The Art of The Atrocity Exhibition

Cover of First UK Edition of The Atrocity Exhibition-J.G Ballard 1970-Based on Salvador Dali
Cover of First UK Edition of The Atrocity Exhibition-J.G Ballard 1970-Based on Salvador Dali’s City of Drawers

J.G Ballard, the genre busting English science fiction writer responsible for such novels as The Drowned World, Crash, High Rise and Empire of the Sun as well as some of the finest short stories in world literature, frequently remarked that he really wanted to be a painter in the surrealist tradition that he so loved instead of a writer.

This deep reverence and constant engagement with the visual arts can be most clearly seen in his demented and wildly perverse cult classic collage novel The Atrocity Exhibition. Referencing Ernst, Dali, Magritte, Dominguez, Matta, Bellmer, Delvaux, Tanguy as well as Pop Artists Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol in the frequent free association tests and ‘condensed novels’ that comprise the text, The Atrocity Exhibition could easily be used as a textbook primer on surrealism and popular culture in the sixties.

In 1990 RE/Search Publications issued an expanded edition with four new stories, Ballard’s bizarre yet illuminating annotations, disturbing illustrations by the medical illustrator/graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner and photographs by Ana Barrado of brutalist buildings and weapon ranges. It also features a preface by the Hitman for the Apocalypse himself, William S. Burroughs.

Below are some of the many paintings mentioned in the text, some of which are very well known and others less so.

The Eye of Silence-Max Ernst 1943-1944

Garden Airplane Trap-Max Ernst 1935
Garden Airplane Trap-Max Ernst 1935
The Annunciation-Rene Magritte 1930
The Annunciation-Rene Magritte 1930
The Disasters of Mysticism-Roberto Matta 1942
The Disasters of Mysticism-Roberto Matta 1942
Hypercubic Christ-Salvador Dali 1954
Hypercubic Christ-Salvador Dali 1954
The Persistence of Memory-Salvador Dali 1931
The Persistence of Memory-Salvador Dali 1931
Dawn over the City-Paul Delvaux-1940
Dawn over the City-Paul Delvaux-1940
Decalcomania-Oscar Dominguez 1936
Decalcomania-Oscar Dominguez 1936
Hans Bellmer
Hans Bellmer
Indefinite Divisibility-Yves Tanguy 1942
Indefinite Divisibility-Yves Tanguy 1942
The Great American Nude 99-Tom Wesselman 1968
The Great American Nude 99-Tom Wesselman 1968
Marilyn Diptych-Andy Warhol 1962
Marilyn Diptych-Andy Warhol 1962

 

 

 

 

 

29 thoughts on “The Art of The Atrocity Exhibition

    1. He is certainly one of my all time favourites. Agreed that Miracles is brilliant, along with a host of others. Even on a bad day Ballard is still better than a host of other writers. I think the importance of Surrealism to Ballard can’t be over estimated.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A superb collection. The Hans Bellmer is really cool. Also the Matta neither of which I’d seen before. So in this collage novel, did Ballard include the art or just refer to it in the text?

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    1. He just refers to it, either in the free associations tests, the paragraph headings or within the text. With the Delvaux I took a bit of livery because he doesn’t specify a particular painting. Bellmer always freaks me out, but this is menacing and erotic.

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      1. The Delvaux you chose is fantastic. Bellmer’s work is indeed freaky (at least the things I know) but this is different… technical yet completely mesmerizing

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well nobody ever said that Bellmer wasn’t technically accomplished… probably the best draughtsman since Durer…it is just the content of the work. Ballard noted that Bellmer was too close to the truth and too uncomfortable and would remain out of fashion for those reasons.

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