After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bordeaux, Jean-Marie Poumeyrol taught mechanical draughtsmanship before being let go from this occupation for failing to pass the nude drawing exam, receiving an ‘F’ in this subject at the same time that his disturbing and morbid erotic paintings were becoming highly prized collectors items.
Allied with the artists of fantastic realism, H.R Giger and Sibylle Ruppert are two notable examples of the style that I have previously written about, Poumeyrol developed his style away from erotica, painting mysterious interiors devoid of human beings but filled with the ghostly traces of absent inhabitants, noticeably numerous fetishistic drawings adoring the walls. The hushed surroundings are bathed in a peculiar pellucid light; gradually the hint of horror that these paintings undoubtedly contain reveals itself in the eerie calm of these meretriciously rendered spaces
Below is a selection of paintings covering various stages of his career. Information is rather scarce regarding dates and titles, surprising for such an excellent artist of singular vision, however that is the vagaries of reputation and fame.
The Swiss artist H.R Giger stated that the initial impetus behind his early paintings (I to IX) in his Passagen (Passages) series was a recurring nightmare in which he found himself in a large room without windows or doors, the only opening being a dark metal hole obstructed by a large safety pin. After getting stuck while passing through this opening he would see a tiny point of light at the end of a long chimney, however he was blocked by an invisible power and he would be unable to move backward or forward with his arms pressed against his body, unable to breath, his only thought being, ‘Oh my God, why am I here?’.
In addition to the dream inspiration the later paintings in the series would feature re-workings of a photograph he had taken of a garbage truck in Cologne, Germany in 1971. Giger was fascinated by its representation of a ‘mechanical-erotic act’, which sounds reminiscent of J.G Ballard’s Crash.
Giger always considered himself a Surrealist and the Passages series. created from the dredging of the unconscious and chance encounter richly deserves to belong in the Surrealist canon. Minimal, obsessive and claustrophobic, it is a truly unsettling experience by a master of the macabre.
One of the most important of the Austrian Symbolists, Alfred Kubin was the master of macabre art and the morbid image, who, in his insistence upon portraying all the horrors lurking just beneath the surface in the unconscious mind, can reasonably be said to have anticipated the Surrealists.
His life reads like a cross between a Freudian case study and a decadent fiction. He didn’t meet his father until he was two and afterwards he only felt, ‘hate, hate, hate’ towards him. His beloved mother died when he was ten and the following year he lost his virginity to a pregnant friend. This unhappy childhood led to his abortive suicide attempt on his mother’s grave when he was nineteen. He joined the army but that resulted in a nervous breakdown.
Kubin worked primarily as a book illustrator, mainly of Gothic and fantastic fiction, notably Edgar Allen Poe, E.T.A Hoffman and Gustav Meyrick. In 1906 he married the half-Jewish heiress Hedwig Grundler and they moved to an isolated 12th century castle in Upper Austria, where he was to remain to his death. The marriage was a success, much to everyone’s surprise as Hedwig had a heavy morphine dependency that required frequent hospitalizations.
Kubin was a friend of both Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky and did show with their Blauer Riter group, however his avant-garde involvement ended by the time of the WWI.
Kubin was also a talented writer and his brilliant proto-surrealist novel The Other Side of 1909 (which I intend to write about in detail at some point) was much admired by his friend Franz Kafka and also by that troubling genius of German letters, Ernst Junger.
The gloriously eccentric American illustrator and writer Edward Gorey saw his singular body of work as ‘literary nonsense’ in the tradition of Carroll and Lear. Renowned for meretricious cross hatching, mordant wit and the macabre relish that he depicts the peculiar and sometimes sinister goings on in the rarefied atmosphere of the Victorian/Edwardian fantasy realm where he seemed to spend his whole imaginative life in, with the exception, of course, of frequent excursions to the ballet, Edward Gorey, in my opinion, is the sole twentieth century heir to the title of nonsense.
In 1936 Toyen returned to painting after a period concentrating on collages and erotic book illustration, and produced what is arguably her masterpiece The Message Of The Forest, a painting that seems to be an pictorial representation of a particularly sinister Central European fairy-tale.
A massive owl-like creature, painted in a startling shade of electric blue bears in its one remaining claw the severed head of a young girl. As is frequent in Toyen she plays with scale to induce a sense of disorientation in the viewer. The vivid green of the tree bark and the absolute inky blackness of the night contrast with the pallid mask-like face of the girl, suggesting that the forest, and by extension nature, is essentially inimical to humanity.