Posted by Dawn Curtis on August 23, 2021 in Art

Thanks to everyone who came out to see Displacement (August 21 in Yellowknife) and those who supported from afar!

Here’s a video with highlights of the show. A great afternoon!



Dreams in the House of the Hanged Man

Posted by Dawn Curtis on April 26, 2021 in Art

Dreams in the House of the Hanged Man. Dawn Curtis. 2021

I talk to my oldest and best friend almost every day. She’s a compassionate dog foster parent, talented artist, and gifted tarot reader, and has been my lifeline since we met more than 50 years ago. Our free-ranging conversations cover everything from the weather to conspirituality to art, and help get me through these long days.

So naturally, I turned to her when musing on a title for this painting. She said the colours made her think of Paul Cézanne. I’ve always loved Cézanne, including his earlier works with their images of rural serenity, remarkable brushwork and carefully studied composition. We wondered what the artist, whose works generally bear straightforward, descriptive titles, was alluding to in his 1873 work The House of the Hanged Man (La Maison du pendu).

House of the Hanged Man (La maison du pendu), Paul Cézanne. 1873.

I couldn’t find much information about the title. A later etching of his friend Armand Guillaumin, Portrait of Guillaumin with the Hanged Man, contains a sketch in the upper left corner which depicts a tiny gallows with a hanged man. Some Paul Cézanne scholars believe it alludes to The House of the Hanged Man which he’d completed a year earlier at Auvers-sur-Oise, France, but there are no details. Which makes the title all the more mysterious and intriguing.

Portrait of Guillaumin with the Hanged Man. Paul Cézanne. 1873.

Blank windows draw me right in when they appear in an artwork or photograph. What is going on behind those windows? Who lives there? What do they care about, think about? What are their dreams? The blankness feels like an invitation into the artist’s mind, and by extension into my own. What might I see reflected back? Or in the blackness beyond?

For insight I turned to my favourite tool for self-exploration—the Tarot—and the XIIth card in the Major Arcana, the Hanged Man.

In the traditional Rider Waite Smith deck, the card depicts a young man hanging from a tree by one foot. Many people react to it with anxiety when it shows up in a tarot reading. What is that guy doing exactly? Why is he hanging from a tree by one leg? Why is the other leg bent? It looks so uncomfortable! What’s going to happen to me? How does this relate to me and my life?

The card itself evokes mystery. Traditional meanings include being stuck, hung up, and making a sacrifice, such as the Norse god Odin who suspended himself from a tree in order to receive the magical alphabet of the runes. Combine this image of painful self-sacrifice with negative cultural associations of hanging—capital punishment, lynching, and self-harm—and people’s anxiety when seeing the card is understandable.

Some contemporary Tarot readers have reinterpreted the card, dispelling negative connotations with an invitation to look at where we are stuck or hung up in our lives, and to examine if we need to make changes or give up something in order to attain something else, be it material or a better understanding of ourselves.

In her Tarot for the Wild Soul podcast episode Staying Awake During Difficult Moments, Lindsay Mack refers to the Hanged Man as the “Tethered One”, who invites us to suspend action, to pause and look deeply inside ourselves and identify habits, unproductive thought patterns, self-criticism, and self-doubt we need to let go of in order to move forward. Of course, we hate change, and cling on with dear life to the usual, however uncomfortable. Change is hard! So it’s natural for us to feel weird or anxious about letting go.

Rachel Pollock, in her book Tarot Wisdom: spiritual teachings and deeper meanings suggests that the Hanged Man represents an invitation to a liberation of the spirit. The young man’s relaxed face, surrounded by a halo of light, says Pollock, indicates a glimpse of genuine knowing of the self. He maintains this state of knowing by “staying upside down—opposite to everyone else and not trying to do anything.” His reversed physical posture is a symbol of the reversal of attitude that comes from simply taking a time out and observing ourselves.

Looking at parts of myself I don’t want to examine, and letting them go, is extremely uncomfortable. Yoga and meditation, two common tools for getting in touch with the inner self, encourage us to sit, to hold still and make friends with the discomfort. And can include standing on your head! Yet as anyone who has tried this knows, well … good luck with that! We might get glimpses, but we aren’t meant to stay in a constant state of mindfulness with our new-found self-knowledge. We simply can’t. To do so would, quite simply, blow our gaskets.

