Landscape art from the Surrealist (Dali), war time period (Paul Nash) to the German expressionists (Emil Nolde)and into the symbolist movement (Gustav Klimt).
The surrealist movement began between the world wars with one of the founders being Andre Breton (1896-1966). His definition of surrealism was “psychic automism in its pure state…Dictated by thought in the absence of any control exercised by reason exempt or moral concern.” P190 Art since 1900. Foster.
Insisting that psychic automatism could be unknowingly transcribed by a brush or pencil, Breton welcomed the uncontrolled Masson’s sand painting. Miros dripped and splattered dream pictures , Ernst trance like rubbings.
Image;Max Ernst Forest and Dove 1927. Tate © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017
But.. The conscious state of mind can not be interpreted without the unconscious state of mind just the same as; to define up , you need to understand what down is. The states of mind are both being exposed within the surreal movement. Similar to the theory of Schrödinger’s cat where one cat is placed inside a precarious deadly box and the quantum out come is either a dead cat or an alive cat, but during the experiment, we suspect the out come for both cats. Its a paradox where the surreal statement is contradictory as it contains the states from the conscious and the unconscious that are true but not realised at the same time. Signs are a key factor in surrealist work by the artist Dali. The understanding of the misunderstood is captured and directed by signs. Our Dreams signal to us fear, worries, apprehensions and concerns that have manifest within a conscious state to be reinterpreted in our unconscious sate of the dream. This quote taken from ‘Authentic society’ explains the signs within ‘The persistence of memory'(1931) by Dali.(1904-1989)
The ants, seemingly attacking the orange clock positioned on the rectangular table-like object perhaps indicate the anxiety associated with time… the ants simply represent the association between “work” and time. As if time, in its very short and long hands “working” throughout history of our generation and life experience just like ants who are building an ant house?
Image ; https://g.co/kgs/Ix3IO5 ‘The persistence of memory'(1931) by Dali.(1904-1989)
The dream interpretations are commonly associated with surrealism but the movement was much more than depicting the surreal and more to do with the psychoanalytical theories associated with Freud. The ‘Uncanny’ is how subjects tend to receive an eerie feeling, often artist would take the familiar and replace it in an unfamiliar surrounding such as the iron below.
Image; Man Ray Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972 .Tate
Freud relates this eerie/ uncanny feeling to the mirror stage and to castration anxiety. These theory’s are where subjects feel safer duplicating or doubling as a way of dealing with the act of seeing and looking and then taking meaning from this experience and how this subject feels at the time. For example when boys realise girls don’t have a penis, and how they fear that castration of the phallus, and when you look into a mirror and your ego returns the look but somehow you don’t feel the same as the reflection in the mirror. Its a shell of the actual self, similar to the states of mind; the conscious being the shell and the unconscious being the inner self (the one we cant see therefore understand). The duplicating or doubling is how signs gain meaning as semiosis. Freud names them ‘presentiments’ which is where signals were registered and meaning given to them because they then became true. Such as Bretons market stall find; ‘slipper spoon’ is a doubling of his earlier request to Alberto Giacometti to sculpt a Cinderella ashtray. The two objects present the idea that Breton was unconsciously a prince searching for a mate.
Paul Nash (1889-1946)was a British surrealist and war time artist
Image; Totes Meer (DEAD SEA) is a 1941 oil on canvas
I have seen this painting at the Jerwood gallery in Hastings and it was hung on a dark toned wall. This painting at first, looks like the sea where the waves are structured against each other. The moon also is very noticeable as this informs the viewer the time of day and why the colours are glistering. When I got up closer I remember the uncanny feeling that I felt. It was sad to see all those dead and broken plans, are they meant to represent the death of soldiers or of these war machines? These machines were created to kill and be destructive. So why feel sadden by them crashing up onto a beach. The silver grey violent sea is rather mean when you get closer and start to understand the picture. The grey metallic wet sand is being solidified or soiled by machines and war fare. The battle in this picture is between the harshness of manmade versa the organics of the sand, land and moon. Objects live on but life’s are lost. It is certainly an expressive painting and stirs up a variety of jagged feelings within the viewer.
