.
The view of where she could be or where she is aiming for is bright, glowing and serene. This painting phase was certainly temporary but necessary for her artistic and personal growth.
“Forgotten” 2008 Mixed Media on Canvas
After many personal emotional transitions she returned to a carefree flowing linear technique, similar to her etching but as a painting on canvas. She begins to fall into a new world.
She chose to explore the use of enamel and high viscosity paints. There is a lot to be said about this particular material. She has opened her artistic experience to many different themes and possibilities with this indestructible paint, very similar to the use of bitumen in her early etchings.
Abt (2005 p.62) writes about the use of different materials and how important the choice of a specific medium is for the creative person moulding an emotional and intellectual affirmation.
Clare has mastered her technique but, at the same time, does not have full control on how, at the last minute, the paint might, with a slight change in movement, a breeze or even a change in temperature, take a life of its own. She is courageous and adventurous but she does, however, have a choice in building up layers until she is fully satisfied that the image is harmonious and balanced. It is impressive to watch the video she created called CLARE HARTIGAN: A SWIMMIMG EYE (vimeo.com 1998). Here her painting technique is more understandable. She uses little sticks to dip into the colours and create her landscapes, dancers, animals, lovers and so much more.
She is active, energetic but also meditative. Her movements vary from mostly circular and continuous to linear ones and the velocity in movements varies. She has a lot of control but allows for fate. I think this reflects her personality and attitude towards life and time. In one of her emails she writes about her awareness of time and appreciating the length it takes to complete a piece – not only the practical physical action but the time of the mental journey that bought her to this creative finalisation.
Some of her initial work with this latest technique was incredibly powerful with a strong, bold and simple use of colours. She used only white, red and black as she prepared a series of paintings to exhibit in the Triskel Arts Centre entitled Ionad, meaning Centre in Irish ( 2014). The gallery described it as:
A solo exhibition of paintings by Clare Hartigan at the Triskel Arts Centre. The work is centred in a place between the physical and non-physical. With a focus on movement and an absence of colour, the subjects are stripped back to their primitive soul. (Triskel Arts Centre 2014).
“Who are you” 2011 Oil on Canvas
This exhibition was very symbolic of a huge change within Clare. Unconsciously at the time, she was depicting herself becoming aware and acknowledging the structure of her psyche. I see the image above as her unconscious self visually projecting a partial image of the schematic diagram of Jung’s model of the psyche: the self, standing alone in the centre in red, and from the shadows (archetypes), the black and white figures around her as the personified representation of complexes. They are making themselves present to her, allowing her to understand unconsciously through her painting process. Clare’s images perfectly represent Jung’s quote below
The complex is not under the control of the will and for this reason it possesses the quality of psychic autonomy. Its autonomy consists in its power to manifest itself independently of the will and even in direct opposition to conscious tendencies (Jung 1954).
It’s an image showing the independent quality of the complexes that we are surrounded by and live with.
The self is red, such a temperamental and primordial colour. Red evokes love but also violence and aggression, warmth but also destruction. I feel as if this was a major turning point for her, an emerging alchemical change in Clare’s work in this exhibition and ultimately in her psyche. Clare’s work from 2014 onwards contains an alchemical property reflecting the use of black, white and red. Jung mentions how art was charged with transcendental reflections and was hugely connected to the alchemical process (Jung 1953 pp. 225–241).
These are three phases coming together, opening an entrance to the subconscious. Ultimately, three alchemical phases very apparent in her initial transformation: Nigredo, Albedo and Rubedo, black, white and red.
I was at the opening of this show at the Triskel and it was amazing to feel the contrast between the old church walls of the exhibition space and these strong eclectic images. Her choice of space was also relevant, a former Church of Ireland that was deconsecrated in 1979 but recently connected with the Triskel Arts Centre located right beside it. The space surrounding her work was immersed with a heavenly light, spiritual, an internal communion with the soul. Clare writes that:
The way I work is a reaction on to what is going on around me. This show is about removing yourself from the chaos of life and the speed it travels. To strip it back to the essence of who we are and the things we feel (Hartigan 2011).
And so, like the image below, she metaphorically jumps into the unknown with the help of her instincts, the birds holding her, ready for a soft landing into her unconsciousness and meeting her soul.
2011 Oil on Canvas
I recently asked her about her dreams and whether she used them in her representations. She replied in a beautiful email and this particular exhibition came up. She was having regular frightful dreams. She describes them leaving her with an awful sensation; panicking, she would wake up thinking she had forgotten something important.
She told me how this was recurring and irritating and it led her to put it in words. One night, without really thinking or realising she wrote how she sensed and perceived the dream. When she woke the next day she saw she had written: ‘I must remember to…’ and the last bit, in her own words: ‘the word fell off the page but it said “breathe”’. One of her pieces for the Ionad exhibition was entitled Breathe. She doesn’t intentionally paint representations of her dreams but is aware of their power. At the time, it wasn’t the lack of taking time out from the stress of the exhibition, but she became more aware of an emotional and psychological relationship that was coming to an end. Breathing is that spiritual moment when your soul meets your body. Sometimes we skip a few breaths, sometimes we hold on for too long.
