A Dream Of A Killing, Illustrators 53
The above piece, A Dream Of A Killing, has been chosen for the Society Of Illustrators annual ‘Illustrators 53’. This is an honor for me, the SOI book is my favorite of the major annuals. I think this piece’s strength is its very personal subject, so I’d like to tell the story of how it came to be.
When I was 22, I moved into a new apartment. A nice one by my standards at the time, with a porch, a generous kitchen, and a big bay window in the living room. It also included mice, as Halifax apartments tend to. The cupboards were lined with potentially toxic droppings, and I spotted several routes of entry and escape through the kitchen.
A few weeks into our tenancy I caught a mouse by surprise as he was crossing the countertop, and he immediately bolted behind the microwave. Cutting off his escape with a placemat, I corralled him into a jug. But any notions I may have had about releasing him were dashed when I saw that somehow, in catching him, I had crippled his hind legs. He scrambled to get free of the jug, dragging his hindquarters, and I decided I had to end his misery. I’ll spare you the details of it, suffice it to say that it was a quick but bloody business.
I rarely remember my dreams, and even more rarely do I try to draw them. It’s been my experience that trying to put a dream to paper is almost invariably a disappointment, and the difference between what the mind’s eye can conjure and what the hand can render is at its most evident. Even in the best work of Dali or Magritte, the frozen image seems too literal a thing truly to capture the environment of dreams. But one dream has stayed with me, and some five years after I awoke from it, it forced my hand and found its way on to paper.
Shortly after the incident in the kitchen, I dreamt of a meadow with sunlight shining on tall golden grass, not a sound to be heard. Lying in the grass were a white wolf and her cub, both with glowing heavenly white like fairytale creatures. They sat silently as I approached them, with a heavy kitchen knife in hand. I gutted the two creatures, and the meadow went red with blood. The attack was silent and peaceful, as only a dream could allow. But when I awoke my chest was tight with horror and fear. This dream, unlike most that fade away moments after waking, stuck fast. I couldn’t shake it from my mind all through the day.
In drawing the piece years later, I chose to focus not so much on the dream itself but on that moment of horror as I woke from it. I’ve placed my waking self in the environment of the dream (and though I can’t claim to have such a fancy housecoat as in the picture, that’s why the figure is dressed as he is), and those moments between waking and sleep – both as you fall asleep and as you wake up – are the most interesting to me. They are when the waking world and the dream world seem to exist simultaneously, and I often aim for a similar effect in my artwork.
What I didn’t want to do with this image was simply to illustrate what happened in the dream. Self-Portrait, Gutting Wolves With Kitchen Knife is not really what I was after, but rather I wanted to communicate the moment of waking, as this dream burned itself into my memory.