Archive for max ernst

Goodbye Dorothea Tanning

Posted in ART, ART HISTORY with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2012 by echostains

The oldest living Surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning passed away January 31 2012 at the great age of 101.  Tanning was born in Galesburg Illinois USA 1910, attending Knox College  before living in Chicago for several years.  In 1936 whilst attending the exhibition  Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art New York, Tanning discovered the wonderful world of Surrealism and Dada.  To support herself, Tanning worked as a commercial artist, but she  soon began to work on her own surreal paintings in the early 1940s.

Lee Millar portrait of Tanning and Ernst

She was introduced to Julien Levy, a gallery owner who was to show her work and give her two one person exhibitions in 1944 and 1948.  He introduced her to a circle of Surrealists  whose work he was showing in his New York gallery.  The young artist fell immediately in love with German surrealist Max Ernst and married him in 1946.  Tanning’s surreal paintings have a dreamlike quality and a very individual style.

She lived in  France with Ernst after the war for 28 years.  Her work features in MOMA. The George Pompidou Centre. The Tate Gallery London and many more collections around the world.  She created costumes for  Balanchine between the 1940s and 50s and sculptures in the 70s

Maternity 1946

At the age of 91 the artist was asked how she felt about carrying the surrealist banner;-

I guess I’ll be called a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: “D. Loves S.” I still believe in the surrealist effort to plumb our deepest subconscious to find out about ourselves. But please don’t say I’m carrying the surrealist banner. The movement ended in the ’50s and my own work had moved on so far by the ’60s that being a called a surrealist today makes me feel like a fossil!

Birthday 1942

Tanning moved back to New York in 1979 after Ernst’s death. Among others, she found a friend in Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill. It was Merrill

 “Who more than anyone at that point of my life, made me realize that living was still wonderful even though I felt that my loss, Max, had left nothing but ashes,” she says. “So if I took up brushes again, and the pen, to work for 20 more solitary years — and am still at it — it was Jimmy who made me want to, and so proved himself right.”

Tanning published her first book in 1986, The book is a collection of reminiscences and is called “Birthday,” after her most famous painting.


Her career spanned 6 decades, she was a printmaker, sculptor – she  wrote and published  poems and a novel.  She counselled young artists with these words;-

“Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.”

I was lucky enough to see her work in 2001 at a surrealist exhibition at the Tate Modern, called ‘Desire Unbound’ 2001 .  Her dreamlike scenarios work ensure that she is still known as a surrealist.

Palaestra 1947


One of my posts about Women Surrealists and their work can be found here

Night Music image from here

Voltage, Palaestra, Ernst and Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik portrait by Lee Millar, Maternity from the wonderful where lots of her work can be found

Birthday image from here

More about Dorothea Tanning can be found here

Interview with the artist can be found here

Is there anybody actually there? or is that just a blot on the landscape?

Posted in ART, ART HISTORY with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2009 by echostains





In was in pursuit of researching artist’s who used automatism to express themselves,  I came across Austin Osman Spare (see   page 4 altered book: a matter of Life or Death‘) .  Following  Breton’s and Ernst’s lead, several artist’s applied automatic techniques to produce works.  Andre Masson forced himself to work under the influence of drugs, lack of food or sleep.







Alexander Cozens, an English watercolourist stimulated his imagination by using accidental blobs on paper to suggest abstract forms. 







British housewife Madge Gill (1882 -1961) became interested in spiritualism when two of her children died tragically, and she lost an eye through illness.  From 1919 she produced hundreds of ink drawings whilst in a trance like state – directed by her spirit guide Myrninerest.  Her drawings ranged from postcard size to 20 ft wide.  Her  work  included ‘spiritual or inspirational’ drawings, writings and singing, inspired piano playing, making knitted woollen clothes and weaving silk mats.







British painter Georgina Houghton gave up conventional art because of grief at the death of her sister, and began to produce ‘spirit drawings’ using coloured pencils, watercolours and inks.  Examples of her works are preserved in the Victorian Spiritualists Union in Melbourne.  They feature all over dynamic linear meshes of coloured spirels, vortexes and arabesques in which figure and ground are indistiguishable.  They have been claimed as the earliest abstract pictures.

I really must get back to my altered book.  It’s more difficult now my scanner has broken though, photographs are very hit and miss.

The Bride keeps her Clothes on after all these years

Posted in ART with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2009 by echostains

I found this writing I did a few years ago when I was in my Foundation years at Uni.

‘Art and the Subconscious’

“The French writer Andre Breton wrote his first Manifesto in 1924.  Its main objective being to ‘express verbally or by other means the actual functioning of thought – in the absense of any control exercised by reason’.  One of the first artists to be inspired by this and take it as a direction, was Max Ernst.  He had been impressed by Freud’s ‘Leonardo’ essay, where the artist commented on ‘the beauty of spots on the wall’, remarking that ‘if one looks carefully enough, you will make some wonderful discoveries’.  Ernst tried this by placing a piece of paper on his floorboards and rubbing a black pencil over it and thereby producing a ‘frottage’.  He was surprised and amazed by the sudden increase to his visionary faculties and by the contradictory and super imposed images that emerged…………..”

As you can imagine I couldn’t wait to try this out and made loads of these frottages, non of which have survived.  Max Ernst was a favorite artist of mine and one of my favorites paintings that I was actually lucky enough to see in the flesh (Surrealism – Desire Unbound) at the Tate in 2002.  It didn’t disappoint.  This is what I wrote about the painting  (before I knew any of the political implications) : –

ernst The robing of the Bride 1940




“One of my favorite paintings has always been ‘The Robing of the Bride’  (1940) by Max Ernst.  Looking at this painting always produces a sort of primitive response.  This image was on the first poster I ever bought for my first flat.  I never get bored with looking at this image, I find it intriguing, full of symbolism that I don’t fully understand, yet somehow feel familiar with.

This painting echoes something within me that I have nearly forgotten, yet know sense to be still there, though I am unable to quite bring it to the surface.  The effect this painting has on me today  is the same as the first time I saw it.  The secretive Owl like head dress: the small face wedged on top of the breasts: the dark deformed creature crying on the chessboard floor: the texture of the painting (I know now to be ‘Decalcomania’).  I find these images particularly intriguing.  A metamorphosis is going on that sustains my interest on a deeper level each and it happens every time I look at this painting.”



 One of the interpretations of this painting is the dangers involved in a marriage of the ‘French bride’  to the ‘German Barbarian’.  This is one of the given interpretations.  Ernst was politically conscious, but his oeuvre was the subconscious and the means of reaching it.  So perhaps this political statement was not his sole intention.  I would like to think that Ernst would not be too bothered whether his painting was appreciated as a political statement or whether it be enjoyed on a surreal level.  I am resolved not to resolve the enigma of this painting.