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.
Salvador Dali’s breakthrough Surrealist work of 1929, The Lugubrious Game (also known as the Dismal Sport) was the subject of a long, laudatory mediation by Georges Bataille, published in the seventh issue of Documents. Bataille declares that he lifts his heart to Dali as his paintings causes the viewer to grunt like a pig.
In many respects Dali was a perfect fit for Documents and Georges Bataille. In his early work Dali dredged his unconscious with its scatological and masturbatory obsessions and combined them with his pathological need to shock to create an over-lit nightmare world riddled with anxieties and phobias. However Dali, always with a keen eye for self promotion, defected over to the Breton camp of official Surrealism, for a while at least.
The titles of the painting is a reference to masturbation, a recurring theme of this period for Dali. Also featured below is The Great Masturbator and the later Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity.
Another one of the drawings that can be definitely attributed to have come from the hand of the master, The Tree-Man is also a figure that features prominently in the right panel hellscape of the triptych TheGarden of Earthly Delights.
As the date of composition of The Garden of Earthly Delights cannot be determined accurately beyond the range of 1490 to 1510, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether the drawing of The Tree-Man is a preparatory sketch or a later variation on this most memorable, nightmarish character.
Although not situated in hell, the landscape of The Tree-Man is nevertheless rather bleak and blighted. In the centre of the foreground a stunted tree sits near the bank of a river that has inundated a large part of the background land. Various species of birds feature, including a stock, a pair of swimming ducks and an owl.
Dominating the scene is the Tree-Man, a monstrous hybrid of human face, rotting tree stumps, broken eggshell and boats. Inside the hollow cavity of the body a group of people (surely damned) appear to be involved in drinking, gambling and whoring. Also a crescent moon flag juts from this unusual posterior opening. The Tree-Man sports extraordinary headgear on which a large pitcher is balanced. Inside this vessel is a small blurry figure that is pointlessly dangling a fishing line and another man precariously clings onto a ladder while reaching out to a line that is attached to the flag.
It has been suggested that the Tree-Man’s face in both this drawing and in The Garden of Earthly Delights is a possible self-portrait of Bosch. In the triptych the headgear closely resembles an artist’s palette and the sideways, conspiratorial expression of rueful resignation that greet the viewer do point towards the Tree-Man being an elaborate, knowingly ironic signature.