Sleep

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The sleep series began on the 18th April, 2015.

  As many good things, it started organically.. I earn some income as a deep tissue masseur for physical performers and one of my clients sent me a message saying that she'd ".. love to see what she looks like through the eyes of my paintbrush". Asher Bowen-Saunders turned up after a day of working as a 'living statue' and as she was tired, I suggested that she just have a snooze, as I've always been fascinated with sleep. Whilst working on her painting, I began to muse upon the contrast between the energetic natures of these highly active performers and their sleeping forms and dreamlife. Childhood memories came to me of watching my mother sleeping, and what seemed to be a shadow floating over her closed eyes. I imagined this to be either her soul or dreams moving around her.

The amount and nature of movement that physical performers go through in their sleep fascinates me, (the hypnagogic jerk, for example, is more prevalent in them than sedentary people), as does their highly diverse relationships to sleep and the part it plays in their own creative journeys. Nearly a year into the sleep series I started to think about the relationship between the dissolution of our conscious selves as we pass into the hyperreal world of REM sleep cycles, and the movement of dust in space, the potentials of dark matter and how stars are formed and destroyed in nebulae. Buddhist philosophy indicates that we are not of solid form, but are made up of minute energies or matter.

I feel that I am still at the very beginning of this series, akin to non-rem stage 2 sleep, where eye movement stops, brain waves alter, the heart rate slows and the body begins to prepare for the depth. Each new interaction and set of paintings open more questions to explore and more of an emotional understanding of the dream reality. I am honoured to have the opportunity to work with so many deeply creative souls, who are so willing to share their thoughts, feelings and time with me. Much love and many thanks to you all!

Here are some works in no particular order..

Broken Sleep, Incomplete sleep, patterns broken

Broken Sleep
Acrylic on canvas, 1380 x 1020mm, 2017
Richard Causer, a contemporary dancer working with Expressions Dance Company, sees sleep as incomplete and broken shapes.

'Emerging' joins some friends

Rudi Mineur, Master of Circus
Acrylic on Canvas, 970 x 970mm, 2016

Natano Fa'anana, Love and Strength

Natano Fa'anana, Love and Strength
Acrylic on canvas, 1020 x 1980mm, 2017
This painting relates to Natano's Pe'a, the traditional Samoan tattoo for men. Loosely, it symbolises the love of his mother wrapping around him, giving him strength to love, support and protect his family and friends

Sleeper by Billy Shannon

Sleeper
Acrylic on Canvas, 2021
970 x 970mm

The sleeper series has been going for nearly 6 years now, involving dancers, acrobats, actors and visual artists.
Sleeping figures, wrapped around a dream. The subjects of these paintings seem caught between the very skeins of the paint; wrapped within the gauzy sheets of the image's layers.
If they are, in part, portraits, they are also evocations of states-of-being. Captured in repose, they dream in the shadowy spaces of half-realms, suspended between the between the here and the not-here.
The dreaming subjects in these paintings have entered this state of being willingly. In delivering themselves into the hands of the artist's other-role as a masseur, they allow themselves to be lulled into sleep - suspended into a kind of temporary trance, they become the willing subjects of the artist's other-role as a painter.

Emma Serjent

Dark Matter
Acrylic on canvas, 1020 x 1530mm,2017
Shannon Berry Bam is a circus performer involved with Vulcana Women's Circus in Brisbane and we have worked on several paintings together. Like almost all of the physical performers, her sleep is both restorative and highly active and almost every time I'd look back from my canvas to her, she would be in a slightly different position. I love all of that and just keep painting them in their various new places and wait for them to cycle around again to approximate positions to continue my work.

Emma Serjent

Emma and the Hypnic Jerk
Acrylic on canvas, 1000 x 1500mm 2015
Emma Serjeant is an exceedingly dynamic performer and mind. A meteor, tumbling backwards, the hypnic shock to the heart causing startled, protective movement of the limbs..

Sabine

Sabine van Rensburg - Dream and trust in yourself
Acrylic on Canvas, 960 x 960mm, 2016
Sabine is an circus aerialist, dreaming of letting go of the silks high above the ground, to catch them again. Trusting herself, she has developed this skill to a beautiful artform

Inner Flight

Form and Formlessness
Acrylic on Canvas, 1220 x 1530mm, 2016
In this painting of Todd Kilby, an acrobat working with Circa Contemporary Circus, I am exploring the formlessness of sleep. How we dissipate into the ethereal as we drift off into dreams.
The fact that Todd spent some time in a Buddhist monastery gave me the key into his formless self as a concept.

 

Creative Fire - Asher Bowen-Saunders

Creative Fire - Asher Bowen-Saunders
Acrylic on Canvas, 970 x 970mm, 2016
Sleep informs many creative artists, Asher is an acrobat and contemporary dancer based in Brisbane. In her painting, I am looking at the creative inspiration that sometimes comes to us in dreams as well as Asher's specific creative fire.

