Friday, September 19, 2008

TAM Docents: Surrealism notes by Gaard Logan from Sept 9 training

Hello Docents- Here are the notes from the Surrealism training on Sept. 9. I will send out notes from yesterday's training as soon as possible. Thank you for all that you do for Tacoma Art Museum!

The Surrealist Impulse

Lecture by Rock Hushka and guest Mary Ann Peters (artist included in The Surrealist Impulse)

September 9, 2008


Surrealism was a complicated movement, centered primarily in Paris during the 1920s, the seeds of which were sown many years before by Picasso, Duchamp, and the Dadaists. Some art historians date its demise to approximately 1930 as the Fascists came to power, others to 1939 when Poland and Czechoslovakia were invaded by Hitler. In truth it probably survived into the 60s thanks to Max Ernst and Salvador Dali.


Surrealists sought to explore thought and expression in all its forms in order to generate new ideas. They knew something was terribly wrong. The horrors of World War I persisted in their minds; the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 left additional thousands dead; Freud was championing psychoanalysis; the Communist party was becoming increasingly active; in short, society was turning itself upside down.


The word ‘surrealism’ first appeared in print in 1917 in art critic Guillaume Apollinaire’s review of the ballet Parade by Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, coalescing in 1924 with Andrè Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto in which the author described surrealism as “pure psychic automatism.’ Surrealism, at first more literary than visual, was unbound by reason, a dreamlike state that could not exist in the real world, upending everything perceived as ‘normal.’ Whereas Freud sought to cure mental illness, Surrealism sought to cure society.


A discussion about suppressed human emotions between director Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali led to the creation of probably the best know surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou, ultimately giving birth to film noir and, some claim, the modern music video. Nothing about it makes sense. Nothing is rational. Whatever may be discerned as familiar is made unfamiliar. I like Rock’s definition best: ‘Art that tries to evoke the unconscious.’ There were no rules. Surrealists fought among themselves and divided into factions. Dali allied himself with Franco and the Catholic church, both of which were anathema to others in the movement.


The current artists in The Surrealist Impulse are or were looking back to surrealism for inspiration. None, other than Morris Graves, would probably call him/herself a surrealist. The images Claudia Fitch realizes in Two Chandeliers with Milk Drops came to her in a dream. Gloria Bornstein references Duchamp in her print The Bachelor Grinds His Chocolate Himself. Tribal art – animal spirits and shamanism that dip deep into our most primal beliefs - was important to early surrealists and is to Bertil Vallien as demonstrated in his P-28-29 glass and silver leaf sculpture. Morris Graves’ Chalice Holding the Stimson Mill symbolizes his dismay at the rapid changes overtaking his beloved city and the pollution created by this producer of wood shingles.


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Mary Ann Peters described herself to those present as an abstract painter whose works relate to what is going on socially and politically. Her series In an Instant was born out of Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and the war’s devastation of Iraq. People, all of us, were witnessing something that was whole and then splintered in an instant. We reconstruct in pieces that which is gone.


Of Middle Eastern descent, Ms. Peters employs a calligraphic approach that is readily recognizable to those who share her heritage. Despite her abstract approach, she received strong figurative training, and she shared with us the fact that Michael Spafford was an influential mentor. She never has a plan when she starts working and pushes herself to what she does not know. She likes her work to ‘go off the page,’ suggesting there is more than we initially visualize.


She described her piece in this exhibit, In an instant … everything, as something that is collapsing, changing even as the viewer stands in front of it. The visuals come from multiple perspectives, some playful, and ultimately, in total it is the experience of making something whole that is fragmented.




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