There is a moment upon waking when the surreal imagery of the dream world lingers in your consciousness -- a disorienting feeling in which reality and fantasy bleed into each other.
It only lasts a few flutters of your eyelids as the images, exposed to the light of reality, quickly evaporate. But what if it was possible to remain in the in-between stage of sleep and wakefulness?
Artist Justin Wiest, of Wilton, has figured out a way, although his method of accessing the hypnagogic state has little to do with actual slumber. "Painting does this very well," Wiest said. "The effect is a mood that isn't very tactile -- like dreams, you don't get a concrete understanding of what they are -- but it's a very penetrating feeling."
In the aptly titled "Dreams Waking," Wiest, the artist behind one of three new exhibitions at the Silvermine Arts Center, goes for this effect by weaving surrealist elements -- the sort of things that might tip you off to the fact that you're actually dreaming -- into his portraits of everyday scenes. More specifically, Wiest anthropomorphizes inanimate objects (furniture, mannequins), elevating them to the role of primary characters in his haunting narratives.
In "The Doctors," a pair of mysterious masked figures scrutinize a mixing bowl held by a third figure clothed in a black-hooded cloak. This third subject is faceless, and, like his companions, is revealed to be a mannequin. The image is otherworldly, yet familiar, existing somewhere between the dream world and reality.
"I want to make viewers linger, to ask questions, even if they get uncomfortable, even if they don't understand," he said. "That, like examining your dreams, is what art is all about."
"Dreams Waking" is running concurrently with "The Art of Mark Making," an exhibition of large-scale abstract paintings by Ashley Andrews, of North Salem, N.Y., and West Palm Beach, Fla., and Natasha Karpinskaia, of Moscow and Connecticut.
The paintings are the product of a real-time collaboration between Andrews and Karpinskaia: One artist would make a mark on the canvas, and the other would respond in kind. Neither artist's marks were sacred, however.
"Our biggest rule: You can't think your mark is so precious that the other person can't alter it," said Andrews, a former student of Karpinskaia's at the Silvermine Arts Center. "She could paint it over, white it out, paint into it. We tried not to hang onto our own ideas, so it wouldn't look like two separate paintings."
Although the dialogue involved "a lot of squealing," Andrews and Karpinskaia were able to come together to create a series of unique and original paintings that embody the creative essence of both artists.
"It's not easy; everybody has their own ideas," Andrews said. "But we were able to create something beautiful together."
The latest set of exhibitions, which are on view through April 5 at Silvermine, is rounded out by "Selections from the Gabor Peterdi International Print Collection." The collection, which grew out of the National Print Biennial competition at Silvermine Arts Center that Peterdi founded, features award-winning prints from the contest, as well as additional ones added through donations and bequests. On view are works by Josef Albers, Robert Cottingham, James Flora, Charles Hinman, Liliana Porter and Peterdi.
The gallery at the Silvermine Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, New Canaan, is open Wednesday to Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For information, call 203-966-9700 or visit silvermineart.org.