Dorothy Nissen


Return to Index


Return to Index
“Asylum” (mixed media, 24" x 24" x 6")   “Lulu” (mixed media on digital print, 48" x 32" x 1.75")

Dorothy Nissen is a painter and book artist who on the way to now has been an award winning art director and graphic designer, magazine and book publisher, yoga and drawing teacher, social worker, agit prop/street theater activist, belly dancer, copywriter, poet, sometime mentor at Antioch West, volunteer tutor and student. She loves to travel and go on picnics in the country.

Artist Statement

“Asylum (a sanctuary for higher primates), by Dora P., an inmate”

The figure of Dora P. is someone I met in a stack of old photographs at Urban Ore. She became more real as each subsequent piece over those weeks insisted on being about her or by her. She is not the whole of what I am, but someone I must explore. Does P. stand for pliant, patient, princess, what?)
Dora’s story is too long to relate here; suffice to say that in the end she was hospitalized and subjected to a series of shock treatments and that her case history was compiled in a book called The Unfortunate Case of Dora P. The pieces that comprise Asylum were found smudged with vaseline and stuck with fallen-out hair under the narrow bed where she hid them after her seventeenth treatment. They can thus be said to emerge from Dora’s post-traumatic daylight dream state. She is reported to have whispered to the devoted nurse that the peculiar little sculptures are portraits not only of her fellow inmates, but also of the elegant doctor and other researchers who officiated at her treatment.


For me the encounter of hand with the matter of ink or paint can induce a dream state. Lulu is an inner figure who came out in just such a state in the form of a dog. Lulu, the belly dancer, aims to please if not to pander.


This painting was painted in the dead of night when I woke up from a nightmare sweating with fear, sorrow, and actual horror of contagion from a person who was working at the house I had just moved into. He had been brought to work by his father, and appeared so ill-tempered and so exhausted and so shaky and strung out that I could only imagine that he had some kind of crack-induced hangover.
As I woke up at 2 a.m., I started painting. It was only in the course of painting this picture that I was able to breath more slowly and over time to make a separation between the powerlessness I felt before him, the not altogether ungrounded fear that he might in some way harm my house—as the unconscious breaks into one’s inner house—(which at the time had no ceiling), and sorrow or compassion for his life situation. I am glad that in painting this picture I was able to regain some distance and sense of peace.

“The Double; What Shoes Does Coyote Wear to Hang the Stars from the Sky?”

I believe this painting would qualify as a waking dream, since the strange animal in the painting emerged in a blotch of ink during a session of automatic writing. As the animal took form, a phrase drifted through my peripheral brain: “What shoes does Coyote wear to hang the stars from the sky?”

As the painting developed I felt driven to tack a postcard of Cabanel’s Dreaming Venus to the painting. Why would I attach this very worst of paintings, in my opinion, to my own picture? Is there some ambivalence perhaps, some combination of repugnance and affinity towards our cultural association of the unconscious—perhaps even the sublime— with the feminine body in a swoon? In this picture it is difficult to tell if it is Coyote, the painter, who longs for the woman floating on the waves, or is it the sleeping Venus who yearns to be the feral painter. ...Who is dreaming whom? (Right now Coyote has no shoes; evidently the shoes —and stars— must wait for the next dream painting!)

Nissen continued, gallery 2

2005 IASD Dream Art Exhibition

22nd Annual Conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams
June 24 - June 28, 2005
Berkeley, California

- 2005 -
IASD Homepage