Future photographer Kansuke Yamamoto’s father, Goro Yamamoto, was a talented photographer himself. The elder Yamamoto had an affinity for “Pictorialism,” or the artistic practice of distorting or manipulating a photograph in perhaps a painterly manner. Yamamoto didn’t initially follow in his father’s footsteps when it came to photography, and preferred to spend his young years writing poetry. At the age of seventeen Kansuke relocated from his birthplace of Nagoya to bustling Tokyo to pursue studies in French Literature at Meiji University. Already a huge fan of surrealist-style poetry, at this time it is very likely that the young artist first saw the various surrealist works of art that had just started to make their way to museums and galleries in Japan. Inspired by what was happening around him he would quickly become the co-founder of the Dokuritsu Shashin Kenkyukai or “Independent Photography Research Association.” The organization was formed due to the disdain many Japanese-based photographers had for the limitations of Pictorialism. The group’s magazine Dokuritsu (or “Independent”) would be the first publication to showcase the young Yamamoto’s photographic works.
It is important to note that the artists who produced surrealist-style work during this time were routinely persecuted by the Japanese government and ran the risk of jail and imprisonment if they were deemed annoying enough by the authorities. Despite this, Yamamoto had already fallen under the spell of surrealism and it would become his artistic calling card for the rest of his life. When Japan removed itself from the League of Nations in 1933, harsh rules such as the “Peace Preservation” laws were put in place. If you’ve ever heard the term “Thought Police” used before, its origins can be traced back to this time in Japan as this moniker was used to describe the law enforcement, or the “Tokko,” whose members worked tirelessly to remove freedom of the press, free speech, and free assembly. Undaunted and unafraid of the consequences, Yamamoto and others would carry on.
Until his death in 1987 at the age of 73, Yamamoto would form many more surrealist-based groups and became a mentor and inspiration to aspiring artists who were members of the Chubu Photography Federation of Students. Much of Yamamoto’s work is included in the 2013 book Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto. I’ve included examples from Yamamoto’s vast body of work dating from 1932 to 1970 below. Some are gorgeously NSFW.
According to Australian art collective beinArt the Surrealist responsible for the provacative Dali-esque creations in this post is Russian artist Dmitry Vorsin—a 36-year-old based in Moscow.
Though Vorsin originally set his sights on studying ecology when he enrolled in college he decided instead to pursue art—a passion that began when he was a child. The self-taught Vorsin uses ink, pencils and watercolors to weave his distorted figures that contain elements and images inspired by Renaissance-era paintings. Vorsin’s work was included in a fantastic looking book put out by beinArt in 2011 Metamorphosis: Volume 2: 50 Contemporary Surreal, Fantastic and Visionary Artists along with other modern masters of the surreal such as Shawn Barber, Travis Louie, Paul Booth and Swiss surrealist, the late, great HR Giger.
If you are digging on Dmitry like I am, I highly recommend you keep up with the prolific artist over on his Facebook page. A selection of Dmitry Vorsin’s avant-garde creations follow. Many are delightfully NSFW.
‘Religieuse italienne fumant la cigarette’ (Italian nun smoking a cigarette) by Clovis Trouille, 1944.
According to legend a work called “Remembrance” (1930) by fanatical anarchist and painter Clovis Trouille was on display during an art show for the French Communist Party in the early 1930s the piece caught the eye of none other than Salvador Dali himself. Which makes perfect sense as the painting (pictured below) features a church cardinal wearing an open coat that reveals his womanly legs, red garter belts and black thigh-high stockings—to say nothing of the levitating nude contortionist just to his left. Fantastic stuff.
“Remembrance” was one Trouille’s first paintings—done when the painter was already 41 years old. Prior to discovering his true calling, Trouille was employed as what could be best described as a sort of mannequin “makeup” artist for department stores. A job that allowed him to stay true to his anti-establishment ideology and disdain for anything systematic—a sentiment that Trouille instantly developed after he was drafted into service during WW1 and returned traumatized by what he had seen. During his long career Trouille would continue to admonish authority figures by way of his brush by painting religious leaders, police and government officials into sordid scenes full of lowbrow debauchery with distinct BDSM undertones.
