The Sign of the Black Sun

Black Sun-Toyen 1951
Black Sun-Toyen 1951

My thoughts and as a consequence my dreams have been occupied by Prague lately, (a place I have never visited, incidentally), the city of Emperor Rudolf II with his court of alchemists, magicians, scientists and artists; where Dr John Dee and his medium Edward Kelley conjured up a vast array of angels in a Aztec obsidian mirror and Guiseppe Arcimboldo painted his bizarre composite portraits of visages made of fruit, branches, flowers and books. The city (fast forwarding three centuries) of Meyrink and his Golem haunting the ghetto; of Kafka and his monstrous metamorphoses, bewildering reversals and byzantine bureaucracies. The city of the incomparable Toyen.

Toyen’s phantasmagorical art is filled with images of transformation, of women becoming animals or vice versa, of sudden and terrifying shifts in size and scale, of spectral figures in the process of materialisation, of impossible desires becoming reality. Sometimes it seems that the decidedly ambiguous Toyen was channeling the entire occult and magical history of Prague.

The paintings that Toyen produced in the 1950’s onward, after Surrealism had shifted decidedly from revolutionary politics and towards the occult, frequently point towards the signs of Alchemist Alley, now Golden Lane. The black sun is the first stage of the magnum opus and also refers to the dissolution of the body and hence the ego.

I have included a selection of Toyen’s magnificently compelling paintings of metamorphosis and phantasmal  figures.

All the elements-Toyen 1950
All the elements-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-New World of Year 1968
Toyen-New World of Love 1968
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971

 

 

 

 

48 thoughts on “The Sign of the Black Sun

  1. I love Toyen and this is a fabulous selection. I think my favorites are Fire Smolders In the Veins and Elective Affinities. I’ve never visited Prague either but it’s top of the list. Indeed a fascinating place with an intriguing history. Enjoyed this post very much

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You should definitely visit the real Prague- so should I really. I’ve always wanted to do the Vienna-Prague-Budapest circuit. But I’d want more than just a few days in each place. Ah…. Anyway, Toyen’s work is absolutely fantastic, mysterious and somewhat creepy. So very cool

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      2. Toyen is very mysterious and somewhat creepy I have to agree, but very benefitting a child of Prague. I have concentrated in early posts on her work from the 30’s and 40’s, but these are stellar works of Late Surrealism.

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  2. The Black Sun is also the sun wheel with 12 ‘sig runes’ of the Nazis, which adorned the first floor of the North Tower of the famous Wewelsburg Castle, acquired and remodelled by Himmler for the SS.

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    1. Yes indeed, which brings up the whole vexed question of the connection between occult thought and the far right. Umberto Eco thought it was a feature of Ur-Fascism. There have been leftwing occultists, namely Eliphas Levi and Annie Besant but undoubtedly a lot of occult thought of the 20th Century veered to the right and even fascism, especially the Traditionalist current. Bizarrely Breton admired Rene Guernon. Guernon disciple Evola is very in vogue today in alt right circles. However The Surrealists were very much on the left.

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  3. I so enjoyed this beautiful post and the amazing artwork by Toyen. I especially love The Rise of Dawn. I see that there is a film from 2005, “Toyen” , by Czech director Jan Němec. Thank you for the fantastic text and artwork Mr. Cake.

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    1. Thank you Miss Heart, you know I like a bit of purple prose and Toyen always tend to make my rasp lyric. I previously used They Rise at Dawn as a header for a poem (since deleted). I haven’t watched the movie but I will, though I am not sure how accurate it is. Toyen is a very mysterious figure.

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    1. Actually I really like your very mysterious premature send, very fitting. I think she really should be more well known, her work is consistently excellent in a wide variety of mediums. Excellent draughtsman as well.

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      1. I would imagine among the surrealist she is very well known, a novice just learning not so familiar. She is surely one I would like to know more about. Btw, the post that you mentioned earlier as having been deleted can be found with a yahoo search. If you want the link I could send it. Indeed her work is beautifully detailed.

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      2. Dali and Magritte tend to gather all the popular attention, though they go in and out of fashion. But she would be known among the Surrealists, the Czech group was one of the most productive and lasting of the groups outside Paris. Yes please do, I thought that it was gone forever but I suppose nothing is lost on the internet, not really.

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