Come here you, closer still,
I want you to be the first to know
That gold is all around this town
Beneath the streets & sewers,
Scattered haphazardly here there
Everywhere, enough to dazzle,
Blind the unwary with the glitter,
Shimmering dissolving glamour
When the sun shines again:
Do you have it within to dare?
To serve this magistery right?
To make the mad dream real,
Turn this place into Tenochtitlán,
Render into actuality El Dorado:
Do you possess the strength to will
Into existence all the power & glory
Of this metallic inhuman purity
The cold coalescence of stars?
After you have known, dared,
Willed these forces into being,
Now that you are experienced,
Initiated & illuminated can you
Keep a secret, will you remain silent?
There is an anecdote about the young Yves Klein (see Dreams of Desire 48 (Blue) lying on a beach in the South of France with his friends, the artist Arman and the poet Claude Pascal, where they decided to divide up the universe between themselves. Arman wanted the riches of the earth and tangible, material things, while Pascal claimed words and language itself. Klein chose ‘le vide’, the void, ethereal space empty of all matter.
Klein spent his career, cut short by his early death at 34, giving pictorial representation to the void, most famously in his blue monochromes using his own patented colour International Klein Blue, but also in the fire paintings, painted in his last years. Klein was something of an esotericist and was familiar with Rosicrucian and alchemical doctrine. As he noted ‘…fires burn in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man.‘
The above golden monochrome is part of a triptych (the other colours are blue and pink) that represents the colours seen in the heart of a flame. In a lecture given at the Sorbonne, Klein further elaborated on the transformative and unifying nature of fire . ‘Fire is both intimate and universal. It resides in our hearts; it resides in a candle. It rises up from the depths of matter, and it conceals itself, latent, contained, like hate or patience. Of all phenomena it is the only one that so obviously embodies two opposite values: good and evil. It shines in paradise, and burns in hell. It can contradict itself, and therefore it is one of the universal principles.’ Such comments are reminiscent of the patron philosopher of occultists, the gnomic Heraclitus who remarked that ‘everything is fire.’
Klein made his fire paintings using a flame thrower on specially treated cardboard. Supplementary techniques were also involved to evoke a synthesis of the four classic elements, for example a nude model would be moistened with water and directed to leave an imprint on the surface before Klein applied the flame.
For all its influence on the visual arts and literature, advertising remains the field where Surrealism (or its techniques anyway, the question of aims answers itself) has had the largest impact. In J.G Ballard’s (who was a former advertising copy-writer himself) 1970 experimental novel on the media landscape, The Atrocity Exhibition, which features Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Elizabeth Taylor as characters (or at least people the protogantists fantasies) there are also numerous references to the works of Dali, Magritte, Ernst, Bellmer and others. The inference is clear, the media landscape had been shaped to a large extent by Surrealism.
The clearest example of applied Surrealist techniques is the ad campaigns for cigarette brands Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut in theUKin the 70’s through to the 90’s. Faced with severe restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes; they couldn’t be shown to indicate status, youthfulness or sexual appeal and all ads had to carry the mandatory health warnings, the ad firms Collett Dickinson Pearce for Benson & Hedges and Saatchi & Saatchi for Silk Cut had to get creative. The results are some of the most iconic images ever created in advertising. The Benson & Hedges ads made use of the distintive gold packaging while Silk Cut plays with the brand name and the purple lettering on the box; the swathes of slashed silk hint at possible sexual allusions . Ironically the health warning is sometimes the only thing that alerts you to the fact that it is cigarettes being marketed.