Quite fond of his own work, according to noted French surrealist art collector Daniel Filipacchi, Trouille once asked him to return a painting he had purchased from him “Rêve Claustral” that featured two nuns kissing. To which Filipacchi though confused, obliged. The painter would return the painting to him noting that he had added some detail to it (in this case Trouille added two prayer books that had been cast on the ground below the nuns exposed legs). This was a request, Filipacchi said, that would be asked of the collector on several other occasions resulting in a few other additions to “Rêve Claustral” including a peeping-Tom version of a nun watching the lurid scene go down.
One of the most famous paintings by Clovis Trouille provided the title and poster art for Kenneth Tynan’s notorious erotic Off-Broadway revue ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ (The title is a pun on “O quel cul t’as!” French for “What an ass you have!”). It was also used on the cover of the original cast soundtrack album.
More spellbinding examples of Trouille’s work follow after the jump—most are NSFW…
Salvador Dali loved the Marx Brothers. He loved their madcap, anarchic comedy. In particular Dali loved Harpo Marx—the blonde corkscrew-haired comic mime whose visual comedy—unlike the quick witty repartee of his brother Groucho—was universal and needed no translation. Dali described Harpo as one of America’s three great Surrealists—the other two being Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille.
The pair first met at a party in Paris in 1936. Harpo told Dali how much he liked his paintings. Dali told Harpo how much he loved his films—in particular Animal Crackers which he described as “the summit of the evolution of comic cinema.” Dali gushed over Harpo’s performance where he pulled fish and cutlery from his pocket and shot the hats of beautiful women—this was true Surrealism!
I met Harpo for the first time in his garden. He was naked, crowned with roses, and in the center of a veritable forest of harps (he was surrounded by at least five hundred harps). He was caressing, like a new Leda, a dazzling white swan, and feeding it a statue of the Venus de Milo made of cheese, which he grated against the strings of the nearest harp. An almost springlike breeze drew a curious murmur from the harp forest. In Harpo’s pupils glows the same spectral light to be observed in Picasso’s.
When Harpo returned to America, Dali sent him a harp wrapped in cellophane with barbed wire for strings and spoons, knives and forks glued all over its frame. In return Harpo sent Dali a photograph of himself playing the harp with bandaged fingers. He invited Dali to Hollywood saying he’d be more than happy to pose for the great artist—if he cared to smear paint all over him. Dali was delighted to take up the offer. In 1937, he arrived in Hollywood with his wife Gala. He visited Harpo and sketched him playing his barbed wire harp with a lobster on his head. Natch.
Dali’s sketch of Harpo playing the harp.
Dali brought Harpo a gift—a movie script he wanted the Marx Brothers to make. The script was called Giraffes on Horseback Salads or The Surrealist Woman. It was a series of unconnected scenes typed in blue ribbon over twenty-two pages with various notes written in ink. Dali had already made two infamous films with his friend the director Luis Buñuel—Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or. Now he wanted to cast Harpo and cinema’s “greatest Surrealist act” the Marx Brothers in a film that just might revolutionize Hollywood—or maybe not...
Read Dali’s script and see his sketches for ‘Giraffes on Horseback Salads,’ after the jump…
“Art,” Paul Klee (1879-1940) once observed, “does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” It’s a fair description of Klee’s rich and diverse body of artworks produced during his forty year career. Just looking at his phenomenal output of some 10,000 artworks tells a fairly accurate history of Modern Art, as Klee adopted, studied then discarded the ideas and forms of the twentieth century’s major artistic movements—Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction and the Bauhaus school.
Klee became a great artist, and was also a poet, writer, composer and musician, but he could have been just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill traditional painter had he not had a startling epiphany in his early twenties, circa 1900. He was studying painting under artist Franz von Stuck in Germany. Klee excelled at drawing but was deeply frustrated and dissatisfied by his lack of aptitude as a painter. He felt unable to express himself, to move beyond mere reproduction. One day, he was browsing through his old belongings in the attic when he chanced upon paintings he had made as a child. There in front of him was what he was desperately trying to achieve—immediacy, vibrancy, and color.
Klee later wrote:
Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age.
It changed his approach to painting and so began the career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists.
Everyone’s seen a Klee painting—they’re forever appearing on greeting cards or postcards or posters. His work is ubiquitous because he kept developing and changing as an artist while maintaining a very personal vision. When collected together in a gallery, the variety and power of each of his paintings demands close attention “like reading a book or a musical score.”
‘Park near Lu’ (1938).
