'The Red Book Hours' explores Carl Jung's creative process

Palo Alto author Jill Mellick follows in the psychoanalyst's artistic footsteps

Many of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung's revolutionary concepts are household words today: synchronicity, archetype, collective unconscious and introversion and extroversion, to name a few. But how he came to his ideas is less known.

Jung developed his theories while embarking on a decades-long journey of artistic exploration: He painted and carved images from his own unconscious, manifesting his dreams, visions and reflections, which he recounted in a 22-pound, 400-plus page manuscript "The Red Book: Liber Novus." The book, which he created from 1914 to 1930, was so personal that it wasn't published until 2009, 48 years after his death. The New York Times called the book the most significant publication in 20th-century psychology.

Intrigued by Jung's artistic works, Palo Alto author Jill Mellick decided to explore his creative process.

After nearly a decade of research, she has published a new book on Jung's self-exploration in pigment and stone in a 454-page tome, published by Swiss house Scheidegger & Spiess, "The Red Book Hours: Discovering C.G. Jung's Art Mediums and Creative Process." The book examines the environment, pigments, tools and choices Jung made when creating his art as a spiritual practice and window to self-discovery.

"Jung was his own most radical research experiment. Risking, he believed, his own sanity but fearlessly entering and documenting the unconscious, he used new methods including the arts," Mellick said.

He considered his illuminated manuscript to be the foundation of his theoretical work, Mellick noted.

Mellick, a Jung-oriented psychologist in Palo Alto since 1984, said she didn't intend on writing a book when she first started researching Jung's creative process in 2009. She merely set out to answer a question about the mediums he chose after she and a fellow therapist visited an exhibit of "The Red Book" at the Rubin Gallery in New York.

"I was amazed at the intensity of its colors, detail and calligraphy. I've painted in many mediums and practiced calligraphy since my teens, so naturally I was interested in what he used to get these incredible effects. Also, I knew from my own experience that different mediums affect artists differently," she said.

"Tracing the artist's process creates a footprint of his state of consciousness," she wrote in her book. The exhibit didn't specify the mediums Jung used, however, a fundamental question that intrigued Mellick. Searching for the answer became the genesis for her book and began a nine-year journey into Jung's creative process.

Mellick began her journey at Jung's Swiss homes in Kusnacht and Bollingen, where she could see what she'd read about him. Environment was vital to Jung, especially proximity to water, she said.

"I stood on his library balcony overlooking Lake Z├╝rich. Church clocks were chiming the hour. I stood in the rooms where Jung spent 16 years painting at night under a 100-watt, green lamp.

"He designed his formal, lakeside family house (at Kusnacht) where he also saw patients, invited visions and made 'The Red Book,'" she said.

Jung later designed and built The Tower at Bollingen, a medieval-like, lake-front stone retreat, where he carved bas reliefs and freestanding sculptures -- his "confessions in stone," as he called them -- and created a ceiling mural and wall paintings of mandalas and other works.

"I was newly aware that he had carefully created the spaces where he could create. And beauty and the flexibility to be engaged or solitary silent was a necessity. His houses were an extension of his inner life, outer beliefs, and aesthetic," she said.

Mellick then heightened her inquiry to the study of a great artistic master. Jung had explored a range of techniques informed by Byzantine, Aztec and tribal art and Art Nouveau. He chose powdered pigments rather than commercially prepared gouache and watercolor to explore medieval styles and illuminated manuscripts. Mellick analyzed the pigments and studied his techniques: his use of color, how he applied his paints, his use of perspective, dimension, shading and his art as a spiritual practice. With the help of Jung's family, she obtained samples of his pigments.

They became deeply involved in the project. Her book received funding from Jung's foundations. His grandson, Andreas Jung, a retired restoration architect who resides in the Kusnacht home, gave Mellick access to the house, information, the right to use archival and personal photographs and offered constructive critique. He helped Mellick locate a tall, standing desk Jung designed for painting "The Red Book" that had been stored in the gardener's shed from which they took paint samples.

Another grandson, Jost Hoerni, a retired physician and one of the stewards of the Bollingen Tower, sampled the many pigments he found stored at Bollingen. He took flakes of paint from "The Red Book" on one of only two days the manuscript was out of its sealed box in the bank vault, she said.

A toxics expert also suggested that Mellick should test the pigments to learn what exposure to hazardous materials Jung might have had quite a bit, it turned out, she said.

Part technical treatise of Jung's materials, "The Red Book Hours" is also a colorful journey down lanes and through forests that nurtured Jung's creative and thought processes. It witnesses the gardens and rooms of his home and tower refuge where Jung explored the dark recesses of his own psyche and gave life to the understanding of so many others'. But Jung never considered his works "art," she noted.

"Jung used (art) for the soul's purposes -- and only made remarkable art as a by-product. He placed no value on his art or that of his patients. The value was in the maker's relationship with a piece," she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by thomas
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Beautiful article, great images. I will suggest that it all started when the other beings, Rudolph Steiner has referred to them as Elementals, came to Jung's home kicked in the door and moved in with him (much like the coming of the Wild God). Jung wrote that he though that he was going insane. He thought of his schizophrenic patients. I think that Jung's writing and painting at this time were his efforts to deal with what seemed like a profound and deep wisdom. I think that he felt as though these visions and other manifestations were coming to him and he wanted to record them. Thank goodness. Jung has brought us a lot of wisdom and freedom.

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