The Nightmare Revisited

   by Richard Shirley for Build A Dream (2014)

The project consists of 7 major elements...the stage, curtains, table, horse head, bed with draperies, sleeping woman, and incubus.
The stage was made from the Mystery Build box with the bottom of the box cut open to create the floor area and spray painted gold, and the box top kept intact to make a sort of shadow box for the curtains and the inside was spray painted black.
The curtains were created by draping pieces of the plaster cloth wrap over forms until set. Then the forms were removed and only the paster remained. The curtains were first spray painted orange or gold, then the shadows were hand painted before the curtains were superglued inside the box top and on the left side. The fringe on the gold curtain was created by twisting multiple strands of the white nylon threat together, binding it in several places with more thread, and cutting the end to create the tassel. Then it was spray painted gold and superglued in place.
The table top was built from the base of the wooden mannequin. The curved top of the base was cut off to make the table more closely resemble the painting that inspired the work. The extra piece that was removed was used later to make the base for the horse head. The table legs were made by twisting pieces of the aluminum wire spool into the appropriate shapes and then superglued to the bottom of the table top. The table was spray painted gold. The items on top of the table were created from small segments of the round wood dowel sanded to make a round top and the square basswood dowel - then both were painted orange.
The horse head was hand sculpted from the Van Aken Modeling Clay around the round wood dowel. The base for the head was built by glueing three segments of the square dowel together into a triangle and mounting the round scrap piece leftover from the mannequin base to the top of that triangle. The round dowel vertical support fit through a hole that I drilled in the top of the base and was then superglued in place. The entire stand for the horse head was painted black to hide it in the final photo and the white modeling clay horse head was turned black by applying graphite to the head with a small paintbrush.
The bed was created from a piece of the Tempered Hardboard surrounded by sections of the square basswood dowel. Legs for the bed were made from sections of the round wood dowel and glued to the bed base. The base was spray painted gold. The original painting shows a blue layer below the mattress, so I built a sublayer under the mattress from the styrofoam rod. Sections were cut from the rod the width of the bed and then each section was cut in half lengthwise and painted blue. All sections were glued to the bed base. The white mattress was constructed by superglueing several of the packing peanuts together and then wrapping them in the white plastic envelope that originally covered the plaster cloth wrap. The mattress was glued to the top of the blue sublayer. The draperies were created by wrapping the bed and mattress in saran wrap to protect it and then draping wet plaster cloth over the bed to create the desired effect. Once the plaster wrap dried, it was lifted off the bed and the saran wrap was removed. The draperies were hand painted red or yellow with dark shadows. Once the paint dried, the draperies were reinstalled on top of the mattress and glued in place.
The sleeping woman was created using the wooded mannequin covered in more of the Van Aken Modeling Clay to simulate the white gown from the original painting. The shadows were created by applying more of the shaved graphite using a small brush. The hair on the sleeping woman was created from the sea sponge dipped in grey watercolor to darken it and then trimmed to the correct shape and glued in place.
The incubus is also hand sculpted from the Van Aken Modeling Clay and held in place on top of the woman's chest with a section of the metal dowel that originally connected the mannequin to it's base. The yellow tint is created by applying ground yellow and yellow ochre soft pastel to the modeling clay using a small brush and the shadows were created by applying more of the shaved graphite.
The entire scene was arranged to resemble the original painting.

The inspiration for this project is Henry Fuseli's 1781 oil painting, The Nighmare, in which an incubus sits atop a sleeping woman's chest and a horse's head pokes through heavy draperies in the background. Both the incubus and the horse's head refer to contemporary belief and folklore about nightmares...which are types of dreams. All of the elements in the Mystery Build box seemed to me to be excellently suited to reinterpret this classic painting...especially the wood mannequin as the sleeping woman figure.

Originally I built the first horse's head around the foam Van Gogh ear in an effort to conserve modeling clay. But the head turned out to be too big for the scene in relation to the other elements and in the end I had enough clay to build the horse's head, the white gown on the mannequin, and the incubus. Sadly, I found no way to incorporate the ear.