Subconscious according to Barb Lougheed

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk with Barb Lougheed

Going Up, abstract painting by Barb Lougheed

Photo by Melanie Willis, courtesy of Barb Lougheed

Going Up

Barb Lougheed
Oil on canvas
30 in x 30 in (76 cm x 76 cm)

What can we learn about this work?


Barb Lougheed’s abstract Going Up is a journey through the thickness of the unconscious world in an attempt to make conscious the inner forces that direct our behaviour and thoughts but which operate outside our awareness. The artist filled her square canvas to the brim with strange things to make us reflect on all the unconscious content that fills our subconscious.

These objects not only fill nearly all the space on the canvas but are spilling beyond the frame, suggesting that there is much more where this came from. Looking at Going Up is like looking at the night sky peppered with stars and galaxies, and trying to capture all the shiny dots in a single frame – it’s not going to happen because wherever we look there is always more outside of our field of vision.

“My paintings tend to be complex and dense,” said Lougheed. “Through my work I am attempting to open a small window to the vast abundance and infinite expression of the universe. Our physical lives and daily thoughts are the tip of an iceberg – the eternal richness lies beneath.

“By learning to slow down in a world that encourages us to go faster, and examining this unconscious content, we can begin to work through the layers, to live more consciously and with greater freedom. Similarly, my paintings through their sheer density encourage the viewer to stop and study all the different objects and frequencies of all the worlds that reside within this one space.”


As the title suggests, things are moving around in this pink universe. The objects are taking off from the centre and randomly head upward.

“Movement is key in my work,” says Lougheed. “Things are jumping around, colliding, tearing off. This is my way of describing the fact that life never gives us a chance to rest in a sweet spot.

“We’re constantly being challenged and asked to change and adjust to new circumstances, new developments unfolding, and new self-awareness, despite our intense resistance. There is also a celebration of movement, and an appreciation of the giddy speed at which we live our lives in this age.”


Although the unconscious is often portrayed as a dark, inaccessible, even scary place, Lougheed has a different view of it. In Going Up she shows the joyful nature of the inner universe, its incredible creativity and potential, and the abundance of universal expression within it.

“I use colour to celebrate life,” says Lougheed. “Whereas much contemporary art tends toward the sombre, my paintings are for the most part uninhibitedly celebratory. I see the universe as a place to be celebrated and my colours express this.”

The fiesta-like colours help express this joyful energy and encourage us to lose the dark shades and put on the rose-coloured glasses.

We saw such bold use of colours in Eliane Saheurs’ Enchanted Space VI. Both artists use bright and vibrant colours to suggest energy, however, Saheurs uses a nature inspired palette of grays, blues, whites, oranges and browns to express the energy of geological forces, while Lougheed’s pinks, reds, blues, greens and yellows suggest the joy that spills out of a piñata or comes down with confetti. It’s a party, it’s a fiesta, it’s la vie en rose, and we are invited.


We don’t need to look very closely to notice that the artist applied multiple layers of paint and painted over elements, almost completely covering some of them. Was she fixing her mistakes? Did she change her mind halfway?

“Many of my paintings show traces of what went before, where things have been painted over,” Lougheed explains. “My creative process is intuitive. I fill the canvas and then work toward something slightly less complex. The end result is a layered painting with things suggested, but not always evident. Again, a good metaphor for life.”

A good metaphor for life, and for the subconscious. Whether in our dreams or while awake, we witness our minds layering thoughts upon thoughts, combining them and splitting, and then joining them again. It’s a perpetual process of creation .


What are these strange objects dancing all over the canvas? A tiny car, a flying saucer with its eye focused on us, boxes and umbrellas, and a whole galaxy of unidentified objects and creatures…

“My paintings are filled with symbols and creatures that try to express the inexpressible contents of the unconscious world, its wonder and richness,” Lougheed explains. “The works express a real appreciation for the humour of life and a desire to play as we search for the elusive truth behind it all.”

The Inner Universe II
January 13 to February 11
Centrepointe Theatre Gallery
Ben Franklin Place
101 Centrepointe Drive
Ottawa, Ontario

Vernissage: Tuesday, January 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday to Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The exhibition The Inner Universe II continues Barb Lougheed’s exploration of the inner universe and the symbols of our unconscious, their energy and power. The symbols presented in her paintings hint at the depth, humour and boundless richness of our interior space. There is an emotional remembrance, something almost recognizable but not quite within grasp.

Barb Lougheed is a visual artist living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Over the past 20 years she has worked in a variety of media but in recent years has been painting in oil. She is a recipient of the Ontario Arts Council Exhibition Assistance Grant. The focus of her work is the unconscious and its energies and symbols; however, humour and colour are key to her work because they remind her that life can be pretty funny and there is no need to take ourselves so seriously all the time.

Learn more about Barb and see more examples of her work:

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