Horror

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Toyen-Horror 1937

Toyen’s paintings are frequently imbued with a sense of phantasmic horror, fittingly for an artist born and bred in Prague, the city of Leppin, Meyrink and Kafka. Horror was also a frequent theme for her fellow Czech avant-gardists, of whom it has been remarked that they were the horror division of the Surrealist dream factory. Toyen’s first artistic partner Jindrich Styrsky (not to be confused with her second artistic partner Jindrich Heisler) in 1933 said, ‘An unwitting smile, a sense of the comic, a shudder of horror-these are eroticism’s sisters.’  As Strysky had been involved with Toyen in the late 20’s and the early 30’s in the publication of both the Erotic Review, a magazine dedicated to erotica, and Editions 69, strictly limited editions (subscription of 150 only) of famous pornographic novels including the Marquis De Sade and Pierre Louys, with illustrations by Toyen, he had a fair idea of what he was talking about.

At first glance the viewer may wonder why Toyen decided to title this painting Horror. However if T.S Eliot can show ‘fear/in a handful of dust,’  then Toyen can show us horror in a wilted dandelion clock. Again Toyen induces a sense of disorientation with scale, the dandelion is set against a fence that almost fills the horizon, the top of the fence is grasped by five hands, all clinging on, apparently for dear life, though one fears for the possessor of the hand in the centre of the picture, the only hand not part of a pair. Horror hints that beyond the banal facade of the world, there lies a incomprehensible and monstrous reality.

The Landscape of the Body

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Some of my favourite artworks of the present century are the marvellous collages created by the Belgian artist Sammy Slabbinck (featured image for Showtime and Living the High Life). Using found images from magazines dating from the 1950’s to the 1970’s that he collects from flea markets, Slabbinck skilfully re-combines the elements to create wryly humorous, slyly subversive and sometimes unsettling, subtly horrifying works.

Citing influences from Pop Art, Dada and Surrealism, in particular fellow Belgian Surrealist giant Rene Magritte (The Object of the EyeThe Human Condition, Pleasure), Slabbinck’s frequently colour-saturated collages play with size and scale: magnified parts of female bodies form part of a landscape which tiny men journey towards or galaxies are contained within cereal bowls which the perfect 60’s mother and daughter is sitting down at the breakfast table to consume.  The resultant images are startlingly lush with a trippiness that achieves the defamiliarisation that is the aim of all Surrealist art.

The Message Of The Forest

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The Message of the Forest-Toyen 1936
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.