"...with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors..."
--The Lady, or the Tiger? a short story by Frank R. Stockton
For the past year, I have been dreaming about tigers. Or perhaps it's only one tiger, the same one that comes into each dream...? As a result, I've been cultivating a painting in my mind, or perhaps a series of paintings. Using Pinterest, I have been collecting other artists' work that strikes me as touching the spirit of my dreams. At some point, I realized I was going to have to do a self-portrait, possibly because I had such a strong resistance towards the idea, as described in "Intersections," my collaborative art project with fellow artist, Kate Brandes.
My resistance was so strong, it had to be explored. I looked at a lot of self portraits by Julie Heffernan. I found them to be brave: not only were they nudes, but there was a deeper nakedness going on here, a nakedness of the soul, of the rich, complex jungle of a woman's heart. "Self Portrait as a Bird Feeder" was the one I kept returning to.
I also kept thinking about jungles, especially the fantastical, made-up jungles of Henri Rousseau, and the dreamy lush gardens of ancient Roman frescoes.
The tiger wasn't a real tiger, either, but something made up from stories and imagination, and converted into dream-essence. Again, I used Rousseau as an inspiration, but even more, I felt drawn to these old Korean paintings from hundreds of years ago.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I started my self portrait. I locked the door of my studio and put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on it. I finished it two days ago, and I'm pleased with the result, even though it has a lot of shortcomings, and it's a pretty clumsy attempt at manifesting the vision in my mind. But, it's where I am at the moment, and it makes me feel powerful and fierce.
I named my painting after the famous short story we all had to read in middle school. Although I don't find the writing to be particularly good, the haunting cliffhanger at the end of the story has remained with me all my life. What was behind the door that the young man opened? Was it the lady, or the tiger? And are they really so different? Is one better, or worse, than the other?
All I know is that the tiger is a part of me, alive and well in the jungles of my dreams.