The period immediately following the Czech avant-garde engagement with Surrealism in the mid 1930’s saw Toyen produce one masterpiece after another, including The Message Of The Forest, Horror and Asleep (pictured above).
Against a bleak, featureless landscape with a nausea-inducing receding horizon a strange, spectral figure hovers in mid-air, holding a butterfly net. There is a collage-like effect to the figure that adds to the uncanny atmosphere; the bright red hair is wig-like and the stained white coat that is open at the back to reveal nothing at all produces a sensation of unbearable desolation and loneliness. Few paintings fully capture the sheer defencelessness and utter isolation that we experience nightly when we close our eyes and give over control to our unconscious as Asleep does.
Man Ray perfected the technique of solarization which was discovered by his assistant, model, lover and brilliant photographer Lee Miller when she accidentally opened the door to the darkroom and let in the light.
The 1929 photograph Primat de la matiere sur la pensee (The primacy of matter over thought) of the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim is a striking ethereal image and was later reproduced in LaSurrealisme au service de la revolution in1931.
This stunning photograph of a serene beauty fully captures the belief in the transcendence of dreaming that all Surrealists shared . At first glance she appears to be underwater, after a quick double take it is apparent that she is rather soaring through the clouds. Or could it be that she is in fact laid out on a morgue table? But no, she is sleeping (we can be relatively sure as one can be in dealing with the Surreal), however that covers any reality you care to choose.
J.A Boiffard was Man Ray’s assistant from 1924 to 1929. His Parisian photographs were chosen to illustrate Andre Breton’s Nadja. However after his expulsion from the Surrealists, Boiffard contributed to Un Cadavre, a pamphlet that in no uncertain terms castigated Breton and his leadership of the movement. Boiffard then allied himself with the renegade Surrealists grouped around Georges Bataille and was the in-house photographer for Bataille’s Documents. His photographs illustrating Bataille’s article Big Toe are disturbing in an most uncanny way.
Unlike Man Ray witty use of Magritte painting ‘I do not see the (Woman) hidden in the forest’ in his photograph as a visual clue to what dreams are made of, Roland Penrose simply captures the moment that the four sitters (Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, Nusch Eluard and Aby Fidelin) have fallen under an enchantment and into a shared reverie. The inevitable conclusion is that the dreams of women remain inaccessible.