The following film and transcription follow the artistic expression of Annie Gusman Joly.
Annie describes her creative path and how starting in 1986—when she attended classes at the Esalen Institute—how her relationship to painting deepened and opened a door to healing.
Perhaps her journey may provide inspiration for others to move beyond fear and channel their energy into a path of healing no matter what chosen medium to fuel a space for healing.
Annie Gusman Joly’s film, Healing Visions, is about how the act of painting has helped her heal emotional wounds.
Annie Gusman Joly’s Healing Visions
I started painting for myself in 1986.
I took a workshop at Esalen Institute, and when I arrived I had no what I was going to paint. I had been an illustrator over 10 years, and I was just feeling the need to paint for myself to do something different. I thought maybe I would paint the scenery. I was painting in a beautiful building on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and I stood there with a giant white piece of paper and my hand just started to move. And I was totally amazed at what came out.
And the more I painted, the more came out. Even though the paintings were very dark as far as imagery, it was a great release to do them. It was discovering a whole new part of myself that I did not know had existed. When I look at the paintings now, it seems that I had some kind of awareness, some kind of precognition, because that year my mother committed suicide.
People are afraid to paint because they don’t know where to start. Seeing that piece of white paper is very scary, but it is also very exciting at the same time.
I don’t think too much about what I am going to paint, I just try to go on intuition. Sometimes I just put a color down, and that color has a certain feeling which will make me want to put another color next to it.
After my mother’s suicide I felt like I was leading a double life: the internal life and the external life. It made me feel very separate from other people. As you can imagine it was a very, very dark and very difficult time for me. But I knew that I had to do something. I started to paint again because I remembered how comforting the paintings had been to me when I painted at Esalen.
Healing Through Painting
In one of my favorite paintings called “My Healer,” I realized that my healing was up to me. The paintings became a practice, like meditation…like dance…like poetry.
It’s very important to suspend judgment at the painting. I still occasionally look at something and say, like, “Oh, I don’t like that color. I think I’ll move this.” But now I think of it more as it’s only a part of a painting that I don’t like, and I know that’s going to happen.
And maybe it’s just the tension in the painting that helps me move on, that helps me finish the painting. And I really try not to judge it as though I would if I went to a museum.
It’s about those early paintings…there is a lot of demons flying around. And the demons are really scary at that point, I am really afraid. They look mean. They look angry because that’s really how I am feeling inside.
As the months progressed, the demons became my friends. For example, after her death, I had an incredible dream. The dream was very scary at the time, but when I actually started to work on the piece, the whole mood, the whole character, of the painting changed into one of benevolence and compassion, and kindness and healing.
Listen to the Paintings Speak
In the early nineties, I met a man named Shaun McNiff. He taught me that it’s really not a good idea to talk about paintings and that so many of us judge paintings according to somebody’s criteria. He taught me: don’t judge the painting. Don’t talk about the painting. It’s just as if the painting has a soul and a being of its own. So when I look at the paintings, what I do is pretend that they are actually a person.
For example, you wouldn’t talk about a friend who came into the room and said, “Wow, that dress looks really bad with those shoes,” you know, or, “That hat is really the wrong color.”
What I like to do is have the paintings speak to me.
Most of the time, I stand when I paint. I feel like if my whole body is involved rather than my hand and my brain, things seem to flow better.
When you paint with no judgment, things happen that you don’t expect. And it’s a journey. It’s like going on a trip to a foreign country, a place like you had never been before.
It’s almost like a door. It’s really not the grief any more; the grief is turned into a door. Where I know that these images will come . . . I just know that.
I think it’s easier to speak your truth when you are not doing something for money. These paintings were created for me; they came from a flow that was inside. So I feel free . . . I feel free to create what I want to create without worrying about the end result.
When I first started doing these paintings, I was a little nervous to show them to people, because I thought they would think I was really strange, kind of crazy. Slowly, but surely, when I started to share them with some people, it was really amazing to hear their reaction. I think everybody relates to them in some manner in their own life. Everybody’s had a loss, everybody’s had some problems.
I never feel like I run out of things to paint. I have an endless well of imagery that I feel now can come out at any time. I never felt like this before I started these paintings.
When I’m in a room full of my paintings, I feel that I am with my best friends. It’s like something else is at work and things are not as they appear, and that there is another force going on within us. And that if we just can connect with…I don’t know, just makes me smile.