Horror

horror-19371
Toyen-Horror 1937

Toyen’s paintings are frequently imbued with a sense of phantasmic horror, fittingly for an artist born and bred in Prague, the city of Leppin, Meyrink and Kafka. Horror was also a frequent theme for her fellow Czech avant-gardists, of whom it has been remarked that they were the horror division of the Surrealist dream factory. Toyen’s first artistic partner Jindrich Styrsky (not to be confused with her second artistic partner Jindrich Heisler) in 1933 said, ‘An unwitting smile, a sense of the comic, a shudder of horror-these are eroticism’s sisters.’  As Strysky had been involved with Toyen in the late 20’s and the early 30’s in the publication of both the Erotic Review, a magazine dedicated to erotica, and Editions 69, strictly limited editions (subscription of 150 only) of famous pornographic novels including the Marquis De Sade and Pierre Louys, with illustrations by Toyen, he had a fair idea of what he was talking about.

At first glance the viewer may wonder why Toyen decided to title this painting Horror. However if T.S Eliot can show ‘fear/in a handful of dust,’  then Toyen can show us horror in a wilted dandelion clock. Again Toyen induces a sense of disorientation with scale, the dandelion is set against a fence that almost fills the horizon, the top of the fence is grasped by five hands, all clinging on, apparently for dear life, though one fears for the possessor of the hand in the centre of the picture, the only hand not part of a pair. Horror hints that beyond the banal facade of the world, there lies a incomprehensible and monstrous reality.

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61 thoughts on “Horror

  1. That’s an interesting take on the painting. I never thought of it as horror because the hands are so very small. It seems to be a commentary on our invisible fears or a criticism of how we tend to fear things that in their smallness may really be insignificant.

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    1. I never miss a chance to lay on the existential dread given a half a chance. Toyen is my latest obsession, she frequently plays with scale which produces (to me at least) such a sense of disorientation. Her take on nature which is very Sadean combined with the dislocations and Alice-in-Wonderland distortions of size suggest to me that Toyen believes the universe is a vaster and more fearful place than we care to admit.

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  2. Mr. Cake, “Horror” is a wonderful painting, leaving me wondering what’s behind the fence? Perhaps the horrors of reality as you suggest. What was going on in Toyen’s life prior to and around 1937? Is the number five significant, along with the time telling dandelion clock? ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. As to her life around 37, well I am sure the political situation would have unnerved the toughest of anarchists, plus the internal infighting on the left, the awareness that maybe Stalin wasn’t exactly a shining example. Five had a significance…it is the number of the universe in some systems.

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      1. Thank you, definitely a time of great unrest. So, in a sense the number five brings us full circle back to the “universe”. I find that quite interesting, based on our little conversation here.

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      2. Thank you, the painting definitely seems to have a metaphysical and symbolic element to it. By the way in a personal note her artistic partner was seriously ill from 1935 onwards and they were very close.

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      3. Thank you for the additional information. Interesting, this is just a personal observation, the dandelion looks a bit like a spent match stick, and the dandelion clock looks like an upside-down flame, in a ghostly white. Do you see what I’m describing? Maybe nothing, it was the first thing that stuck me when viewing this painting.

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  3. I totally feel the dread of this piece. The grasping hands, one of them has lost their grip. Are they trying to escape the horror of what they face behind the fence? Is the dandelion clock signaling that they are running out of time? Each spore poised to blow away on the wind. This is excellent for all of its ‘horrible’ possibilities. The uncertainty of what’s hidden especially.

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  4. Wow this is incredible, Toyen has always fascinated me but I know very little of her. For me the true horror is what is at the core of the Dandelion, from which the children could be seen to be hiding. I can’t help but see the faint presence of a bloody-faced figure at the very core of the Dandelion’s head… Terrifying indeed!

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    1. Thank you… Toyen is indeed very mysterious but I love her work which I have written about on several occasions. It is a terrifying painting for a number of reasons. I will send you a couple of posts regarding Toyen, who is probably the most represented artists here, either her or Max Ernst or Man Ray

      Like

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