The German artist Max Ernst who has been the subject of a number of posts here, was one of the key figures linking Dada to Surrealism. A founding member of Cologne Dada in 1919 Ernst titled himself Dadafex Maximus; Dadamax for short. Ernst experimented with photomontage during this period, the favoured medium of the Dadaists, before switching to collage and painting. Moving to Paris in 1922 he was a prime mover of the transitional period between the dissolution of Paris Dada and the start of Surrealism proper in 1924 with the publication of the First Surrealist Manifesto, known as the mouvement flou.
Above and below are works created in the Dada period, including The Elephant Celebes of 1921, a painting that combines the dreamlike composition of De Chirico with Dada collage techniques and thus anticipating the style so favoured by later Surrealists.
The way out is through the door
verging on a vertiginous staircase
the only way is down though from
this skewered perspective that may
paradoxically lead you upward
so ever onward begin the descent,
quickly take the steps but careful
mind the gaps widening fissures
leading you into the dense forest
so easy to lose your bearings here
the sunlight barely penetrates
this vast twilight realm of hidden
dangers patiently waiting preying
in the branches, undergrowth
did you forget your thread, crumbs?
Compass or maps are no use here
in this contorted maze old as time
if by chance you ever do stumble into
the sacred point, the absolute centre
what you will find is a jumble of stone
slabs stained by millennia of sacrifice
the enactment of hushed mysteries
performed to the veiled huntress
forever unrevealed, unknowable
the sacred cannot be witnessed
any verification is defilement
of a majestic divine inhuman purity
transcendence is transgression
punishable by transformations
inexorable sarcasms of fate
so move on, there is something
to be seen here but not by our eyes
let’s just scatter to the wind
stand by the towering waterfall
that pounds, pulverises, wears down
the landscape changing eventually
courses streams you can’t
step in here twice so float flow
towards distant mother pre-adamic
hold hands jump into the swell
feel the caress of the dark masseur
the currents riptides the source
of life an unconscionable dream. .
The first truly Modernist painting (though change had been in the air for some time), the radical break constituted by Pablo Picasso 1907’s study of a Barcelona brothel, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, led to Cubism and sharply divided critics.
Never before or after did Picasso spend so long on one painting as Les Demoiselles, drawing hundreds of preparatory sketches over a period of nine months. The innovation doesn’t lie with the content; the courtesan had long been a covert subject of Western Art before being explicitly identified as a prostitute by Edouard Manet’s Olympia, to becoming somewhat of a Bohemian cliche by the time of Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1890’s. Picasso’s claim to blazing, revolutionary originality lie in the form. First of all he throws five hundred years of accepted practise out of the window by abolishing perspective, then instead of the traditional curves we have the harsh angular, geometric poses of the women. Picasso signifies his reaching back in time and across continents with the Iberian mask (the figure on the far left) and the African masks (the two figures on the right) which lend a further disconcerting effect to an already confrontational, provocative painting. The bowl of fruit surrounded by the women seems ripe for Freudian interpretation, just one of many that the painting has been subjected to, including formal, feminist and esoteric.
Although at first Picasso only showed the painting to friends and fellow artists in his (quite extensive) immediate circle, it had a galvanising effect. George Braque further developed Cubism as a response to Les Demoiselles and it intensified the rivalry between Picasso and Matisse, who realised that the Spaniard had wrestled the crown of Modern Art from him with this incendiary work, never again to be relinquished. Andre Breton, who for all his flaws had a very keen eye for art (see my series The Surreal World for further information on his collection, Rapa Nui, Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Mexico) recognised in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon the definitive Modernist masterpiece, a harbinger of the violent, revolutionary menace of the unconscious and he arranged for its first publication in Europe in La Révolution surréaliste.
Nádia Maria is a contemporary photographer currently residing in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her work has been featured in National Geographic and Paris Vogue. After featuring her stunning ethereal portraits in my previous posts Heavenly Bodies and Transformations I contacted Nadia who kindly agreed to an informal interview. Further information about this exciting young talent can be found at her website http://www.nadiamaria.com.