Jung (1924 par.189) describes the dream as a wholesome experience to be fully trusted and that your unconscious is using to communicate with you without the interference of the ego.
Once Clare broke certain ties and the exhibition finished, she writes ‘It was like an explosion of colour. So I suppose the answer is yes I do listen to my dreams’ (personal email 2019).
Edinger (1984 p.41) describes how ascending out of a state of just pure existence to that of a ‘knowing subject’ is an individuation process and ‘part of the meaning of consciousness and at time can be a salvation’.
“My Story” 2018 Oil on Canvas
Clare had centred herself in an unconscious conversation with her soul; she depicted one after the other, all the surrounding archetypes, most of which she saw in nature with its luscious landscapes of wild animals and, figuratively, of lovers, dancers, mothers, fathers, and many more. Clare’s latest work would make Carl Jung smile, she is so symbolic, and her paintings all represent various archetypes in a beautiful electric flow. Her love for animals is clear to see in her depictions of horses, hares, badgers, dogs, foxes and birds. She now listens to her intuitions.
Jung (1960 par.435) writes that ‘Archetypes are irrepresentable in themselves but their effects are discernible in archetypal images and motifs’.
Archetypal images are seen in so many different cultures that one can appreciate when Carl Jung talks and writes about the collective unconscious. The fox with his inquisitive eyes in her paintings captured my attention. Peeping through the bushes, hiding not wanting to get caught. Beautifully sleek and agile, with his wonderful orange coat and luscious tail.
Abt (2005) writes about the magical union of red and yellow to create orange, ‘orange also has the quality of warmth, but is also a signal colour arousing attention and caution’. It is fascinating how both colour and animals can send the same message.
Clare paints the fox over and over again. She is studying and learning from the fox. But I also believe she is aware that this archetypal image resonates with many people: it has a certain evocative power. The fox represents an instinctive cleverness that we often lose, especially if we are diving into an intellectual world. Clare, with her repetitive painting of the fox, is reminding herself to not ignore her natural instincts and also to relate with her unconscious and her shadow.
“Aesop’s Fable” 2016 Oil on Canvas
There are many different versions of her fox paintings: this one captivates me as the fox and crow are immersed in a silent conversation.
The Jungian psychologist, von Franz (2017 p.210), wrote in her book about how in the alchemical writings the bird is not symbolic of the whole process but the beginning: ‘it is a guide toward inner experience. It is one of these first elating experiences, or realizations’.
She explains how nearly everyone, at some point in their lives, will have a revelation, so fantastical and exciting that it will bring one to an epiphany.
The crow and fox are about to feel that elated moment of togetherness within the whole. Here, Clare depicts an internal conversation with her unconscious self, the beginning of a personal individuation. It reminds me also of a psychosomatic conversation by Woodman (1991) on the shadow side of man where spirit and matter are connecting not fighting against each other.
“Connemara Indian” 2018 Oil on Canvas
The hare is another recurring animal spirit that Clare explores a lot. I chose this image where you can see a human figure wearing a hare’s skin or maybe just a mix of both. In a strange way, I associate it with the Greek God Pan, half man half goat, God of nature, and it is often associated with sexuality. The hare, though, has a more gentle feeling about it, even within its associations to fertility and sensuality. It conveys the feminine and a closeness to the moon.
The hare is very independent and aware of all signs in its surroundings, lunar cycles and tides. For me, through the hare, Clare here links with her Anima.
Mauger (2018) mentions in her notes how ‘Jung writes of the anima as causing moods’. When I read this, I sensed the flow of the sea and the changeable moon.
Clare depicts her connection with the spirit of the hare by wearing its fleece as a costume/mask. Her unconscious might be showing her how she presents herself to the world. She is aware of her mask and uses it. It makes her mindful but alert, sensitive and less oblivious to her surroundings.
The hare is related to so many tales and myths in many different countries and cultures. The Egyptians pictured the hare as part of their creation story or we can see it as a metaphor of impatience and haste in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. I always remember a story my sister would tell me where the hare sacrificed itself by jumping into a fire so a poor lost homeless man could feed on it. The man turned out to be a God and before the hare touched the fire it was sent to live in the moon. I can always see the hare shape on a full moon. Through her art, Clare is not only helping her own healing journey but also those who get to observe and identify with her images. Through her painting of the hare, I relived a childhood memory and felt the huge sense of sacrifice one has to go through before any spiritual progress.
“Eve” 2017 Oil on Canvas
In this painting, the Anima is clearly visible in Eve and possibly Lilith in the serpent form, the feminine, the woman inside all of us.
Sharp (1998 p.63) explains how Carl Jung could see four stages in the in a man’s psychological growth, the first one being embodied in Eve. She is the initial connection between a man and the universal image of the mother, ‘provider of nourishment, security and love’.
But this image contains so much more: not only the Anima, the tree of life/knowledge, the snake with all its symbolism and the tempting apples. It is a representation of part of the myth of Adam and Eve. Here, Eve sits alone about to be tempted by the snake to pick an apple, the calm before the storm. The snake symbolises transformation or Lilith as Eve’s counterpart or opposite. If Eve does not eat the apple, she will remain in blissful ignorance, the Anima won’t transition from this first stage. This painting and many others representing the creation myth, remind us of the path one has to take to self-realisation; it is not an easy one and certainly not the most obvious. The Garden of Eden is, in a way, a representation of the beginning of our conversation with God, our true selves. Eve like Pandora in Greek mythology brings tumultuous change. The Anima is to be integrated within us to ensure transformation, for a sense of totality. This image would make most people think of the fall of humanity, temptation, guilt, shame and loneliness, but if you really analyse these myths, you can see that the female figures, as archetypal images of the Anima, brought man to self-consciousness, the beginning of awareness.
“Mother Earth”2018 Oil on Canvas
The painting above depicts Gaia, Mother Nature, the great Mother, Isis, Demeter and all great goddesses who have been widely worshipped and sometimes demonised. In Jungian psychology, the archetypes present themselves with a duality.
This image represents the archetype of the Great Mother with abundance, fertility. She gives nourishment and protection to all living things. But, although caring, she can also be over-dominating and destructive. Clare’s projection of this archetype is serene, still just being and yet growing, a real sense of ‘Anima Mundi’, the Earth as a living being. All the flowers and colours would make me feel that her experience with her mother, both as a mother and connecting with the Great Mother, is an all-round positive one and in continuous bloom.
The Great Mother should be respected as she is nature and nurture. The violet tinges on the curvaceous body in the distant hills combines warmth with spirit as it is created in a harmonious mixture of red and blue. The predominant colour green, apart from the obvious connection to growth and vegetation, also gives a sense of gliding happily through life.
A mother’s love can be suffocating if too abundant. Clare’s imagery supports that perfect moment, capturing the essence of the Great Mother as we should connect with her. She is the inventive strength in all artists:
“Embracing” 2017 Oil on Canvas
Many of her paintings show the coming together of a couple, a man and woman, or the harmony between Anima and Animus, a sense of coexistence. Carl Jung on the ‘Coniunctio’ in the lexicon, ‘literally’ conjunction, used in Alchemy to refer to chemical combinations; psychologically, it points to the union of opposites and the birth of new possibilities. (Purrington 2019)
The physical human bond of the opposites is here depicted as spiritual union. If we can experience this coming together in our physical world and learn to distinguish the real opposite rather than our personal projections, this bond, marriage, chemical combination can bring us closer to an understanding of our Self.
Benig Mauger writes how being ‘in a relationship represents part of our souls journey and search for wholeness’. (Mauger 1998 p.73)
When Clare represents these unions, one can see two very definite, separate figures but which also partly fuse with each other. There is a sense of vulnerability but also harmony and mindfulness. From these images, I would interpret Clare’s associating deep meaningful relationships as having these elements.
“Tangled” 2017 Oil on Canvas
Clare is aware how beautiful childhood memories of red ribbons can take on a whole other reflective symbolism now in her older age. She put together a show entitled Red Ribbons and Other Stories (2017) and here the ribbon is shown as harsh, unbreakable, oppressive and smothering red tape and the issue of duality is explored. Clare is aware of a little microcosm called the Art world, one that should be so open free and humble. This is not always the case, it can be full of superiority and condescension. It can section one off in a perplexing segregation causing red tape to be confronted by artists who stand alone in their creative growth.
This difficulty for an artist to create, experience and share freely the inner message, the dialogue with the unconscious can be a parallel representation of how any person might feel when trying to discover their self and fit into society. The artist is lucky because the simple act of creating connects us to our soul.
So, it is interesting to see how Clare Hartigan has explored so many techniques and themes and she is still only 44 years old. I feel she is going to spin off like her many dancers and, from the chaos, give birth to something amazing.
“Somersault” 2017 Oil on Canvas
From internalising, searching and exploring her psyche.
“Dancer” 2018 Oil on Canvas
To letting the knowledge burst out in movement and ecstasy. To her dance she spins so fast.
Clare shows her visualisation of string theory and becomes whole with her creative universe. It would be presumptuous of me to believe I fully understand Clare’s typology, psyche and her relationship with her personal and collective unconscious, I’m pretty sure no one fully knows themselves. But I love the way she opens portals to Jungian dimensions of understanding through her art. She exposes herself, an unsheltered soul, direct, creative and courageous, taking in everything surrounding and affecting her spiritual growth, embodying these events, emotions and spirit souls in her magical alchemical painting process.
“Dervish” 2019 Oil on Canvas
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