Scylla

Scylla-Ithell Colquhoun 1938
Scylla-Ithell Colquhoun 1938

The painter, writer and occultist Ithell Colquhoun became acquainted with the Surrealist movement in 1938 and it was to forever change her direction as an artist, even though she was only formally a member of the British Surrealist Group for one brief year before being expelled for her refusal to quit several secret societies that she belonged to.

After her encounter with Surrealism Colquhoun would experiment with several Surrealist automatic techniques including decalcomania, fumage, frottage and collage, as well as inventing new techniques such as entopic graphomania and parsemage. Her painting Scylla makes use of Dali’s paranoiac-critical method, resulting in a double image that is both a painting that references the Greek legend of the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis and a phantasmagorical vision of Colquhoun taking a bath.

 

A Week of Max Ernst: Saturday

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The Stolen Mirror-Max Ernst 1941
Saturday’s A Week of Max Ernst is a lesser known work from the incredibly fertile period of 1940-1942. Painted in California while living with Peggy Guggenheim whom he was soon to marry, the dual female figures would again appear to be Leonora Carrington. He had recently learnt that after leaving her behind in France, Carrington had suffered a severe mental breakdown that had resulted her being institutionalized in a Madrid mental asylum, a period she recorded in Down Below, an account of what Carrington called her adventures ‘on the other side of the mirror.’ Legend has it that when her wealthy industrialist father learnt of Leonora’s fate that he despatched her beloved nanny to rescue her in a submarine.

The Stolen Mirror has a particularly limpid quality. Decalcomania was again a major component, especially in the  wounded, diminished figure on the left, a warped, petrified reflection of the towering female on the right with her regal furs and attendant creatures. In between a rampart skirts the water’s edge leading off into the vast distance, past small islands and man-made mounds crowned with mythological monuments.

A Week of Max Ernst: Friday

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The Robing of the Bride-Max Ernst 1940
Friday’s Ernst is a gorgeous, grotesque erotic fantasy. Ernst’s art is always cryptic and open to a wide range of interpretations but any interpretation of The Robing of the Bride will fall woefully short before this magnificent, sumptuous masterpiece.

The long-legged, small breasted  Bride is robed in spectacular, vivid red feathered cloak which also completely covers the face with the exception of a pair of owl eyes and a beak. To the left is a bird warrior/attendant whose spear (surely the symbolism is deliberate) is broken before the sexual glory of the Bride-Queen. To the right is a tiny weeping four-breasted hermaphroditic monster. Behind is an enraptured pale-skinned naked women with a stunning headdress that Ernst fashioned using decalcomania. The picture on the wall of another bride of another time amidst classical ruins also uses decalcomania for her robes.

Of all Ernst paintings The Robing of the Bride has the most visible alchemical and esoteric elements. The Bride is generally accepted as being inspired by Ernst’s lover and fellow Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. Ironically the painting can be seen in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Both Guggenheim and Carrington were involved in a bitter rivalry for Ernst’s affectation. Guggenheim would become Ernst’s third wife in 1942 but the union was short lived. Ernst married his fourth wife Dorothea Tanning in 1946, they were to remain married until Ernst’s death in 1976

A Week of Max Ernst: Tuesday

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Europe After the Rain II-Max Ernst 1940-1942
‘On the first of August M.E died. He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918’ was how Max Ernst referred to his time in the army during the WW1. Hitler’s rise in Germany  and the start of WW2, which led to several detentions and internments  (see my post Le Jeu Du Marseille-A Surrealist Pack of Cards) must have seemed to Ernst like he had died for a second time.

Out of the traumatic experiences of internment, flight and exile Ernst produced arguably the masterpiece of pictorial automatism Europe After The  Rain II. Using the technique pioneered by Oscar Dominguez (see Chance Encounters 1), decalcomania, Ernst created a haunting post apocalyptic landscape with sinister petrified (yet seemingly alive, or on verge of becoming so) mineral formations. A helmeted bird headed figure menaces a woman in a baroque version of  Edwardian dress lost in this inimical, alien world. A chilling vision of the future if we persist in our never-ending folly.