Instead, Mack says we “develop a tolerance for present-ness by cycling in and out” of our discomfort. We move in and out of the state in stages which are cyclical in nature and not a straight line, surfing waves of discomfort. We experience moments of seeing ourselves and our actions clearly, rather than being drawn down under the water by our emotions. And it’s during these moments when we are most compelled to escape, when we want to go to our comfy place—the trips to the fridge, online shopping, addiction to familiar ways of thinking and responding. But we have to stay there just long enough, over and over again, to change our habitual responses and move forward.

Dreams in the House of the Hanged Man reflects my process of making art, as mysterious to me as the title of Cézanne’s piece and whatever might be going on behind the blank windows in La maison du pendu. When I’m painting, I cycle in and out of my connection to the work. I feel joyous and spontaneous, then stuck and unsure. And I pause, and dream. If I sit still long enough with the discomfort in my creative space, what might be possible as I move forward?


Art of the Print: Paul Cezanne

Mack, Lindsay, Staying awake during difficult moments: the hanged man, the sevens & reversals 

Pollack, Rachel  Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings




View from the Tower: a powerful symbol

Posted by Dawn Curtis on September 16, 2020 in Art, Inspiration, Jung, muse, Tarot

When a title pops up that includes a powerful archetypal symbol like the tower, I pay attention!

View from the tower

View from the tower

When I begin a painting, I don’t usually have a theme or subject in mind and start instead with an impression—some pattern, colour or shape just outside my field of vision—that won’t leave me alone. While no doubt every work is infused with something that originates within my psyche, this is often unconscious and doesn’t always come through to the light. It’s only when a piece is finished that I can look at it and perhaps ascribe meaning. And this doesn’t happen every time.

However, when a title pops up that includes a powerful archetypal symbol like the tower, I pay attention!

I started “View from the tower” this year at the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown. I was experiencing the same emotions as most people – anxiety at separation from loved ones, financial worries, and incredulous horror at how quickly the need for compassion and rapid response on a global crisis turned into a free-for-all of racism and exploitation for political and economic gain. When working on my artwork, however, I was blissfully analysis-free and just head-down in the zone. Along with copious snacking and long naps, this approach helped many months pass quickly.

After putting the piece away for many weeks, I took it out still un-named, to add finishing touches. Seeing it with fresh eyes, it felt I was looking down from a great height, perhaps from a tower. “View from the Tower” popped into my head and seemed to fit. From my self-isolation in the “tower” of my sixth-floor condo, I’d had months to reflect on the forced slow-down of social interaction, work and the economy. I began, like many others, to experience the positive effects of time and space, rarely present in hectic schedules, a pause which allowed us to look within, both individually and collectively.

Symbols can be useful as a leaping-off point to finding meaning in life. I was drawn as a young adult to the theories of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, and more recently to the archetypes of the Tarot. Both the Tarot and Jung’s work explore the world of symbols as a window into self-knowledge. And the tower is a powerful symbol in both.

The tower card gets a bad rap and no one likes it when it turns up in a Tarot reading. In the traditional Waite-Smith deck, the image shows a tower hit by lightning and exploding with fire. A man and a woman leap from the tower head-first, plummeting to certain death.

The Tower

The Tower

One common interpretation indicates upheaval and extreme situations that will explode if left unaddressed. However, another interpretation is that the pain experienced from difficulty can lead to freedom—whether it be personal freedom when we shed old beliefs and behaviour patterns, or at a societal level, as unrest leads to the shattering of long-standing attitudes and situations and paves the way for something new.

As the Tarot archetype of the tower encourages us to go deeper into what the symbolism of the tower might mean to us personally, Jung’s work provides some insight into the tower as a symbol for the self-isolation necessary to be present and hear our inner voice.

While Jung did not devote much time to study symbolism in the Tarot, his exploration of archetypes reveals that the tower played an important role in both his work and his life.