Many thanks to my friend Jason Lock, himself a professional photographer, for his invaluable assistance and suggestions in relation to this interview.
AS: Your website gives the indication that you are professional trained, but by obscuring the informative text and concentrating on the creative element it suggests that inspiration is more important to you than technical acumen. Is this the case for yourself?
NM: Training has its importance, or rather, construction has its importance. However when I want to give concrete expression to an image that has suggested itself to my Self I have to, it a sense, deconstruct my training. Only then can the image be set free.
AS: Do you think that studying the creative arts is important for inspiring/aspiring photographers?
NM:I think everything you study, question, observe, believe you know, is important and collaborates with the image.
AS: Where would you say the major influences come from for you photography?
NM: Art, literature, meditation.
AS: Which artists and writers have provided you with inspiration?
NM: It depends a lot upon the moment. I’m always discovering new things, but I have some favourites: Rilke, Fernando Pessoa, Sylvia Plath, Alejandra Pizarnik, Borges, Murilo Mendes, Khalil Gibran, Hilda Hilst, Manoel de Barros, to name a few … I find that one thing leads to another, a piece of music will lead me to myths that leads me to philosophy. There is a whole universe of inter-connected inspiration out there.
AS: In your own field what photographers you admire?
NM: There are so many, but for their complete bodies of work it would be Sally Mann, Masao Yamamoto, Francesca Woodman.
AS: Of the photographers you mentioned I would be most familiar with Francesca Woodman (I have written an article called Angel about her), whose work leaves me with a sense of awe. When did you discover her work and is she a conscious influence?
NM:I discovered Woodman while I was at school. I have always enjoyed long expositions, and when I studied photography I used to make the exercises all “wrong”. I had an open shutter craze and one of my teachers said that I should take a look at her photographs; that I would identify with them. I felt an affinity, but in a different way than my friend thought I would. I definitely admire her work but she isn’t a conscious influence. Woodman reflects the world that she saw and I reflect mine. Sometimes artists worlds cross but they are private reflections of particular kinds of self-knowledge.
AS: Where does that particular kind of inspiration come from in your work?
NM:From reflection, internal dialogues, dreams, the void…
AS: Do you create a narrative before creating the images – or – is it the case that you create images first then work a narrative around the picture?
NM:Usually there is a narrative before the image, but sometimes the images give me a narrative, however it is always a leap into the abyss.
AS: Do you use any analogue process in your work or are you totally digital?
NM: I use both.
AS: How does your use of analogue influence your work?
NM: I have a greater affinity with analogue as it what I started with, but it is becoming harder to work with today here in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My photographic thinking is built on analogue so even when I am using digital I keep what I can from the analogue process.
AS: When using digital, are you imagining the final image before actually capturing the image?
NM: Yes I usually see it in my mind beforehand, however sometimes there is an element of chance where the unconscious manifests itself.
AS: There is a major up take in photography due to the digital world and the access to smart phone technology. People consider themselves ever more creative and explore the world of Instagram etc – do you think that this hinders or promotes the conceptional/experimental genre of photography?
NM:Well, everything has its positive and its negative side, don’t you think?
AS: I do certainly agree that everything has a positive and negative side. What are the positives and negatives with the ever increasing popularity of social media on the arts?
NM: The most striking positive I think is the increased visibility and reach a work can have, and all instantaneously. A few years ago that wasn’t possible. The negative side, and unfortunately I have experienced this myself, is the devaluation of creativity, a lack of sensibility, a levelling effect.
AS: Where do you see your future as a photographer?
NM: Who knows where this will lead me. Maybe the photograph will cease to exist as it now. Maybe I will no longer feel the need to be a photographer.
AS: And finally (and this is an old chestnut) what advice would you give for future generation of image makers?
NM: Whenever I am asked I always quote Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” That about sums it all up.
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.