Dream Ikons

Dreams Ikons was conceived after years of sharing dreams with each other, our family, and friends. The pictures are metaphorical rather than literal; the dream and free associations generated by it provide the inspiration for the art work. We rely less on actual narrative than on the symbolic vocabulary therein.

The image of the dreamer is in the center, while the surrounding, illuminated area represents the dream itself. In the tradition of medieval manuscript illumination, the center is a fixed, rational image and the borders represent the irrational side of the imagination--in this case, the unconscious realm of our amorphous dreams, desires or nightmares. Whereas in medieval painting, the gold traditionally symbolizes the union with God, in Dream Ikons it is the unconscious state of sleep. In many cultures, dreams are believed to be a direct channel to the spirit world, therefore the gold can also represent this connection.

Much of our work involves “cutting into and filling up” space. As in Russian icon painting, we first create a “covcheg” (Russian for “Noah’s ark”) by carving into a wood panel. The ark is a metaphor for a vessel, chalice, void, cave, womb, and the bearer of life and regeneration. “We come from the void and return to it.” It is a receptacle open to spiritual forces. Moreover, the use of a wooden support is symbolic of the tree of life and embodies the dualistic life and death principle.

We are drawn to the process of icon painting because each step is symbolic; from the application of the gesso, clay bole and gilding to the grinding of the pigments with egg yolk. Through repetition, the canons lend themselves to meditation and introspection. Our work is not liturgical, however the abstract structure of the canons provides us with a foundation.

Our painting process is a marriage of fifteenth century Eastern and Western techniques, combined with contemporary practices. In the Western tradition, we follow many of the medieval methods as written by Cennino Cennini, in The Craftsman’s Handbook; the use of a terre verte underpainting, verdaccio color for the flesh tones, and the modulation of form by crosshatching and chiaroscuro. In the Eastern icon painting tradition, we adhere to the following techniques and their symbology: in the beginning we use a clay border, to remind us of our primordial source; that we come from the earth. The painting process can be understood metaphorically as a pyramid or a mountain. At the start, or base of the pyramid, earth colors are used to represent our cosmic nature or “chaos.” Our goal is to reach the center of the painting, or top of the pyramid, where the colors are the brightest. The colors become brighter as we meditate and find a balance within ourselves and in the painting. The gold application is the last part of the process, or tip of the pyramid, because it represents the soul, divine energy or light, and the manifestation of the spirit.

The act of gilding itself symbolizes the “breath of life” because when we apply the gold, we must breathe deeply from within onto the clay bole for it to adhere. The moisture from one’s breath wets and creates a tacky surface, allowing a perfect bond. The clay and the gold together represent man’s dual cosmic and earthly nature, material and spiritual sides. Gold is used sparingly and not as a decorative element, to cover the red clay or our ego. When the red clay shows through it means that “our ego is getting in the way." 

Without the earth colors, the paintings are incomplete. Because human nature is both spiritual and earthly, we must use both pure and earth colors, gold as well as clay. The imperfections that occur in our painting process we cover, as a “penance”, with floats of transparent paint. We veil, but not eliminate, areas of unsatisfactory crosshatching. Clean sharp lines are the final touches and only can be used after meditation, time, discipline, and contemplation.

--Scherer & Ouporov, 1998

--Scherer & Ouporov, 1998