Analyst & Artist: Desy Safán-Gerard

Desy Safán-Gerard, Psychoanalyst and Artist, speaks about her approach to space – on canvas and in an analytic session

“Desy paints Shostakovich, 2011: Exhibition and Performance in Montreuil”

 – Montreuil, France –  
June 7, 2011
Music: Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 3          Model: Maria Clark
Camera: Maryse Ebely          Video Editing: Jake Buchheit

Narrative: Connection between being an artist and a psychoanalyst

by Desy Safán-Gerard, Ph.D.

The first time I recognized the connection between being an artist and being a psychoanalyst took place more than thirty years ago. I was invited by the American Academy of Psychoanalysis in New York to talk about my work as an artist at their 1983 meeting, which was dedicated to art and psychoanalysis. There were four months between the invitation and the actual conference. So, I decided to try to begin and finish a painting within that time, making notes on the process and observing conscious thoughts and dreams as I worked on my painting. When the day came, I presented my work in progress, 52 slides of my painting as it evolved over the four months, accompanied by my notes and dreams, now organized into a finished paper, “The Evolution of a Painting.”

But that turned out to be only part of the story. The audience – consisting of colleagues, some of whom were strangers, others old friends – now became part of the experience. A number responded with tears in their eyes; others were moved to speak about how, in ways that were inexplicable to them, they had been moved by what they had seen and heard. It was as though they themselves had become part of the creative moment. For me, it became a gratifying touchstone…and a launching point for thoughts and ruminations for future endeavors about the relationship between art and psychoanalysis, about creativity and destructiveness…and so much more.

Years later, in 1999, I turned to the relationship between destructiveness and reparation in my work in progress. I gave a paper with 112 slides entitled “Destructiveness and Reparation in the Creative Process: A Retrospective” on the occasion of the International Psychoanalytic Congress to be held for the first time in Santiago, Chile. I realized then that my paper would be an anniversary paper because it marked thirty years since I had left Chile and close to thirty years since I began to paint in Los Angeles, California. I wanted to share with my fellow colleagues at the Departamento de Psicología de la Universidad de Chile – where I had studied psychology – what I had been up to in all of these years.

It was indeed very affecting for me, and for them, to share my efforts at what is ultimately the seeking of psychic truth. And on what had become a journey that had started in my homeland and had continued among strangers, as I grew and changed and found my way – as an artist, a psychoanalyst and a woman. It was for me a way of bringing present to past and past to present, a reclamation of sorts – as artist and psychoanalyst, or perhaps on that occasion as psychoanalyst and artist. I was subsequently invited to give this paper in Paris and Zurich the following year. In Paris, I presented the paper in French where, another delight, they had no problem understanding me.

This winding path has resulted in my dual life as an artist and a psychoanalyst. For the last twenty years I have written a number of papers on my own creative process and have worked with patients with impaired creativity individually and in an experiential group situation. A mark on the canvas opens up a space that needs to be filled without my interfering in the process. A patient’s evolution needs to be allowed to develop on its own terms. This theme resonates through my life’s work in art and psychoanalysis. My practice in both domains involves exercising restraint so that the painting and the patient can flourish with minimal intervention.


Desy Safán-Gerard was born in Chile where she studied musical composition with Leon Shidlovsky and Gustavo Becerra. She is a painter as well as a training and supervising analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of California in Los Angeles. Desy graduated in psychology from the University of Chile, Santiago, won a Fulbright scholarship to the Psychology Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCLA in 1974.

Ever since she began to paint in 1971, she has led a dual life. As a psychoanalyst she has been carrying out her clinical work, written several important papers on creativity, and taught psychoanalytic courses. As a painter she translates music into the visual realm, and creates paintings based on the music of Boulez, Shostakovich, Piazzola, Brockman, and Kraft. Her “Boulez Series” of nine paintings, ‘Le Marteau Sans Maître,’ was displayed in the “Music to the Eye” exhibit at L.A. Artcore in 2003. She has had a studio in Venice since 1992.

A survey show covering fourteen years of paintings and drawings by Desy was held at the Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery in Santa Monica in 2007. In 2009, the Stuttgart Deutsch-Amerkanisches Zentrum held “Contrasts: Contemporary Art in the USA and Germany,” which featured Desy’s five canvases and fourteen works on paper titled “Timeless and Unmetered.” In February 2010, one of Desy’s paintings was acquired for the permanent collection of the Villa Haiss Museum in Zell, Germany.

In the last few years Desy has developed a performance, painting with both hands while a nude model moves to the music of contemporary composers. These performances have taken place in Paris and most recently in Los Angeles at Art Share L.A. last November.

Here is a link to her website complete with paintings, papers, and videos.

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