I managed to get a place on an OCA Tutor led visit round the “Another World” exhibition at the Dean Gallery; this exhibition covers the rise of Dadism and Surrealism, not only in Art but as a complete movement. I learned of the rise of Dada as a style and movement at the start of the First World War; this rise was in reaction to the styles of government and society, the collective artists involved rejected the prevailing standards in art and through their “anti-art” stance they transformed ordinary objects juxtaposing their everyday use with the artist’s expression.
Both Dadaist and Surrealist art use symbolism, insect imagery, dream imagery, automatic writing, painting, drawing and photomontage. I was surprised to see that some artists used book illustrations from a previous age and used them as derivative art pieces to create new montages.
Some of the artists experimented with Automatic painting by placing objects over photosensitive paper and then placing them in the sun, as done by many very early photographers including “Robert Adamson” In a lot of these images, the extreme contrast between black and white made for stark images with intense shape definition. Other used Solarisation, the exposure of an image to sunlight during the developing process, to produce abstract images with less well defined shapes, whose edges draw the viewer’s eye in to the image in an attempt to construct the dark edges into everyday shapes.
I was surprised to see that one of the first exhibits we were led to was by Man Ray; up until that moment I was unaware of Man Rays work outside of the sphere of photography, we were shown “Man Ray 1914” the visual style of it reminded me of the use of light, shade and shape used by German Film directors and artists during “German Film expressionism”
As the tutor led us through these images, she mentioned Lee Miller who I had only heard of in passing at an exhibition on Vogue magazine photography and a single photograph by David E. Scherman of her sitting in Hitler’s bath in “The Great Life Photographers” I was very surprised to discover that not only was Miller a photographer herself, but of her involvement with a number of the artists in the surrealist movement not only on a professional level, but on a personal level. We were then given the opportunity for the group to split up and go off and examine, draw or study any of the pieces within the exhibition. I decided that I would like to wander around and see which of the exhibits drew my eye and made me think about them.
Among the works which were discussed I was attracted to a number of them on a personal level. I was drawn to “The Forest” by Max Ernst as it reminded me of slow shutter experimentation where the camera has been pointed at the lower trunks of some trees and then shutter has been fired and the camera moved up quickly before the shutter is closed, the same movement within the frame is caused by the lighter upward shooting lines from the dark bottom of the frame to the light top of the frame . It was not until I was looking at the painting for a few minutes that I spotted a green circle near the middle top of the frame which represents the sun.
In one room hang 10 pieces of art which are meant to be shown together, all these pieces by Man Ray simply use just primary, secondary colours along with black to form abstract layer shapes where two primary colours combined would produce a secondary colour. However where a secondary colour overlays a primary colour a different primary colour is produced e.g. orange overlay/interacts with red produced blue in one piece, this was not repeated in other pieces where the same interaction would produce a different primary colour or black. This interaction of colours is random and quite eye-catching. In some of the pieces there were wire frame shapes, some random, some organic and some geometric. This experimentation with wireframe geometric shapes also appears in the painting “aviary” where a geometric shape dominates the composition while not dominating the frame.
Alberto Giacometti - Head/Skull
I spent quite a long time studying the carving “Head/Skull” by Alberto Giacometti; by moving position around this sculpture I am presented with two interlocking fates. On one side a cubist face, the mouth open as if gasping for breath the eyes open staring forward into the middle distance. On the other side I am presented with a wide angular cheekbone of a skull, again the eye socket staring off into the middle distance, the angular jaw bone joining the mouth at the chin. On this side however I can see that the skull is locked inside the head and that one cannot exist without the other.
Leonora Carrington - Head
I was surprised to find that this painting by Leonora Carrington simply called “Head”
Salvador Dali - Exploding Raphaelesque Head
Dali’s Exploding Raphaelesque Head demonstrates Dali’s angst at the unleashing of the atomic age with the destruction of Hiroshima; The swirling disintegration and atomisation of the Raphaelesque head shows the artists fear that all creation, civilisation and art would be destroyed in an instant due to the immense power of the atomic bomb. I believe that I can see the formation of a mushroom cloud taking shape through the open cupola of the Pantheon; the force of the atomic disintegration ripping apart civilisation and art. The image can also be seen as a demonstration of Dali’s interest in the discovery of the atom and the scientific discovery that all things, pain, canvas and complete image are just vibrations of atomic particles. He plays with the idea that the image is flying apart as everything is basically made up of vibrating dots and wide spaces between the atoms.
Max Ernst - Sea & Sun
This painting split into two sections, one calm blue and white and the other reds, oranges and black mixed together with a black circle offset to one side. Could the lower portion of this painting be a sunspot on the surface of the sun? By 1925 when this painting was completed sunspots had been discovered and observed. The painting has a texture, within the frame caused by the movement of a comb over the surface of the painting; this comb has gathered some of the red and black paint from this lower portion and it has been transferred to the upper portion of the painting bringing a random chaotic rent to the calm surface. This rent also uncovers the red from a over painted section where a red diamond with a black dot peeks out from the reflected surface like a submerged object suddenly rising to the surface of a calm pond breaking the mirror like reflection.
Rene Magritte – Black Flag
In this image of dark blues, greys and blacks, nightmarish planes fly through the dark sky in a random chaotic formation. As soon as I viewed this image I was caught by the tension that these nightmarish creations should not be able to fly and that their rush to be airborne they are about to crash into each other, the implied movement in the image is that they are about to come together in front of the viewer. This I feel helps to create a sense of panic within the image, which is what the artist was trying to create as he was emotionally distressed by the night time bombing of a Spanish village by the German Air force in 1937.
At the point of time of painting the term black flag had already become a term of anarchy, as it represented a state of no country or no government a feeling that the Dadaist and the Surrealists would have supported as part of their own manifesto.
I enjoyed this Tutor led tour as it helped me to understand a lot more about the methods, principles and philosophies of the Dadaists and the Surrealists. I now understand better what they were trying to achieve when they created their works of art and I have found several pieces of art that I have a deeper understanding of.