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, 21, Angel 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.
In 1907 the seventeen year old Egon Schiele met the artist who he idolised and would continue to venerate to his death, Gustav Klimt (see Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt), Dreams of Desire 53 (Judith) and The Succubus). Klimt was known to be supportive of aspiring artists, however he recognised the talent inherent in Schiele and he took a particular interest in his protege’s career, generously buying and exchanging his own works with Schiele’s drawings, organising meetings with potential patrons and arranging models to sit for Schiele.
Although Klimt’s influence is evident in Schiele’s early work, he soon found his own distinctive style. The heavily decorative elements of Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Jugendstil are gone and in its place is raw, naked Expressionism. Schiele’s females nudes, often featured in provocative poses are emaciated and sickly looking with a distorted line that renders the figures close to grotesque. It is true that after his marriage in 1915 to Edith Hams that the models are more fully fleshed, however the doll-like appearance of these later studies makes them even more disconcerting.
In 1918 after a brief, tumultuous life which had included being imprisoned for exhibiting erotic drawings and considerable controversy for his use of teenage models (who tended to be juvenile delinquents) Schiele died in the Spanish Influenza outbreak that was gripping Vienna at that time, just three days after his pregnant wife Edith had died and only 8 months after the death of his mentor Gustav Klimt.
Schiele, Egon. 1890ñ1918. ìZwei Freundinnenî, 1915. Gouache und Aquarell ¸ber Bleistift auf Papier, 48 ◊ 32,57 cm. Inv. Nr. 1915ñ933
On the 9th of March 1960, Yves Klein, one of the founders of the Nouveaux Realistes art movement and creator of the paint shade IKB (International Klein Blue) which he had used in a number of large-scale monochrome paintings, staged a unique event. At the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Paris, before an audience consisting of the cream of the Parisian art world all decked in evening wear and an orchestra of nine musicians playing his own piece, The Monotone Symphony (which consisted of a single chord played for twenty minutes followed by twenty minutes of silence) Klein painted three nudes models in IKB, and using them as living paintbrushes precededto give instructions as to where to place their bodies on the canvases that lined the floor and walls. The models positioned themselves, rolled around and dragged each other producing the paintings above and below, which Klein entitled Anthropometries. As this was first and foremost a work of Performance Art, photographs were taken of the show, also shown below.
Personally I love IKB which is deeply suggestive of eternity: unsettling and yet serenely blissful. To do it justice however it has to be seen it up close at a gallery, no computer screen can fully capture its vivid intensity.
Simone Kahn, pictured above with a Vanuatu figure was the first Mrs Breton (for details of Andre Breton second marriage see Dreams of Desire 16 (Jacqueline and Frida), was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Peru in 1897.
She married Andre in 1921 and was involved in the trance events that was instrumental in the formation of Surrealism. Andre Breton remarked that she was a living encyclopedia and was the only one of the Surrealists who had read Marx’s Das Kapital in full.
Their marriage which lasted ten years was rather turbulent, as although both believed in the idea of a Free Union, the reality was somewhat different and neither was immune from jealously. However after their divorce in 1931 and despite further marriages they continued to correspond for the next three decades.
Of the many femme fatales that haunted the imagination of the late 19th century, Lilith reigns supreme, the only other serious contestant being the murderous temptress Salome with her Dance of the Seven Veils (see Dreams of Desire 22 (The Apparition).
Lilith is a character from Jewish mythology, and like most mythological creatures the legends surrounding her are confusing and even contradictory. She is alternatively Adam’s first wife, a lustful female demon or the wife of Samael. She is barely mentioned in the Old Testament but she features more prominently in the Zohar and other Kabbalistic works. In the Kabbalah she is a type of succubus who is responsible for nocturnal emissions and is associated with the Qlippoth. The one thing that all sources agree on however is that Lilith is supremely beautiful and deadly dangerous.
The above representation by the English Pre-Raphaelite John Collier follows the tradition of having Lilith enjoying the sensuous en-coiling of her naked body by a snake, presumably the same snake that would tempt Adam’s second wife Eve. Unlike Eve though, Lilith actively embraces the independence offered by the emissary of evil.