Story Behind the Art: The Penguins Dream & Desire

Earlier this year, I started on a series of paintings featuring the penguins Dream and Desire.

The process started almost 2 years ago, when a friend commented that it was time to move away from the happy penguins in the sky, and challenge myself to work on something “darker”.

She had said: “You have a darker side too. Why are you so afraid to express that?”

I shared this with another friend – a writer and actor based in Auckland – and he said, “I’d like to support you in this, so I’d like to commission a series of 4 dark paintings.”

So we agreed on the size and media of the works, the price, and he paid a deposit, and I was to begin working. Stress…. hahaha…

My first attempt at something “darker” was this forest piece created 2 years ago in mid-2015:

Then from more sketching, this character emerged in the first half of 2016:

“The NightFaun” (2016)
Watercolor, ink and color pencil on watercolor paper, 8.3 x 11.7 in.

Which evolved into this piece about desires in the later part of 2016:

Tanha (2016)
Watercolor on watercolor paper, 11.7 x 16.5 in.

I named this dark character the NightFaun, a half-deer-half-girl hybrid who lives in a dark forest, and is accompanied by a sad antlered penguin. The NightFaun and the antlered penguin both have dark hollows for eyes, representing the void within us which cannot be filled – the source of all our desires.

In a series of watercolor paintings that I worked on from August to October 2016, collectively called “Of Dreams and Desires”, I wrote:

“There is a space inside us, in which resides our longings and desires. These give rise to feelings of loneliness, wanting to connect, and a need that cannot be satisfied. No matter how much we’ve collected and consumed, that space within can never be filled. It’s an endless search for home and belonging, driven by the desire for things to be a certain way, and yet they are not. At the same time, these longings and desires give rise to our dreams, our possibilities, and stories of expression, expansion, adventure and love. The penguin represents living out one’s truest self, leading with your best self, and the manifestation of courage, dreams and possibilities in the process of creating the life that one truly desires. Our dreams and desires constantly fuel each other in a never-ending cycle. The dream creates the desire, and the desire creates the dream.”

With this concept, I mused again about the 4 commissioned dark paintings, and because the client is an actor who primarily stages and acts in his own plays, I was reminded of the comedy and tragedy masks, symbols often associated with theater. These masks have the hollow dark eyes much like my new antlered characters, and after sketching some more, the penguins Dream and Desire emerged.

“The Penguins Dream & Desire” (2017)
Watercolor and ink on watercolor paper, 11.7 x 8.3 in.

I usually begin developing my artwork ideas using watercolor on paper first, and I started to look at the characters of Dream and Desire and what makes them who they are.

To me, they are both different sides of each of us. We have a Dream side who is full of hope, optimism and wonder, and a Desire side which is dark, pessimistic, a hole that can never be filled.

Together, it’s both of these forces that propel us through life, Dream pulling us toward something greater, and Desire pushing us to fulfill what we are missing. Dream tells us which way to go, and Desire gets us there. Both of these aspects need to work hand-in-hand in order for us to create the life we truly want.

And thus this series of 4 paintings were created, a story of how we emerge from a space of darkness and lost-ness, daring to let go of our comfort zone, sailing off into the great unknown, and creating our new home in the starry sky.

“Forest Dream & Desire (2017)
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

“Dream & Desire Contemplate Adventure” (2017)
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

“Dream & Desire’s Starry Ocean Adventure” (2017)
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

“Dream & Desire’s Sky Home” (2017)
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

And it doesn’t end there, for the new home is but made of sand, and soon enough the cycle needs to repeat again, with the promise of a new dream, and the new desires that drive us to get there.

Where does your Dream want to take you?

And how is your Desire getting you there?

About MaryAnn Loo

Visual artist - whimsical paintings and illustrations
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