Studio sketches from Billy Shannon’s art studio in June 2015

Some studio sketches done in June 2015

Nicky Flaubert seeking her corner

Nicky Faubert - Seeking
Acrylic on canvas, 1530 x 970mm, 2015
Nicky seeking her corner, seeking certainty, space and place.

The Feather Collector

The Feather Collector
Acrylic on canvas, 2017
970 x 970mm, Sold
Hannaka Johnson's dreams and memories.
Hannaka's musical experiment, The Feather Collector, feathers to represent the spirits of friends who have passed on.

Ocean Sky Dreaming

Ocean Sky Dreaming
Acrylic on canvas, 2017
1020 x 1220mm
Eliza Dolly, of Vulcana Women's Circus, finds the colours of tropical oceans relaxing. She rests in the ocean of dreams, as we look up through the crashing waves to the stars that were above her when she was born.

Nebulous Sleep - A self-portrait

Nebulous Sleep
Acrylic on canvas, 865 x 865mm, 2016
A self-portrait sleeping, and some of the nebulae in the Cygnus constellation, which was directly above me at birth. Each night before sleep, I program myself to try to reinstate the original 'pattern' which is Billy. It is a healing process and aimed at dumping some of the muck that we accumulate throughout our lives.

Whale Dreaming

Whale Dreaming
Acrylic on canvas, 1220 x 1020mm, 2018
Chloe de Buyl-Pisco, listening to whales, dreaming of communicating with them.

Company in bed makes us happy

The healing powers of sleeping with your cat
Acrylic on Canvas, 2018
1010 x 1500mm

When Elyse had a sleep for this painting our cat curled up with her, so I asked for photos of Elyse's cat and painted her in so it wouldn't be an adulterous scene. However, I believe that meditating and sleeping with animals has quite calming and healing properties. (unless they take over the whole bed, or wake you super early for food!!)


Other people write about what I do in a much more eloquent way than I could possibly. My dear friend, Pat Hoffie, for example..

'..that you have but slumber'd here,
while these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
no more yielding but a dream.'

(Puck, in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream)

Sleeping figures, wrapped around a dream. The subjects of these paintings seem caught between the very skeins of the paint; wrapped within the gauzy sheets of the image's layers.

If they are, in part, portraits, they are also evocations of states-of-being. Captured in repose, they dream in the shadowy spaces of half-realms, suspended between the between the here and the not-here.

The dreaming subjects in these paintings have entered this state of being willingly. In delivering themselves into the hands of the artist's other-role as a masseur, they allow themselves to be lulled into sleep - suspended into a kind of temporary trance, they become the willing subjects of the artist's other-role as a painter.

The images are evocative, then, in two ways, for they are experienced and realized by the artist as both the solid flesh of physical bodies and as the numinous ineffable nature of a sleeping spirit. There is a sense of hypnosis at play; and with it a nod towards the role of artist as a creator of visual imagery capable of mediating between our conscious and sub-conscious awareness.

The growing public interest in the sub-conscious that emerged in the late 18th century was influenced by the experiments of Franz Mesmer, a German doctor who described the 'invisible force' (lebensmagntismus) that all animate beings possess. Mesmer believed that the capacity for harnessing that force could generate a range of physical effects, amongst the more positive of which was a kind of healing. Since that time, practices of 'mesmerism', experiments with somnambulism and treatises on vitalism were continued in hundreds of volumes of documented experience up until the 1920s, when such practices were dropped to the side in the enthusiasm for more rational approaches to understanding unconscious states. Up to that point, the proponents of such far-reaching experiments were variously referred to as hypnotists, animal-magnifiers, mesmerists and vitalists. And although these practices ultimately failed to be recognized by Western medicine, their efficacy in generating positive results to a range of ailments that include pain, depression, anxiety disorders, addictions and psychogenic illnesses are still recognized by many traditional practitioners.

Visual artists share, along with the mutable practices of the mesmerists, work sites that traverse the shifting grounds between material and spirit, and practices that call attention to the shifting, uncertain territories between conscious and unconscious states of awareness. Throughout art history, artists have painted dreamers; from the biblical dreamers of Marc Chagall to Henri Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy (1897) to Picasso La Reve (1932) and right up to the present, the subject matter of dreamers reminds us that even precious flesh is capable of melting and dissolving into a dream. Billy Shannon's ongoing experimentation with dreamers and their dreams continues the theme in this new series of paintings.

Pat Hoffie www.pathoffie.com.au

And Carol Shwarzman in the arts blog, Polycentrica
Thanks Carol!!

Here is a PDF version of that article, in case the link breaks

Here's an interview with me by Brad Marsellos for ABC Open in 2018 ... Billy Shannon: Nocturne at Cross Gallery If the link is broken try this one.. Alternate mp3

Billy by Brad Marsellos