Joseph Cornell (see Dreams of Desire 36 (Girl with Braid) was passionately attached to the idea of travel even though he very rarely left his home state of New York during his life. He created several series of boxes featuring birds, which act as surrogates for his fantasies of flight, and also of hotels, some of which are so otherworldly and celestial they suggest rest-stops for demigods and goddess as they travel between the constellations more than overnight accommodation for regular humans.
During the 1950’s produced several boxes in the Hotel De L’Etoile series. The word etoile means star and the boxes play with the double meaning of star, the ones in the sky and the ones of the stage and screen. Both kinds were equally unattainable for Cornell, despite several intense platonic relationship with ballerinas; yet he remained a devoted and lucid observer of the night-sky, ballet and movies.
The above box from the series features a cut-out from a girlie magazine, slightly obscured by a singular column. The glass is blue, Cornell’s favourite colour along with white, a shade of blue that evokes sex, melancholy and a luscious eternal night.
In the early 1930’s a young salesman who lived on Utopia Parkway, Queens, while browsing in a bookstore, as was his habit when he had some spare time, came across a book that was to forever change his life . It was Max Ernst’s collage novel La Femme 100 Tetes, and from it’s marvellous pages, the shy and dreamy young man, whose name was Joseph Cornell realised that you didn’t have to be a trained painter to be an artist; art could be made out of everyday objects with the aid of a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. Inspired Cornell would create collages late at night after his mother and his beloved brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy and Joseph cared for, went to bed.
From collages Joseph Cornell went on to assemble his fabulous, intricate glass-paned shadow boxes that create in miniature beautiful and sublimely mysterious dream-worlds.
The above collage conveys Cornell intense and yearning romanticism. Although in many respects Cornell had a highly successful artistic career and everyone in the art world would visit Cornell when in New York, he remained a reserved and reclusive figure. He never married and remained in his mother’s modest house on Utopia Parkway until his death in 1972.
When British Vogue sent staff over to Man Ray’s Montparnasse studio in 1929 they were greeted by his new assistant, who was also doubling up as his receptionist, Lee Miller. She was ‘…a vision so lovely they forgot why they had come.’
Lee Miller had left her very successful modelling career in New York at the age of 21 to become a photographer in Paris, then the centre of the art world. She had set her sights on learning the craft from her fellow American, the pioneering photographer, film-maker and painter Man Ray. Approaching him in a cafe she told him her name and that she was his new student. Man Ray answered that he didn’t take students and besides he was going to Biarritz the next day. Miller answered that is where she was going too. Man Ray, unsurprisingly, was captivated and they did indeed go to Biarritz, the start of an incredibly intense artistic and romantic relationship.
Man Ray soon realised her talent and their artistic relationship was reciprocal. It was Miller who, by letting in the light on the darkroom, discovered the technique of solarization (see Dreams of Desire 31 (Solarization)) that became a Man Ray trademark. In fact it is hard sometimes to distinguish their work from this period apart, as Miller herself commented, “We were almost the same person when we were working.”
Self Portrait is from the period immediately after the bitter break-up of 1932 (see Dreams of Desire 12 (The Lovers)). The classical pose generates a muscular tension that accentuates her astounding beauty. As an aside, there exists a brand of champagne glass shaped from a mould of Miller’s left breast.
An exquisite drawing by Toyen of a sleeping girl, one of her favourite themes, being watched by a sea-horse. The heavy shading, fissures and the architectural elements adds an illusionistic depth to the drawing, that manages to convey a dream-like sensuality with an admirable simplicity.
Man Ray perfected the technique of solarization which was discovered by his assistant, model, lover and brilliant photographer Lee Miller when she accidentally opened the door to the darkroom and let in the light.
The 1929 photograph Primat de la matiere sur la pensee (The primacy of matter over thought) of the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim is a striking ethereal image and was later reproduced in LaSurrealisme au service de la revolution in1931.