Bodyscapes

Karel Teige-Eve 1947
Karel Teige-Eve 1947

A leading theoretician and proponent of the Czech avant-garde during the very active decades of the 1920’s and 30’s, Karel Teige was involved in Devětsil and was a co-founder of the Czech Surrealist Group along with ToyenJindřich Štyrský and Vítězslav Nezval.

Teige created over 300 collages in private during the last two decades of his life, frequently featuring elements of a female figure forming part of the landscape. Subject to a brutal smear campaign and constant vilification, Teige was hounded to an early death by the Stalinist controlled government in 1951. Even this didn’t satisfy the authorities who ransacked his house, destroyed suspect unpublished writings and continued to  suppress his published writings for decades to come. These factors probably contributed to the suicides of both his wife and mistress shortly afterwards.

The collages only came to light after samizdat surrealist publications ended up in Germany during the 1960’s.

Collage by Toyen

Double Sided Collage Recto-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Recto-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Verso-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Verso-Toyen 1970

During the 1960’s and 70’s the Czech Surrealist Toyen gradually abandoned painting and concentrated on producing exquisitely dreamy drypoints and double-sided collages notable for their visual wit, conciseness and razor sharp composition.

As I have noted in a previous post Toyen lived in Andre Breton‘s studio after his death in 1966. Located slap bang in the middle of the red-light district I always fondly imagine that the elderly but still subversive and transgressive creator of these collages and the illustrator of Edition 69 would have been quite content in such a spot.

 

 

 

The Sign of the Black Sun

Black Sun-Toyen 1951
Black Sun-Toyen 1951

My thoughts and as a consequence my dreams have been occupied by Prague lately, (a place I have never visited, incidentally), the city of Emperor Rudolf II with his court of alchemists, magicians, scientists and artists; where Dr John Dee and his medium Edward Kelley conjured up a vast array of angels in a Aztec obsidian mirror and Guiseppe Arcimboldo painted his bizarre composite portraits of visages made of fruit, branches, flowers and books. The city (fast forwarding three centuries) of Meyrink and his Golem haunting the ghetto; of Kafka and his monstrous metamorphoses, bewildering reversals and byzantine bureaucracies. The city of the incomparable Toyen.

Toyen’s phantasmagorical art is filled with images of transformation, of women becoming animals or vice versa, of sudden and terrifying shifts in size and scale, of spectral figures in the process of materialisation, of impossible desires becoming reality. Sometimes it seems that the decidedly ambiguous Toyen was channeling the entire occult and magical history of Prague.

The paintings that Toyen produced in the 1950’s onward, after Surrealism had shifted decidedly from revolutionary politics and towards the occult, frequently point towards the signs of Alchemist Alley, now Golden Lane. The black sun is the first stage of the magnum opus and also refers to the dissolution of the body and hence the ego.

I have included a selection of Toyen’s magnificently compelling paintings of metamorphosis and phantasmal  figures.

All the elements-Toyen 1950
All the elements-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-New World of Year 1968
Toyen-New World of Love 1968
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971

 

 

 

 

Horror

horror-19371
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.

69\//\96

Jindrich Strysky-Emilie Comes to Me in Dream 1931
Jindrich Strysky-Emilie Comes to Me in Dream 1931

69

For a moment I thought,
When we came together
That anything, everything
Was finally possible;
Love as a greater unity,
Combining our limbs
Lips mouths cunt cock
Nothing to divide us,
No barriers to separate;
We shared a vision,
Tasted the pleasures
Of the long anticipated,
Much deferred paradise.

96

But the moment passed,
Our bodies disentangled.
Even the shortest distance
Can lead to disenchantment;
Ultimately we fuck alone.
After such knowledge,
After being tantalized
With the promise of grace
Makes this world a hell
And other people,
Persecuting demons.
No, we can’t all just get along,
I will repay your hate
With pinpricks of fear,
Maybe then we can finally
Share the horror inherent
In everything, anything,
Even a wilted dandelion clock.