I'm really a dream broker: Susan De Muth in bed with Ted Courbally Stoughton

Susan de Muth
Tuesday 16 August 1994 23:02

Ted Courbally Stoughton co-owns and runs a London art gallery that deals in contemporary Australian Aboriginal art.

DREAMS have always been my salvation. At school I had a terrible intellectual inferiority complex because I was dyslexic. One day somebody told me that only the most intelligent people dream in colour. My subconscious latched on to this and I started to have dreams in vivid Technicolor and a secret consolation: 'I may not pass my exams but tonight I'll dream in colour.'

I have also experienced the healing power of dreams. For many years I was an alcoholic and desperately unhappy. I had a sort of spiritual awakening - not unrelated to my growing knowledge of Aboriginal mysticism but rooted in Christianity - which produced dreams of better, happier ways to live. The feelings of hope that these dreams implanted in the day gave me the strength to give up drinking. I haven't touched a drop for five years.

Like Aboriginal people, I experience past lives in my dreams. In one, for example, I am living in a cave wearing skins. In another, I relive the immense frustration of being killed just as I am about to achieve my ultimate ambitions - to own a castle and be at court. Sometimes I realise that a present unhappiness is rooted in a past life and I try to exorcise it by dealing with it as it occurs in a dream.

My nocturnal habits have naturally changed a lot since I've been off the sauce. I live with my girlfriend in central London and we stay in most evenings. I read a lot, nothing esoteric: at the moment I'm enjoying Barry Humphries' autobiography.

Every so often I am overwhelmed by an immense restlessness and go walkabout round London - sometimes all night long. I listen to opera on my personal stereo, enjoying the contrast of the music with the things I see: surgeons arriving at hospitals in their shiny cars, houses disgorging drunken revellers, milk floats gliding by.

I go for a real walkabout in Australia every year for up to three months. I often travel on foot, sleeping out under an old Scottish blanket. Though much of their knowledge is secret, I have been told a lot of Aboriginal stories about the night and the universe which I run through my mind as I look up at the stars.

It's very inspiring to visit the Aboriginal artists and watch them paint, chanting as they work. The paintings seem to take life from the sunlight, changing as it fades. When darkness falls the paintings appear to sleep - an impression I also have in London as I turn out the lights in the gallery.

When a new painting arrives in the gallery, I know it is particularly powerful if I dream about it that night. In these dreams I'm usually invited into the painting by the artist and we enter a world of colour combinations and abstract dimensions. I have a sensation of understanding, a recognition on the soul level, which is beyond words. I believe that only about 7 per cent of communication is verbal.

Being a gallerist is a bit like being a dream interpreter. When serious buyers come in (as opposed to gallery lizards who slither in just to look and contribute nothing) I show them how to read a painting and they recognise something of themselves in it. When they get it home they continue to discover the sources of their own dreamings in the painting. I have a couple of Aboriginal paintings in my bedroom and I'm never bored by them. Gazing into them is like a form of meditation.

It's true that a good contemporary Aboriginal painting can be worth tens of thousands of pounds but I prefer not to discuss prices. I think it's marvellous that an investor can purchase a thing that is good for the soul rather than stocks or a lump of gold.

Before I had the gallery I was a commodities broker in the City - I suppose you could call me a dream seller now.

(Photograph omitted)

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