Surrealism, Jazz and Cats

Gertrude Abercrombie-1957
Gertrude Abercrombie-Untitled 1957

Dubbed ‘Queen of Chicago’  by her intimates, Gertrude Abercombie was a mid 20th Century bohemian, saloniste, jazz devotee and Surrealist painter. The weekly salons she held with her second husband, the music critic Frank Sandford, in a large house in Hyde Park neighbourhood of Chicago, was frequented by such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzie Gillespie, who was a particularly close friend.

The improvisational techniques of be-bop certainly seemed to have influenced her paintings, which feature a small number of elements and motifs repeated throughout her career in an unusual and innovative manner. Cats, snail shells, owls, doors, leafless trees and a solitary female figure, always a hypercritical self portrait, frequently recur against a somber night sky barely lit by the distant moon. The mood is usually mysterious and elusive with occasionally a  hint of Southern Gothic, however Design for Death, which apparently was Charlie Parker’s favourite painting is quietly chilling in its representation of a staging for a lynching.

When asked why she painted in the Surrealist manner, Abercrombie stated, “Surrealism is meant for me because I am a pretty realistic person but don’t like all I see.”

Below are a selection of artworks from throughout Abercrombie’s career, hopefully some people will like her re-arrangements of reality as much as I do.

Design for Death-Gertrude Abercrombie 1946
Design for Death-Gertrude Abercrombie 1946
Reverie-Gertrude Abercrombie 1947
Reverie-Gertrude Abercrombie 1947
The Door and the Rock-Gertrude Abercrombie 1971
the Door and the Rock-Gertrude Abercrombie 1971
Compote and Grape-Gertrude Abercrombie 1941
Compote and Grape-Gertrude Abercrombie 1941
Wall and Giraffe-Gertrude Abercrombie 1951
Wall and Giraffe-Gertrude Abercrombie 1951
Levitation-Gerturde Abercrombie-1953
Levitation-Gerturde Abercrombie-1953
The Ivory Tower-Gertrude Abercrombie-1945
The Ivory Tower-Gertrude Abercrombie-1945
The Owl in the Bathroom-Gertrude Abercrombie 1964
The Owl in the Bathroom-Gertrude Abercrombie 1964
For Once In My Life-Gertrude Abercrombie 1969
For Once In My Life-Gertrude Abercrombie 1969
Shadows-Gertrude Abercrombie
Shadows-Gertrude Abercrombie
Three Cats-Gertrude Abercrombie 1956
Three Cats-Gertrude Abercrombie 1956

Seven Eagles

Figure XII-Sapientia Veterum
Figure XII-Sapientia Veterum

The 40 illustrations of the Sapientia Veterum Philosophorum are among the finest and most striking of later (18th Century) alchemical art. Stanislas Klossowski De Rola, Balthus son and resident occult adviser to the Chelsea set in Swinging London, notes that it deserves to be seen in full, however I am unfortunately only able to present a limited number of images.

Reducing the royal art to only essential imagery, (glass vessel, dove, lion, rain, sun and moon), Sapientia shows the process of conjuration and separation of the elements in the ascent and descent of the dove, which occurs seven times in the manuscript. This transmigration of matter where the fixed is rendered volatile and the volatile fixed result in the so-called eagles, of which seven precede the exaltation of the Quintessence.

Figure VI
Figure VI
Figure VII
Figure VII
Figure VIII
Figure VIII
Figure X
Figure X
Figure XIV
Figure XIV
Figure XXIX
Figure XXIX
Figure XXXIII-Sapinetia Veretum
Figure XXXIII

Selene

Configuration-Max Ernst 1974
Configuration-Max Ernst 1974

I can’t believe this
I can’t
I can’t believe this feeling,
In control of my desolation,
Home in the alienation.
You said you’d take me higher,
And I’m higher,
Higher than ever before
I can’t believe that
I’m seeing the blue-green orb
Spinning frenetically
Ceaselessly ebbing, flowing, flooding,
Mutability the only constant
From this vantage-point
Of this Empire of Dust.
But I am tranquil in my isolation,
Calm in the knowledge,
Of this monthly death
And rebirth, the steady
Procession of waxing and waning,
Gibbous and crescent,
The fullness that must pass
Into invisibility before re-commencing
As two celestial bodies approach closer,
You take me still higher
The cycle and phases of lunacy,
Rays of translucent illumination
A ladder of fine silken threads
Leading upwards towards a point
Where I can glimpse some kind
Of knowledge, leading to communion
With the stellar inhuman intelligence,
The Alabaster Goddess
Whose light burns like ice
Through my veins to ignite in my mind
A deadly passion for her chill
Embrace over on the far dark side.

Double Take

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Anna Di Mezza-Birth of Currency
The intriguing work of Australian artist Anna Di Mezza achieves a synthesis of disparate styles and techniques that requires a double take from the viewer. Collages of found images from vintage magazines are taken out of their original context and then rendered in a meretricious photo-realist manner using a largely mono-chromatic colour palette, with, as Anna notes ‘occasional pops of colour.’

Di Mezza stages strange tableau of suspended narratives. Gigantic women recline or roam across mountain ranges; people emerge from bar-codes; sets of well coiffured ladies gather around mysterious crystals or point excitedly to a lone astronaut while on the moon. Di Mezza’s paintings suggest stories that fascinate while ultimately eluding explanation.

Di Mezza cites influences as diverse as the Surrealists, especially Magritte and De Chirico, Pop Art, filmmakers David Lynch, Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick and the classic fifties TV series The Twilight Zone. While her art clearly references her influences Di Mezza skilfully creates her own unique otherworldly vision.

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Anna Di Mezza-Memory’s Persistence
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Anna Di Mezza-Matter of Time
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Anna Di Mezza-The Three Graces
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Anna Di Mezza-The Visit
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Anna Di Mezza-Lucy
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Anna Di Mezza-Memory Portal