Wallpaper

Mimi Johnson, Dorothea Tanning, Martha Johnson-Seillans 1966

This charming, playful family photograph of American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning with her two nieces Mimi and Martha Johnson, taken at the home she shared with her husband Max Ernst in Seillans, France, features wallpaper, the only thing that happened in her childhood home in Galesburg, Illnois, prominently.

In several of her works, noticeably Children’s Games and the final masterpiece of Surrealism, Room 202, Poppy Hotel, the wallpaper conveys a sense of menace bordering on horror. In her concentration on claustrophobic domestic spaces Tanning anticipated a whole wave of female artists, noticeably the photography of Francesca Woodman.

Dorothea Tanning-Children's Games 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Children’s Games 1942
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Space

lee-miller-egypte-portrait-of-space[1]
Portrait of Space-Lee Miller 1937
Lee Miller’s haunting Portrait of Space qualifies as one of the most enigmatic of Surrealist images. While married to her wealthy Egyptian husband in Cairo in the mid 1930’s Miller felt the need to escape to the desert where the photograph was taken. It is not a portrait of a person but the desert landscape, however in true Surrealist fashion parts of the landscape bear a resemblance to facial features. Uncannily the clouds look like the floating lips in Man Rays painting The Lovers (see Dreams of Desire 12 (The Lovers)) from 1934 which are of course modelled on Miller’s own lips. The hillock on the right could be the Eye atop the pyramid on the dollar bill and the gaping hole in the fly screen is the eye that reveals and illuminates the scene for us.

Prayer

Man Ray-Prayer-1930
Man Ray-Prayer-1930

The ground-breaking, innovative American photographer and painter Man Ray was another Surrealist affiliated artist who constantly referenced the life and work of the Marquis De Sade (see Illustrating the Divine Marquis for further examples of art inspired by the Divine Marquis).

As well as the art that explicitly points to the Marquis as a source, notably 1933’s witty and scandalous Homage to D.A.F De Sade, the brilliant Imaginary Portrait of 1936 and the geometric surrealism of Aline et Valcour (a nod to Man Ray’s favourite novel by De Sade), there are pieces that invoke the spirit of De Sade, especially the photograph Prayer from 1930.

As always with Man Ray’s photographs, Prayer is brilliantly composed with stark contrasts between the absolute, hushed and sacred darkness that frames and throws into sharp relief the lunar luminosity of the body ‘praying’ on the grubby bed. Wilfully blasphemous and perversely sacrilegious, Prayer highlights the still radical proposition of De Sade’s that the body, and the body alone, is the nexus of desire and the locus of all human motivation.

Man Ray-Homage to D.A.F De Sade 1933
Man Ray-Homage to D.A.F De Sade 1933
Man Ray-Imaginary Portrait of De Sade 1936
Man Ray-Imaginary Portrait of De Sade 1936
Man Ray-Aline Et Valcour 1950
Man Ray-Aline Et Valcour 1950