Image; Flowering plants Emil Nolde 1909 Paint
Emil Nolde (1867-1956 )was a German / Danish painter and printmaker that love to use colour with full intensity as a technique to stir emotion. The above painting keeps the viewer very isolated within the focus of the flower bed. The big trees that surround the flowers are almost imprisoning them within the confinement of the garden. There is contrast of heat with the warmth of the colours in the foreground, contrasted to the dark foliage of the fern like trees beyond. The painting has very little perspective towards depth, hence the intimate closeness of the surroundings. I think this is an interesting painting and I like the detail of the trees and the tiny indication of a bright blue sky beyond. I can see myself referring back to this example as we have plenty of these trees in the local park that I want to paint with regards the ‘painting outside’ section in part 4. The pink and violet flowers are looking more like a sea of flower blooms and the red hot pokers or foxgloves, give structure to the flower bed. Such as contradiction to the Paul Nash painting above ,which is a sea of death, this is a gestural brushstrokes representing a swirling sea of colourful life.
From my reading of Toby Clark, he expresses a cautionary statement about selective German expressionist writings being fiercely nationalistic declarations and vaguely anti capitalism ,often expressing nostalgic images of a community spiritually unified and at one with nature. The expressionists art and lifestyle of physical sensations and passion over academia was also a sentiment shared with Nazism’s cult of action. The connections are contradictory but there is a doubling or uncanny theory associated to these claims. German expressionism was rooted in the study of ‘primitive’ art with the example of (Image)Ernst Ludwig Kirchner(1880-1938), Bathers at Mortizburg, 1909-26 oil on canvas.
There romantic view of so called primitive life echo’s Nazism’s grassroots; developed from Volkische culture which is a populist culture focused on romanticizing folklore by celebrating the past. Josef Goebbels said that German expressionist should be embraced by the Third Reich as they represent a national spirit. But the contradicting tones of authoritarian elites and painting which is considered affiliated to the Bourgeois culture, Degenerated away from national socialism. Senior Nazis including Hitler attacked this modernist movement, even though Hitler was a painter himself.
Image; Avenue of Schloss Kammer Park Gustav Klimt 1912
Gustav is notably known for his portrait paintings which are symbols of mystical erotic which are elaborately decorated and classified as
Art Nouveau/ Symbolism. Art Nouveau is a movement where organic forms were incorporated with more angulated geometric shapes. Symbolist painters tried to give visual expression to emotional experiences. At the time when modernism was treated with trepidation and where Gauguin called the freeing of painting; ‘the shackles of probability’ (I Chilvers p.613 ). The most emotional painter around this time is Edvard Munch where his paintings pour out emotional turmoil. His use of colour ,composition, brushwork (or lack of) encourages the viewer to look further than just the layer of paint on show. The painting above was started outside but later finished in Gustav’s studio. His landscapes were not commissioned unlike his later portraits so we hope this landscape symbolises his love for painting and not the need for; money, appreciation or popularity.
Final note about Surrealism; The idea where subjects are prone to duplicate or obsessive with repetition is a doubling / uncanny theory which leads itself to the popularity of photography which is a process of copying. The copy tends replace the original as one becomes impossible to differentiate between the two. Similar to reality and the unreal or conscious thoughts and unconscious thoughts, the dead from the living. The simulacrum condition is a world of multitudes without originals, its all fictitious and questions the causation of our desire to repeat.
Oxford Dictionary of art and artist, Ian Chilvers. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 4TH EDITION 2009
Art and Propaganda by Toby Clark . The Orion publishing group. London. 1997.
Art since 1900. Thames and Hudson. Hal Foster, Krauss, Bois, Buchloh. London. 2004