Dreams of Desire 67 (Lucien Clergue)

Lucien Clergue-Zebra Nude
Lucien Clergue-Zebra Nude

Despite the fact that Surrealism was involved in literature, illustration, painting, film, architecture, philosophy and politics, the area where it achieved its greatest impact and subsequent influence is undoubtedly the field of photography (see Dreams of Desire 2, 3, 21Angel and many others for examples of Surrealist and Surrealist inspired photography).

This influence can be seen in the nudes of the French photographer Lucian Clergue, who at the age of 21 in 1955 struck up a friendship with Picasso that was to last until the great modern master’s death in 1973. Clergue’s nude photographs often feature the zebra effect which creates a distancing coolness and abstraction to the exposed flesh. The model (or models) are defined by the interplay of light and shadow. In other studies the model is placed in natural surroundings where the body merges into the landscape in the manner of Magritte.

Dreams of Desire 59 (Juliet et Margaret)

Juliet & Margaret Nieman,
Juliet et Margaret -Man Ray 1942?

Another arresting erotic image by the master Surrealist photographer, Man Ray. I cannot accurately determine the date it was taken, however as it features his lover Juliet Browner (and later wife, they were married in a dual ceremony with Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Beverly Hills in 1946) and Margaret Nieman who was his neighbour in Los Angeles during the early 1940’s, 1942 would seem to be the likeliest year.

Man Ray frequently photographed his lovers in embraces with other women, notably Lee Miller and her room-mate Tanja Ramm (though not the photograph of Lee and Tanja having breakfast in bed, that was taken by Lee’s father) and  later, Ady Fidelin with the ultimate Surrealist muse Nusch Eluard.

The totem-like masks were designed by Man Ray himself and certainly add an aura of strangeness and animalistic carnality to the scene. In the early 30’s in Paris, Man Ray had become involved with the Lost Generation American travel writer and occultist William Seabrook and had photographed several of Seabrook’s sadistic mise-en-scene involving masks. Seabrook’s sexual proclivities were also the subject of the extremely unsettling essay by Michel Leiris, The ‘Caput Mortuum’ or the Alchemist’s Wife, published in Georges Bataille magazine Documents.

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Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)

af06ad9602d0f758f85e7d77760f8c0e[1]In the 2013 movie La Vie d’Adele-Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour), a masterful  study of love, sexuality but above all else class, there is a particularly telling scene during the party at the beginning of Chapter 2.  Invited to sit down in the home she shares with Emma, Adele is asked what she does by Emma’s friends. Her response that she is a teacher barely elicits acknowledgement and soon the conversation has turned to the Austrian artist Egon Schiele who the friend is studying for her thesis. Emma counters that though she likes Schiele she finds him too tortured, too dark and too obscure and she prefers Klimt. Klimt is dismissed by the art historian as ‘florid and decorative’. Adele looks lost and returns to her hostess duties.

Although it could be argued that the above exchange sets Klimt and Schiele in a needless competition when in real life they shared a mentor-pupil relationship (Klimt was 30 years older than Schiele), a close, long lasting friendship, muses (most infamously Wally Neuzil, who went from Klimt to Schiele and then back to Klimt again), and themes, most notably the female nude in overtly erotic situations, their art is markedly contrasting. Schiele gaze is uncompromisingly morbid, rawer and decidedly more edgy. Whereas Klimt, at least in the major paintings, is resplendent with gorgeous semi-abstract decorative motifs borrowed for Byzantine, Greek, Celtic and Egyptian art, leading it to be easily assimilated with bourgeois ideals of beauty. Regardless of this, Klimt’s work is undeniably sexy.

Klimt’s studio was populated day and night by cats and naked models. He never married and was rumoured to have fathered seventeen children on various lovers. His promiscuity resulted in syphilis which undoubtedly coloured his lush, decadent vision. He died in 1918 from complications arising from contracting influenza in the worldwide epidemic of that year that killed up to 50 to 100 million people.

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Dreams of Desire 41 (Trouille’s Funeral)

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Clovis Trouille-Mes Funerailles 1940

The Sunday Surrealist artist Clovis Trouille (Dreams of Desire 8 (Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta!)Dreams of Desire 9 (Italian Nun Smoking A Cigarette) and Dreams of Desire 10 (Sisters of the Immaculate Silk Stockings) painted a number of canvases on the theme of his funeral. Mes Funerailles from 1940 is almost austere by the standards of Trouille’s overheated and frenzied oeuvre with its riot of colour and sleazy psycho-sexual fantasy.

Trouille brings into play the talents deployed in his day job as department store window dresser and mannequin restorer in the simple yet striking tableaux, bringing to the fore all the potential theatrically inherent in our own imagined funerals. As always with Trouille he dreams of that sensuality without censure that is only found in the imagination.