The collaboration between poet Paul Eluard and photographer Man Ray, Facile is a unique collection. Both the poems and the photographs are inspired by Eluard’s second wife, the glorious Nusch ( see Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar) and Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray) ) with the poems both figuratively and literally caressing her naked figure. In Facile the body is actually text. The ground-breaking layout has influenced generations of photographers and it still remains one of the finest examples of joint Surrealist artistic endeavour as well as being a beautiful, erotically charged declaration of love.
On seeing this imaginary group portrait in Cologne recently I was struck immediately by the self portrait of Ernst, who is number 4 in the painting’s key and is sitting on Dosteyevsky’s (number 6) knee. Although Ernst is left of centre and has no special prominence in the composition the striking features, luminescent hair and pale skin draw your attention. Perhaps this explains the fascination that Ernst exercised over a number of beautiful, talented women throughout his life, including number 16 in the painting, Gala Eluard (late to become Gala Dali). For 1924 to 1927 Ernst was to be involved in a menage-a-trois with Gala and her husband, Paul Eluard, the poet responsible for the unforgettable Surrealist poem ‘The World Is Blue As An Orange’. Eluard is also represented in the painting, number 9 in the key, standing next to Raphael.
Atop a craggy cliff, under snowy peaks during a solar eclipse (signifying revolutionary change in art, politics and society) the members of the mouvement flou and their artistic forebearers gather. Andre Breton (number 13) wearing a red magician’s cape and touching the apparition in the sky is clearly the leader of the group and therefore assumes the role of psycho-pomp guiding his followers through the previously uncharted realm of the unconscious, where they will emerge from to create a new reality, the SUR-REALITY.
Max Ernst is the complete Surrealist artist. With Johannes Baargeld he formed Cologne Dada and organized the infamous 1920 Cologne Dada Fair which had visitors enter the exhibition via the urinals of a beer hall, where they were then greeted by a girl wearing a communion dress reciting pornographic poetry. Inside they were invited to destroy the artworks on display with an axe that Ernst had thoughtfully provided.. Ernst was a key figure in the ‘mouvement flou’, the transitional period between Dada and Surrealism. Under the banner of Surrealism Ernst experimented with photo-montage, collage, collage novels; various automatism techniques including decalcomania, frottage and grattage. His visionary figurative paintings set the benchmark for the realistic depiction of dream and hallucinatory states that was to figure so prominently in the movement.
The Blessed Virgin Chastising The Infant Jesus Before Three Witness from 1926 was a considerable success de scandale when first exhibited. The outraged Bishop of Cologne promptly closed down the exhibition. He was right to detect more than a whiff of blasphemy. Ernst is implying that the Infant Jesus wasn’t perfect and just like any other child his behaviour could result in a severe punishment. The Virgin maintains her halo while administering the spanking yet the Infant’s crown has dropped to the ground. And all the while Paul Eluard, Andre Breton and the artist pruriently look on.
As a young girl the British surrealist Eileen Agar travelled from her birthplace of Buenos Aires to England on a luxury liner accompanied by a cow and an orchestra. Her wealthy American mother believed that milk and music were essential in a child’s development and therefore had made the necessary arrangements so that she wasn’t deprived of them on the long ocean voyage.
After such a childhood it is no surprise that Eileen Agar belonged to the Surrealist movement. She had first met Andre Breton with her future husband, the Hungarian Jewish writer Joseph Bard in Paris in 1928 and was a member of the London Group from 1934.She was the only British woman artist to be featured in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936 ( see John Deth) where she had a total of three paintings and five objects displayed. She had a passionate affair with the Surrealist artist Paul Nash and holidayed with Picasso, Dora Maar, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller (who photographed her several times, see Surrealist Women: Lee Miller), Nusch Eluard and the poet Paul Eluard, with whom she had a brief and intense fling with.
As well as being a painter, Agar experimented successfully with collages, ready-made and found objects; and was also a photographer, hat-maker and a writer. She exhibited with the Surrealists in New York, Amsterdam and Tokyo as well as having numerous one-women shows in the U.K. She published her autobiography A Look At My Life at the age of 89 in 1988. She died in 1991 at the age of 91.
Below is her masterpiece The Autobiography Of An Embryo from 1933-1934, which was acquired by the Tate Gallery for its permanent collection in 1989.
In the September 1937 issue the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar made history by featuring the model, Surrealist muse and Man Ray’s lover Adrienne (also known as Ady) Fidelin within its page. Ady Fidelin was the first black model to appear between the covers of a major fashion publication.
in 1936 Ady, a young dancer in her mid twenties from Guadalupe met the 46-year-old Surrealist photographer par excellence Man Ray and they quickly become lovers. He introduced her to his circle and Ady features in artistic studies by both Man Ray and Lee Miller and intimate holiday snaps with Paul Eluard and the glorious Nusch Eluard (pictured above and the subject of Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar) and Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray),) Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar and Leonora Carrington. With the outbreak of WWII Man Ray returned to the States while Ady remained in Paris to care for her family. Unfortunately the ground-breaking and beautiful Ady disappears from view after this point.