During his life, Klee wrote down his theories and ideas about art in various notebooks. In particular two volumes of lectures he gave at the Bauhaus gymnasiums during the 1920s—The Thinking Eye and The Nature of Nature—are “considered so important for understanding Modern Art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo’s A Treatise on Painting had for the Renaissance.”
Pages from the ‘The Thinking Eye.’
If that wasn’t grand enough of blurb for a book jacket, the renowned art critic, anarchist and thinker Herbert Read (1893-1968) declared Klee’s notebooks as:
...the most complete presentation of the principles of design ever made by a modern artist – it constitutes the Principia Aesthetica of a new era of art, in which Klee occupies a position comparable to Newton’s in the realm of physics.
The reason these notebooks are so valuable is perhaps best described by Klee himself who claimed when he came to be a teacher he had “to account explicitly for what I had been used to doing unconsciously.”
The most famous short film ever made was inspired by dreams. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali had talked about making a film together for some time but could never agree on what the film should be about.
One day, Dali told Buñuel he had dreamt of ants swarming in his hands. Buñuel replied that he had dreamt of slicing open someone’s eye with a cutthroat razor. “There’s the film,” he said, “let’s go and make it.”
As Buñuel later explained, they compiled the script from a series of images which they took it in turns to suggest to each other. There was only one rule:
...No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.
When one of them made a suggestion, the other had three seconds in which to say “yes” or “no” to the proposal. This was how Buñuel and Dali wrote Un Chien Andalou (1929). Their intention had been to shock and offend, but rather than offending the public, Un Chien Andalou became an notorious success, which left Buñuel feeling ambivalent over his new found fame:
What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder
The most infamous image in cinema history?
The film had been paid for by Buñuel’s mother, but their next movie L’Âge d’Or (1930) was commissioned by the arts patrons Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles. This time their film achieved notoriety after Dali declared it was an attack on the Catholic church. When screened in Paris, the film caused a riot and was banned for 50 years.
After this, Buñuel distanced himself from Surrealism and became a Communist—a decision that ended his friendship Dali and led the painter to damage Buñuel’s reputation in America by denouncing him as an atheist.
Dali’s portrait of Buñuel from 1924.
It would take until the late 1940s for Buñuel to re-establish his career as a film director when he started making B-movies in Mexico. In 1950, he co-wrote and directed Los olvidados (The Young & The Damned) for which he Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951.
In 1960, Buñuel wrote “A Statement” on filmmaking for the magazine Film Culture in which explained his views on cinema:
The screen is a dangerous and wonderful instrument, if a free spirit uses it. It is the superior way of expressing the world of dreams, emotions and instinct. The cinema seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconscious, so profoundly is it rooted in poetry. Nevertheless, it almost never pursues these ends.
We rarely see good cinema in the mammoth productions, or in the works that have received the praise of critics and audience. The particular story, the private drama of an individual, cannot interest—I believe—anyone worthy of living in our time.
If a man in the audience shares the joys and sorrows of a character on the screen, it should be because that character reflects the joys and sorrows of all society and so the personal feelings of that man in the audience. Unemployment, insecurity, the fear of war, social injustice, etc., affect all men of our time, and thus, they also affect the individual spectator.
But when the screen tells me that Mr. X is not happy at home and finds amusement with a girl-friend whom he finally abandons to reunite himself with his faithful wife, I find it all very moral and edifying, but it leaves me completely indifferent.
Octavio Paz has said: “But that a man in chains should shut his eyes, the world would explode.” And I could say: But that the white eye-lid of the screen reflect its proper light, the Universe would go up in flames. But for the moment we can sleep in peace: the light of the cinema is conveniently dosified and shackled.
A late starter, age did not diminish Buñuel’s talent as a filmmaker and his most successful movies were made when he was in his sixties and seventies—The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire.
Buñuel said he was “An atheist—thank God,”—a line (allegedly) pinched by Kurt Vonnegut, and the only thing he equated with religious passion was his favorite drink a martini. In his autobiography, My Last Breath, Buñuel offered his recipe for the definitive martini:
To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen “like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken.”
Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.
(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)
In 1984, a year after his death, the BBC produced a documentary on The Life and Times of Don Luis Buñuel, which covered his life from eye-ball slicing to his plans for deathbed pranks to be played on his family and friends.
Pablo Picasso’s first attempt at poetry was a brief thank you note to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire written in French sometime around 1906. Picasso did not take the craft seriously until 1935 when at the age of fifty-three he began writing poems almost every day until the summer of 1959. Picasso started writing at a moment of crisis when he claimed he had given up painting after his wife Olga Khokhlova had left him and a messy divorce seemed imminent. He began by daubing colors for words in a notebook before moving on to using words to sketch images.
His writing owed much to the influence of Apollinaire and the Surrealists, and he received considerable support from writers such as the Surrealist poets André Breton and Michel Leiris, the latter describing Picasso as:
“[A]n insatiable player with words ... [who, like] James Joyce ... in his Finnegans Wake, ... displayed an equal capacity to promote language as a real thing (one might say) . . . and to use it with as much dazzling liberty.”
Artist and writer Roland Penrose said Picasso’s wrote word paintings where language was used as a painter used colors, can be seen in this poem:
...the blue memory borders white in her very blue eyes and piece of indigo of sky of silver the white white traverse cobalt the white paper that the blue ink tears out blueish its ultramarine descends that white enjoys blue repose agitated in the dark green wall green that writes its pleasure pale green rain that swims yellow green…
At first, Picasso kept his writing secret, but slowly began sending long letters and poems to his friends as his confidence grew and he developed his own distinct voice and style. His writing was mainly stream of consciousness, unpunctuated word association with startling juxtaposition of images and at times an obsession with sex, death and excrement. Picasso wrote hundreds of poems concluding with The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in 1959, and two plays Le Désir attrapé par la queue (1941), which was performed by Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, under the direction of Albert Camus, and Les Quatre Petites Filles (1949). This is just a small selection culled from The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems.
15 august XXXV
i am now here in the nest where the lamb and the bear—the lion and the zebra—the
wolf and the panther—the fox, the winter and the summer weasel—the mole and the
chinchilla—the rabbit and the sable weave in silence above an abandoned staircase
after the party has washed the week and wrung out the handkerchief raining a
perfume that wanders in search of its shape in a sad afternoon that has so many
reasons to stretch into the oil blue of a silk duvet the corner of his eye rips drowning in
shreds the landscape he sighed in the place where the beehive yearns to form its ice
17 august XXXV
a cup of coffee courts the aroma everlasting
that corrupts the wing shaking a harmonium
caressing her timid white flesh as
kisses breeze through the window
fill the room with goldfinch words fluttering
in the ear soundless and singing
and laughing crazy trills through his veins
8-9 november XXXV
electric light bulbs
sewn with finest
invented by the bull
10 november XXXV
on the dining room table above a colossal carpet color of dry blood the ashtray
packed with butt-ends looked just like a little death’s head that stuck out its tongue at
me today this very night november tenth a quarter after ten by now which with three
more should make eleven by the clock which then will strike the hour
12 november XXXV
Young girl correctly dressed in a beige coat with violet facings 150.000 – 300 – 22 – 95
centimes a madapolam combination checked and adjusted with an allusion to
hermine fur 143 – 60 – 32 a brassiere the open edges of the wound held separated by
hand pulleys making the sign of the cross perfumed with cheese (Reblochon) 1300 –
75 – 03 – 49 – 317.000 – 25 centimes openings up to date added on every second day
set into the skin by shivers kept awake by the mortal silence of the color lure genre
Lola of Valence 103 plus the languorous looks 310 – 313 plus 300.000 – 80 francs –
15 centimes for a forgotten glance on the dresser – penalties incurred during the game
– throw of the discus between the legs by a succession of facts which for no reason at
all succeeded in making themselves a nest and in some cases transforming themselves
into the reasoned image of the cup 380 – 11 plus expenses but the so academic draw-
ing model for all of history from his birth until this morning doesn’t cry even if one
steps on the finger that points to the exit but spits out his nosegay with the drinking
glass only the smell organized in regiments and parading by flag up front only if the
tickling of desire doesn’t discover the auspicious place to transform the sardine into a
shark the shopping list gets longer only from that moment on without the inevitable
stop at the table at lunch time to be able to write while sitting in the middle of so
many mixed hyperboles with the cheese and the tomato
14 november XXXV
little chapel of
15 november XXXV
when the bull — opens the gateway of the horse’s belly – with his horn — and sticks
his snout out to the edge — listen in the deepest of all deepest holds — and with saint
lucy’s eyes — to the sounds of moving vans —tight packed with picadors on ponies —
cast off by a black horse — and escaping now and rising like a butterfly — the
mangled belly of the mare — a little white horse — sees inside the conduit which sings
as the blood dances trickling from a faucet in her breast — a circus horse — stands upright
on his feet rear end decked out with blue and silver — white and blue feathers set on
top atop his head — between his two ears — and a pair of hands applauding —
plucks his eyes out from in front – the team of mules that block his sight — that
bounce and drag — his guts along the sand — and screws the eye of the photographer
— somewhere above the banquet table — and pulls the wire out — a little at a time —
into the out of doors — and winds it in a ball — then draws a likeness of his face so
beautiful — onto a silver plaque — that spatters — clenched fist — clean — the sun
24-28 november XXXV
tongue of fire fans the face inside the flute the cup
that singing nibbles the blue knife wound
seated in the toro’s eye
inscribed inside its head adorned with jasmines
waiting for the veil to swell
the crystal fragment
wind wrapped in fold of cape two-handled sword
handing bread out to the blind man and the lilac colored dove
its wickedness crammed tight against the burning lemon’s lips
with horn contorted
spooking the cathedral with its farewell gestures
swooning in his arms without an olé
a glance that blows apart the morning radio
that in its kisses photographs a bedbug sun
sucks out the fragrance from the dying hour
and moves across a page in flight
it tears the flowers into shreds and carries them away tucked in between a sighing
and fear that still can smile
a knife that jumps for joy
right now this very day left floating in whatever way it wants to
this exact and necessary moment
at the summit of the well
a cry rose-colored
for the hand that casts it down
a little act of christian love
10 october XXXVI
flesh decomposing in its miserable shagreen accordion squeezing the love-torn
body rapidly spinning the wool bleeding so in the despairing place in
the crown of thorns nest of twigs at the sound of the tambourine awakened
by the miserable memory left by the vomit that smells of jasmine
glued to the back of the eye wearing cafe tables as sashes wrapped round her
neck sounding the alarm reproducing her image in all the mirrors
with all the blows struck on the cheeks of her bells the tralalala of the
tralalalettes biting the rainbow’s neck the bra of the tempest caught
in a snare now whistles between the comb’s teeth and twists in her hands
the mirror asleep on her breast abandoned to its fate
comical alphabet letter stitched on hot coal drunk from wineskin hand
distance color deleted from the list of mortals sinks claws in the
saving copper of forehead against stone if life cooks great banquet hall
feasts of cabbage smell on its knees in a corner his stew of hopes sing
Carmen sing and you Cleopatra and mice on the big fishermen’s bodies lined up
on the bank of the canal under the table open to the lie the chairs around
it rise and attach themselves to the walls of the director’s office of the
young villa Marie-Rose waiting for the frog to lick clean the hours that make
the fabric of her pretty umbrella sticky and if the weather is clear
listen to the crack when in my chest breaks the perfume of the
stick the arrow painted on the fan tossed on the bed the luminous alarmed panther
sheen of her regard with an electric aroma a most disagreeable noise
spreading a dreadful odor of stars crushed underfoot
2 july 38
the claws of
on the rose
According to the biographical narrative of sculptor Richard T. Notkin, the Helena, Montana-based artist has been creating surreal and politically charged ceramics for almost 40 years. Of note in Notkin’s long career is his fondness for creating odd-looking teapots; an affinity that was born from his early love of Chinese Yixing teapots. Notkin was so enamoured with his subject that he spent most of the twelve years between 1983 and 1995 creating surrealist-looking teapots. Notkin’s works are also meant to represent his disdain of politics, war and other important societal issues.
Notkin on why he chose the teapot as a way of expressing himself:
Although the vast majority of my work created between 1983 and 1995 consists almost entirely of teapots, I consider myself a sculptor with a strong commitment to social commentary. My chosen medium — the material I love to work with — is clay. The vessel is the primal “canvas” for the ceramic artist, and my vessel of choice is the teapot, the most complex of vessels, consisting of body, handle, spout, lid and knob. This allows me the widest latitude in juxtaposing the many images I use to set up my narrative pieces.
Notkin’s works have been displayed by museums across the world, including locations in New York, Los Angeles, London and Japan. I’m especially fond of the teapots that follow.
You may not have heard of Edward James, but you will certainly recognise the back of his head from the painting Not to be Reproduced by René Magritte. This was one of two portraits the Surrealist artist did of James, the other was The Pleasure Principle.
Edward William Frank James (1907–1984) was a poet and a patron of the arts, who used his vast wealth to publish writers (like poet John Betjeman), commission theatrical productions most notably Les Ballets and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s last work together The Seven Deadly Sins in 1933. He also supported individuals, communities in Mexico and financed artisan workshops, but James is most famously known for his patronage of Surrealist art, in particular the artists Magritte, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí. He also bought works by Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux.
Being rich and aristocratic usually meant James was described as a great “English eccentric,” though he was never fond of the term claiming he was like “the boy with green hair,” just born that way. According to James he was the illegitimate son of King Edward VII, which may have indeed been possible as his mother was said to have been one of the royal’s many mistresses. When he was five, his father (or at least his mother’s husband) died leaving James the sole heir to his fortune and the 8,000 acre family estate of West Dean House in Sussex. James eventually gave away the family estate, financing its reuse as a college. He created his own Surrealist home in Monkton, and then in Las Pozas, Mexico, where he used his money to support its community employing villagers to build houses, a hotel, Surrealist sculptures and architectural follies.
This delightful film The Secret Life of Edward James made in 1978 was narrated by the late jazz singer, art critic and writer George Melly. James and Melly were good friends, united by their passion for Surrealism. Melly was a wonderfully outrageous and much loved performer whose exuberance for life was often matched by his attire. He also wrote three highly entertaining volumes of autobiography and released a whole bag of recordings. If you haven’t heard of George Melly he is worth investigating.
Magritte’s other portrait of Edward James ‘The Pleasure Principle’ (1937).
I wonder: did André Breton enjoy housework? He must have spent many an hour cleaning and tending to the dust that surely gathered on all the 5,300 artifacts he kept, at one time or another, in his Parisian apartment. (Or maybe he hired someone.)
Father of Surrealism, poet, and writer, Breton moved into number 42 rue Fontaine in the 9e arrondissement on January 1, 1922, and lived there until his death in 1966. During his tenancy, he filled his rooms with thousands of “paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, art catalogs, journals, manuscripts, and works of popular and Oceanic art,” all of which would require considerable domestic maintenance. Of course he may have been entirely indifferent to the dust and allowed it to beard his belongings and fur the shelves, as Quentin Crisp and J. G. Ballard were said to have done.
Artists and writers’ studios are, by their very nature, fascinating places, as they are the workshops where the real creative toil is won. And the clutter of belongings, books, and pictures reveals at first hand the sources, inspirations, and fascinations that produced the work.
Fabrice Maze created this beautiful short film on André Breton’s apartment in 1994, in which the camera takes the viewer on a tour through all the accumulation of art works, books, and dust.
Sadly, three years after Breton’s third wife Elsa died in 2000, the French government proved unable or unwilling to buy the apartment and its collection. This led to an auction of the “largest single record of the Surrealist movement.” The Pompidou Center in Paris purchased a wall from Breton’s former home, together with 255 works of arts and objects, which are now on display at the museum.
Max Ernst with his dog Katchina, photo by Dorothea Tanning
For Max Ernst painting had to be “invention, discovery, revelation,” and not “decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality.” Ernst never had any formal training as an artist, he had been a student of philosophy and psychology at Bonn University, which in part explains his cerebral approach to art.
In a response to the horrors of the First World War, having spent four years in the German army serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts, Ernst became a leading figure in the German Dada movement, producing fantastical collages from photographs and botanical drawings of flowers.
In 1922, Ernst moved to France settling in Paris where he was involved with members of the city’s avant garde, including André Breton author of the “First Surrealist Manifesto” in 1924. It was here that Ernst developed a creative technique called “frottage” (not to be confused with dry-humping) with which he produced a series of textured pictures by rubbing crayon over floorboards. He also began to concentrate on painting using random objects to inspire a synthesis of inner and outer worlds.
“If you close your eyes and you look into your inner world, and I believe the best to do is to have one eye closed and to look inside, and this is the inner eye, and with your other eye you have it fixed on reality, what is going on in the world. If you can make a kind of a synthesis of these two important worlds, you come to a result which can be considered as a synthesis of objective and subjective life.”
Max Ernst and the Surrealist Revolution examines how Ernst used random objects, media and “events” to unlock his subconscious and produce works of great art.
J. G. Ballard once said, if by some terrible calamity all art from the 20th century was destroyed except for the work of one artist, then it would be possible to recreate all of the century’s greatest artistic developments if that artist was Eduardo Paolozzi.
Deliberate hyperbole, but there is an essence of truth here, as Paolozzi produced such an incredible range and diversity of art that it has been difficult for critics and art historians to classify him. He began as a Surrealist, before becoming the first Pop Artist—a decade before Warhol put paint on canvas. He then moved on to print-making, design, sculpture and public art to international success.
Born in Edinburgh, to an Italian family in 1924, Paolozzi spent much of his childhood at his parent’s ice cream parlor, where he was surrounded by the packaging, wrapping and cigarette cards that later inspired his Pop Art. This early idyll of childhood was abruptly ended when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. Paolozzi awoke one morning to find himself, along with his father and uncles, incarcerated, in the city’s Saughton Prison, as undesirables, or enemies of the state. Paolozzi was held for 3 months, but his father and uncles were deported to Canada on the ship HMS Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the north-west coast of Ireland. The vessel sank with the loss of 630 lives.
Considered psychologically unsuitable for the army, the teenage Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, in 1943, before finishing at the Slade School in London, which he found disappointingly conservative in its approach to art.
After the war, Paolozzi moved briefly to Paris where he visited some of the century’s greatest artists, then resident in the city—Giacometti, Braque, Arp, Brâncuşi, and Léger. In his youthful boldness, Eduardo had telephoned each of these artists after discovering their numbers in the telephone directory. He was greeted as an equal, he later claimed, most probably because the war had just ended. The experience taught Paolozzi much, and emboldened his ideas. On his return to London, Paolozzi presented a slide show of adverts and packaging, which was the very first Pop Art.
Paolozzi developed his distinctive collages and multiple images of Marilyn Monroe long before Warhol and even Richard Hamilton, the artist with whom he showed at the now legendary This Is Tomorrow exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.
Paolozzi eventually tired of his association with Pop Art, as it limited his incredibly diverse artistic vision. The same year as This Is Tomorrow, he played a deaf mute, with fellow artist Michael Andrews, in the first major Free Cinema movie Together by Lorenza Mazzetti.
By the late 1950s, he had moved on to industrial print-making, before producing an incredibly awe-inspiring range of designs for buildings, sculptures and public art—from his mosaic for Tottenham Court Road tube station to the cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, through to such epic sculptures Newton, outside of the British Library, Vulcan, Edinburgh, and Head of Invention, Design Museum, London.
In 1984, Paolozzi conceived and produced a brief strange and surreal animation 1984: Music for Modern Americans, which was animated and directed by Emma Calder, Susan Young and Isabelle Perrichon, and based photocopies of Paolozzi’s original drawings.
The great painter Dorothea Tanning died yesterday in her sleep at the age of 101. Tanning, who was married for thirty years to Surrealist Max Ernst, was herself part of a small cadre of female Surrealists (Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Lee Miller, Maya Deren, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini) judged by history to be as equally interesting as their male counterparts.
Jerry Saltz, writing about Tanning today on Vulture:
In her memoir, we hear how she and Ernst fell in love while playing chess, how the two of them lived in Arizona before moving to France, of their double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, of her friendships with Picasso, Breton, Magritte (“sweet”), Duchamp, Tanguy, Truman Capote (“a neat little package of dynamite”), Orson Welles (“scowler”), Joseph Cornell (“the courtly love of the 13th century troubadours”), and how she designed sets and costumes for the great George Balanchine. Noting how pleased she was that Ernst never called her “wife,” she observes, “He was very sorry about that wife thing. I’m very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a tossup who gets pregnant, the man or woman. Boy, that would end rape for one thing. And ‘woman artist’? Disgusting.” She writes about being alone on a bus in Chicago and deciding, with no plans or place to live, to go on to New York. There she “ate curry powder sandwiches, took Hindu dancing, read the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ and Emily Dickinson, impartially.” In 1936 she saw the MoMA show “Fantastic, Dada, and Surrealism” and recalled that “here, here in the museum ... are signposts so imperious, so laden, so seductive, and yes, so perverse that … they would possess me utterly.”
Salvador Dali hosts a Surrealist party as a fund raiser for displaced European artists, at the Bali Room, Hotel Del Monte, California, in 1941. However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, have a fabulous time, and a wonderful 2012.