The composition of the Fairbairn Archive is rich, with a wide variety of materials from manuscripts to typescripts and photographs to correspondence. However, amongst the most striking of all the documents are a collection of dream drawings, made by Ronald Fairbairn in the 1950s.
Dreams have an important role to play when it comes to psychoanalysis. Alongside the exploration of fantasy and free-association, dreams offer analysts a means to gain insight into a patient’s symptoms and problems. Fairbairn made use of this technique when working with his own patients, but as these drawings reveal, he was also keen to record and analyse his own dreams.
That Fairbairn would be open to such self-analysis is no real surprise. Practitioners of Fairbairn’s generation were expected to undergo analysis as part of their training and in 1921, Fairbairn went into treatment with the analyst, E. H. Connell. With his obvious interest in the human psyche, understanding himself would be yet another means of furthering his knowledge of this complex subject.
Fairbairn’s dream drawings are, typically, simple line-drawings in pen, on lined paper. They give the impression of being made in haste, made as an aide-memoir rather than for any artistic purposes. There are recurring themes, recurring characters but much of the meaning is obscure and difficult to interpret.
For my first visit to this subject I have chosen a selection of images united by their depiction of landscape.
They are often devoid of people, although there are occasional exceptions, such as the drawing below.
And although most of the dream drawings depict plausible scenarios, there are occasional forays into the world of the supernatural, or at least the unusual, such as in the drawing below.
These drawings offer an extremely intimate window into the mind of Ronald Fairbairn. Researchers of archives most often need to make inferences from the documentary remains in order to be able to get this close to their subjects. The Fairbairn Archive is special because material of this nature is tantalisingly accessible, even if it does require a sophisticated degree of interpretation.