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!

 

by Pamela Sommer

Technique Tuesday: Painting from Imagination

Technique Tuesday from imagination

What is it?

Continuing our mini-series on different reference methods artists use, today we’ll be looking at painting from the imagination. Nearly everyone who has ever had an interest in art had at some point created an artwork from imagination or memory; most all of us have at least doodled from imagination! When there’s an image that an artist wants to capture, but they either cannot or do not wish to use reference photos or a live subject, an artist can rely on their own memory and imagination to provide all the inspiration they need. As it’s difficult to accurately remember all of the details and shadows of a scene just from memory, some artists will use reference photos or a live subject to help enhance the realism of a scene they are creating from their mind, but the overall combination and placement of subjects still spring from the artist’s imagination. Other times, the realistic rendering of the image is not so important to the artist as the subject and content, and in this case, they can paint from pure imagination alone!

Examples from art history:

There is little doubt that painting from one’s imagination or memory is an art form that goes back as far as art itself (after all, it would be a bit difficult to get the buffalo to come pose inside the cave for those ancient cave paintings!). Additionally, when ancient cultures created artworks depicting scenes from their mythology and lore, particularly those involving strange creatures or deities, they had no option but to create from imagination, and as we can see looking at ancient art, the imagination is as diverse and prolific as humanity itself:

ancient art collage

artworks depicting deities from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and India

In addition, outdoor subjects were very difficult to paint from anything but one’s memory and imagination, as before the innovation of paint in tubes, it was difficult to paint en plein air at all! Many artists sketched outdoors, observing and copying details so that their final paintings would be more realistic, but in the end the works were created indoors and the artist had to rely on their mind to fill in the blanks. This was a large part of why nearly all landscapes preceding the 19th century were painted as what is termed an “idealized landscape.” But even when it became more accessible to paint en plein air, some artists chose to continue to use their imagination to help create a composition, for a variety of reasons. Take Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night” for example–that scene does not actually exist anywhere in the region of France where he painted it; rather, Van Gogh was inspired by the surrounding landscape as well as by his thoughts of home, so he created an imaginary village and churches that reminded him of his Dutch homeland.

imaglandscape collage

(left) idealized landscape by John Paul Rubens, “An Autumn Landscape with a View of the Hetsteen in the Early Morning”; Vincent Van Gogh, “Starry Night”

As the twentieth century dawned and artists began to explore expressionistic painting more in-depth, many different styles of painting from one’s imagination evolved. One of the most well-known of these styles is Surrealism, a movement from the 1920’s in which artists explored themes of dreams and the subconscious through irrational pairings of images. All of these movements encouraging artists to use their imaginations and emotions as reference for their art have continued to have a major effect on art today, both in the world of fine art as well as urban art, which relies heavily on the artist’s imagination.

collage 3

(left) Salvador Dali, “Ship with Butterfly Sails”; (right) Urban art from Atlanta’s fourth ward

Examples from Principle Gallery:

At Principle Gallery, we show the artwork of a wide variety of artists, each with their own preference for what they use as reference. We do have two artists in particular, though, who delight in painting from their imagination. Francis Livingston, an artist often known for his city scenes painted in brilliant color, also enjoys the playing with odd and unexpected juxtapositions of subjects as you can see from his combination cityscape/animal artworks. Plus, if you happen to remember our post last summer on National Ice Cream Day, you can see some more examples of Francis’s ice cream paintings, which he also creates from memory alone. The results of his imagination-infused work are whimsical, beautiful, and intriguing.

Livingston Collage

(left to right) Francis Livingston, “Deference”, “Mating Season”, “Triple”, and “Night Moves”

 

Another Principle Gallery artist who paints from imagination, GC Myers is a painter based in upstate New York who creates colorful, stylized landscapes from his imagination alone, resulting in lovely, emotionally charged scenes. Keep an eye out, because our annual solo exhibition for GC Myers is coming up next month, so we’ll be getting in a lot of great new pieces!

MYERS COLLAGE

(left to right) GC Myers, “Interconnected”, “Happy Trails”, and “Allura”

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