By Bob Booth
The image ‘The Dream of Jacob’ is reproduced from an oil sketch inspired by the familiar Bible story of ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ As with much biblical writing, distant events and characters confront us with our own story, offering the chance to identify our experience in a context that is not merely personal.
For a long time I had resisted the idea of depicting angels on the grounds that they represent a now unfamiliar way of understanding the world. A gravity-defying population of ‘as-large-as-life’ angels seemed to offer no usable connection for those trying to find meaning in a modern world. I embarked on ‘The Dream of Jacob’ partly because it would inevitably feature angels. Although this may not seem a very impressive motive, it was part of a personally demanding process of change in my thinking.
Previously I had painted in an impressionist style: a style that seemed to be dependent on objective seeing - the everyday accidents of light, colour and form, rendered by the accidents of the medium. Although this has been a very exciting way to work, I suspect that it, in some way it has always left me with just the world. Extravagantly beautiful and rich as this was, it failed to acknowledge some decisive truth about its being. Perhaps it is notable that the founding fathers of the impressionist movement in France, painted a world largely untroubled by the agonies of revolution. The deep disturbances and longings of the soul were unable to find expression through even the most magnificent seeing eyes (Chou, 1987).
More recently my starting point has been the invisible, as seen through the steady gaze of the Christian tradition. My first brush-strokes are usually made when I have only a very tentative, vague idea about the form a painting might take. Even then, initial ideas are normally overwhelmed early-on by the unforeseeable developments of the creative process. It is a process full of open-ended narratives, images and ideas that sow seeds, spark fires, and start relationships.
Despite an awareness that chance is more creative than design, I am always caught out by pre-supposed images that offer a kind of safety in their lifelessness. In this instance I had assumed a sleeping figure of Jacob and was thoughtlessly waiting for such a figure to take shape, when I recognised a brushstroke that suddenly offered a Jacob being swept up into a life-illuminating moment in which he was no mere observer.
The loves and memories, symbols and myths, by which we understand our world are shaped by
experiences that are not open to objective verification and scrutiny. The Dream of Jacob is a moment of transforming recognition when heaven transfigures the earth.
Chou, P. (1987). Claude Monet (1840-1926): Painting Light with the Mind's Eye. Retrieved Jan 2014: