Technique Tuesday: Surrealism

What is it?

Today we’re covering a fun topic that we’ve touched on somewhat before: Surrealism! Surrealism is an artistic and cultural movement that originated in Paris in the 1920’s, and established a genre that artists are still exploring today. The art historical movements of the early twentieth century are truly fascinating, but as this is just a blog post, I’ll do my best to give a brief explanation of Surrealism’s nascence. Following the first World War, an especially brutal experience for many countries around the world, a generation of both civilians and former soldiers were left disillusioned and emotionally scarred. Reality, which art had for so long sought after so desperately, was suddenly quite painful, and the opportunity to step back from that and explore a different, more internal world appealed to many creatives during this time. The field of psychology was also rapidly growing, and the theories of famous psychologists like Sigmund Freud, such as notions of the subconscious mind and dream analysis, were becoming widely known. Several French artists and writers were inspired by the idea that the subconscious contained answers to fix the broken world around them, and that representation of these ideas, so different from reality, could jar society out of some of the long-held beliefs and structures that had led to such damage. Therefore, these writers and artists began to create bizarre, illogical scenes that evoked aspects of dreams and un-reality and elements such as odd juxtaposition, strange changes of scale, and elements of pure fantasy.

Examples from art history:

One of the names that comes to everyone’s mind when Surrealism is mentioned is Salvador Dalí. Dalí was an eccentric Spanish painter whose combination of excellent, classically-based draftsmanship and bizarre, unsettling imagery has had a lasting impact on artists even today. Below are a few of Dalí’s best-known Surrealist works:

(left to right) Salvador Dalí, “Swans Reflecting Elephants,” “Caravan,” “The Persistence of Memory”

Many other artists, including writers, photographers, filmmakers, and musicians took part in the Surrealist movement, but the work of the Surrealist painters is what has arguably made the most lasting cultural impact. Here are a few more examples from artists Max Ernst and Rene Magritte:

(left to right) Max Ernst, “Napoleon in the Wilderness,” “The Elephant Celebes”; Rene Magritte, “The Lovers,” “Golconda”

While some Surrealist painters, like Ernst and Dalí, created images that were more fantastical, some, like Rene Magritte, painted oddly familiar, ordinary looking scenes that had a major twist to them, and often an unsettling one. This is one of the aims of Surrealism–to get you to think differently! For instance, we know that a mirror reflects what is in front of it, but what if that reality was twisted a bit? Well, this is a concept that has inspired some Principle Gallery artists, too!

(left) Rene Magritte, “Not to Be Reproduced”, (right) Louise Fenne, “Mirror Portrait No. 2”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

(left to right) Michele Kortbawi Wilk, “Who’s Afraid,” Laura E. Pritchett, “Projection,” Francis Livingston, “Mating Season”

Elements of Surrealism pop up in the work that we carry here at Principle Gallery, and it’s always a thrill to see the creativity these artists are expressing, as well as the reaction from the viewers. There are two artists who show primarily at our Charleston, South Carolina location who use elements of Surrealism quite often in their work– Karen Hollingsworth and Anna Wypych! Click any collage to see it larger!

(left to right) Karen Hollingsworth, “Depth,” “Voyagers,” “No Boundaries”

 

(left to right) Anna Wypych, “Sea Color,” “Steely Eyes,” “Giant Girl”

Check out these artists, and many more, on the website for Principle Gallery Charleston!

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