Jung built himself a tower/house in Bollingen, Switzerland into which he would retreat for months at a time. Some of Jung’s writings from these periods of withdrawal reflect the timeless quest for personal truth, and mirror sentiments that have surfaced amongst many of us during our forced periods of quiet since the shutdown began.

Bollingen Tower

Bollingen Tower

Philosopher and blogger Morgan Mussell has written about Jung’s quest for a simplicity necessary in order to explore his own inner life. In his excellent 2014 blog post Jung’s Tower: simplicity and the inner life, Mussell delves into Jung’s views on the busyness and absence of mindfulness in modern life. Mussell quotes from Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in which Jung states: “… we no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the present light of day but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring a proper sunrise.” Something many people are discovering now that they’ve been forced to slow down. There is no certain tomorrow, only today.

Mussell lists a number of ways to “unplug” and find the things “that center us and we are drawn to”, such as writing and engaging in visual arts or crafts, both of which have always worked for me. And while at time of writing in 2014 Mussell states “we don’t need a tower to live in for months at a time” in order to find  ourselves, recently most of us have had the slowness of isolation—the tower—forced upon us, whether we felt we needed it or not. Sometimes welcome, sometimes challenging, there is no doubt we will emerge changed, both as individuals and as a society.

Since Jung’s death in 1961, Tarot experts and Jungian scholars such as Rose Gwain and others have applied Jung’s system of archetypes, the psyche and psychological types to the archetypal system of the Tarot, revealing a rich tapestry that can be used to delve deeper into what makes us tick. According to Gwain in her book “Discovering Your Self through the Tarot: A Jungian guide to archetypes & personality”, archetypal symbols “tell us exactly what we already know but have not yet allowed our conscious minds to confront.” The tower, she states, “represents the crises through which our egos must pass in order for us to grow.”

Would I have felt differently about my forced isolation six months ago, knowing what I know now about how events would unfold and with this “tower” insight? Perhaps. But it’s beside the point. Living “in the present light of day” helps me move forward despite the confusion and uncertainty. “View from the tower” could be my unconscious offering me a map, itself a symbol, that shows glimpses of what is possible and what might come. I can take the next step, without knowing the full path to get there.

Note: Please refer to the references below for more information. And a sincere apology to those much more knowledgeable about Jung and the Tarot than I, if I’ve gotten anything wrong.

Morgan Mussell
The First Gates blog

Carl Jung
Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Rose Gwain
Discovering Your Self through the Tarot: A Jungian guide to archetypes & personality

Theresa Reed
Tarot for Troubled Times

Rachel Pollack
Tarot Wisdom: spiritual teachings and deeper meanings

Wikipedia: Bollingen Tower

Forest Bathing

Posted by Dawn Curtis on September 13, 2020 in Art
Forest bathing

Forest bathing

16×20 inches, oil and cold wax medium on birch panel, SOLD

View more of my work

“How did you do that?” Some musings on the creative process …

Posted by Dawn Curtis on August 2, 2020 in Art, Inspiration

When viewing my work, people often ask about my creative process. How do I decide on colours? How do I achieve depth? How can it look textured yet be smooth to the touch? How long does it take to complete a painting?

I don’t think too much about what I’m doing when I’m doing it, at least at the beginning stages. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by a landscape, person, object or image, or the texture of something I see. Whatever it is, I try to let go and bring the emotional energy—the feeling it evokes in me—into my work. This isn’t always a conscious act! 

The first stage is pure play, putting down marks and colours with abandon, sometimes adding collage paper and other media. As I work, I add layers, let them dry, sand, glaze, scratch, and gouge into the surface. As the layers build up (sometimes as many as 20 or more by the time I’m done) certain elements start to emerge that define the piece. 

The later stages of a painting are the most challenging and can take quite a while. What does it have, and what does it need? Is it balanced? I spend time contemplating a piece before adding the final touches, sometimes putting a painting away out of sight for weeks or even months before coming back to it with fresh eyes. 

Here are just a few of the stages of this mixed media piece “High Road” from near the beginning, to the finished work.


Want to learn more? I highly recommend checking out Pamela Caughey at www.artandsuccess.com and Gillian Lee Smith at www.gillianleesmithartschool.com . I am greatly inspired by the work of these two talented artists and teachers, and have learned a great deal from them.