On the Relevance of Surrealism
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On the Relevance of Surrealism

On the Relevance of Surrealism

“To change life” said Arthur Rimbaud, the French 19th Century poet.

Surrealism, influenced by him, constituted an artistic trend which transcended the world of art in order to weave itself into different human artistic manifestations and so allow man to free himself from rational conventional attitudes. The surrealist revolution, led by André Breton from the 1920s, discovered in dreaming and its automatic expression the most effective ways of liberating man. For him returning to fantasy and humour created an external reality capable of translating the most profound human emotions. The techniques that the movement used for shaping their ideas became a veritable milestone in the history of art for their diversity and innovation. Among other things the resulting graphic art stands for a method of expression ideal for the liberty and spontaneity given to artists.

This art, centred on subjectivity, acquired renewed forces in the current artistic panorama suggesting other ideas closer to objective art. The constant conflicts between colour and line or classicism and baroque, as suggested by Eugenie d’Ors, were manifested by the contemporary surrealist proposals in an absolutely radical form. Daniel Zerbst and Arcangel Soul created languages centred on the positive and vital commitment to an oneiric art, with fantasy and hyperbole filled with humour, an art that has its roots in the baroque.

Surrealists used the technique of collage, invented by Max Ernst together with others who had been absorbed into many different artistic movements as well as into advertising and films. And it is films, sounds with eyes open, a mode of expression crucial to Daniel Zerbst, which refer us to different ideas that have been associated with dreams throughout history. Natchflug and the cautionary dream in the Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh to Opal, an involuntary poem, as told by the German Romantics, centres on the metamorphosis of the contemporary visual universe, also called the iconosphere.

This “conscious hallucination” as described by Jean Goudal in 1925 found maximum expression in the films of Luis Buñeul. “Un Chien Andalou” and “L’Age d’Or” make a veritable Decalogue of surrealism. In the first, Luis Buñuel brings us sexual desire and its frustrations using implausible metaphors. The second is an antibourgeois and antireligious harangue which was valid even during its prohibition in France until 1960.

Dreams were also painted. Salvador Dalí and René Magritte painted dreams by hand but with photographic precision refining a technique based on that of flamenco painters. This realism gives life a reality which is unquestioning of the observer and his world. In “Deux pommes visiteuses XI” René Magritte establishes a game played between the dream and the object, confusing the two, but giving life to objects assigning them a significance in nature and magnifying their contrasts. In a certain way the permanent juxtaposition and contradiction which result from his images remind us of what can be done today with Photoshop.

Magritte did not use the resources of the “paranoic-critical” developed by Salvador Dalí, a method by which everyone sees what they want to see. This metamorphosis from reality is what would revolutionise surrealism and lead Salvador Dalí to proclaim “in reality I am nothing more than an automaton that records, without playing with them and with the greatest possible exactitude, the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams, the images and hypnogogic visions and all the concrete and irrational manifestations, from the dark and sensational world discovered by Freud…” These frontiers between the interior and exterior world are also expressed by humour which allows Salvador Dalí to break from the common place and conventional, and by means of eliminating the space-time reality, allows us to see into infinity and transform the objects in dreams and the dreams in objects. His contributions to contemporary society are evident. The transformation of an image or object has become a common resource in our contemporary society, not only in artistic creations but in the ways of being and acting by the citizenry. Public interventions such as “happenings” were started by him and followed by Andy Warhol and were the forerunners to marketing bringing many contemporary artists to prioritize advertising before their own work.

With Joan Miró and Max Ernst painting represented an exercise in maximum liberty where the technique as much as the subject did not respond to a known representational language. In fact, André Breton confessed on more than one occasion that Joan Miró was the most surrealist of them all. Painting that is ideographic in character, rhythmical and simple, away from all intellectualism, is capable of transmitting optimism beyond the limits of plastic arts. This freedom is exhibited in “L´Air”, the first lithograph made by the artist, in 1937. He made the lithograph and then, a year later a painting, a reverse sequence from normal.

Max Ernst constitutes a primary pioneer in surrealism. He experimented with new artistic techniques, later utilized amply, which make us think of issues relating to identity. This was highlighted, for example, in collage based, in the beginning, by the union of disparate imagery, as a conceit also applicable to man, understood as a confrontation space. The technique of frottage, invented by him in 1925, puts an emphasis on fading, representing the disintegration of identity. He also investigated grattage, decalcomania (started by Oscar Domínguez and improved by him) and dripping, a technique which, as an exile in New York, he taught to Jackson Pollock.

The profound mark left by surrealism in our collective imagination is manifested today in different spheres from advertising and films to customs and language. This hyper visual society born with film and television in the seventies regained an interest in surrealism. It continued in the eighties, especially in the United States where the imagination and the dream world allied itself with comedy, in illustration, Rockers, the motor bike aesthetics and terror films. This pop surrealism, also called Low Brow, vindicated popular art, and was ludicrous and beyond all intellectual and elitist pretensions so differing from the dominant artistic scene of the moment patronised by the centres of power. Leading on from that, Arcángel Soul and Daniel Zerbst articulated a discourse in which they prioritized the transformation of the great game which is the individual and collective life basing it on fantasy and humour. The works of Arcangel Soul were born out of a wish to make them “deposits of our desire” (André Breton), catalysts for our own ghosts, calling on the subversion of reality with a plea for a spiritual life. The format of their work magnifies the surrealist message, revolutionary and humanist, which drinks from the Daliesque fountains.

The photomontages and collages of Daniel Zerbst remind us of dreamlike and enigmatic paradises. As well as the surrealists, Bosch and Bruegel with their hieroglyphic art inspired Daniel Zerbst. Outlining and trimming, with pencil or paper, with the precision of a goldsmith, the shapes made were then put onto canvass creating a constellation of images in a dream-like polymorphic structure. So we find influences made on our collective imagination from Alice in Wonderland to Elvis Presley, from Fritz Lang to Las Vegas. The wind and tramontana which sweep across Cadaqués and the Daliesque influence seem to have made their mark on the post romantic Daniel Zerbst, with Dalí acting as master of ceremonies in his dreams and in and ours also.

Carles Jiménez Jorquera


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