Surreal Art & The Artists – Part 1

Before 1920, Surreal art had not even been thought of and really it was more of a cultural movement than an artistic one. It also did not just cover paintings, literature was also a part of the movement. At first this movement was shocking, the art produced was unnerving as strange creatures started to appear from common objects. It was almost as if a demon had taken hold of the artist and was telling him what to paint, and the object of it all was to take reality and dream into hyper-reality. The main center for Surrealism was Paris, but it did spread its wings globally and started to affect other artistic mediums such as film, visual arts and even music.

The Near Death of Dali

Surrealism was shocking to most conservative art lovers and the artists were as surreal as their work. In 1936 there was an International Surrealist Exposition in London. Salvador Dali was the keynote speaker and his audience was shocked when he took to the lectern. Dali was wearing a complete scuba suit, including a mask. In one hand he was restraining two dogs on leashes, whilst in his other he carried a snooker cue. It was bizarre to the extreme, and had he done this a couple of decades earlier he probably would have been restrained under the mental health act.

During his address, the scuba mask was cutting off his oxygen supply and he began to suffocate, nobody moved thinking it was all part of the performance. Eventually a Surrealist poet saw that Dali was in real danger and rescued him. After his recovery, Dali quoted “I just wanted to show that I was plunging deeply into the human mind”. This event sort of sums up Surrealism, how absurd in the extreme it was, and why the movement was generally classed as a joke by the art establishment at the time.

Andre Breton

The whole Surrealism movement was founded by a poet, Andre Breton and he wanted to challenge old established ideas. Surrealism’s aims were to liberate one’s thoughts and throw away any constraints of rationalism. What he proposed sounded crazy, but Breton had actually studied psychiatry and was familiar with all the writings of Sigmund Freud. Breton was curious if the unconscious mind could influence artistic creativity. The whole movement was started on the premise of revolution, Breton was a Marxist and he believed that Surrealism could liberate the human mind.

The Surrealists

The Surrealists were not all exhibitionists like Dali, a wide group of followers rallied to Breton’s flag, artists and intellectuals all descended upon Paris.

They included: Rene Magritte, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim and of course Dali and Breton.

In part two of our Surrealistic voyage into the subconscious world of these extreme art personalities, we explore more of their work and what inspired them to create their art. They came from all corners of the world to join the Surrealist movement and all have left their mark on art history in some shape or form.