Conversation with Wilhelm Freddie

Recorded conversation from 1972
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

This is a summary of a conversation between Wilhelm Freddie and the Danish artist Per Kirkeby which took place in 1972. The recording is unedited and belongs to Per Kirkeby.

My notes are mostly about WF’s view on Surrealism and less about his personal story.
I made it in note form, to let his statement talk for them self and make it more easy for me to go back later.

Skærmbillede 2018-04-13 kl. 14.12.08

Surrealism is not an art direction, it is a state of mind/view of the world and the keyword is freedom. Freedom for the individual and in the society.
The Expressionist escape from reality, Surrealism wanted to find the way into reality.

Definition of Surrealism: The distance there was between dream and reality, the gap. For us, it was a matter of building a bridge over the gap. Make the inner and outer reality identical. That was Surrealism.
Aesthetics and moralism have nothing to do with surrealism. Perhaps they could have been there but then it was unconscious because it was not our intention.
Surrealism is based on the theory that the subconscious, the dream, the drives and instincts are the only absolute unchangeable in human life. This attitude was in conflict with the external political situation of the period (the 1930s). Surrealism denounced dictatorship because freedom was the solution.

WF had many cases, national and international, with police, authorities and other people; He was imprisoned, young right-minded destroyed his pictures into pieces, a man tried to strangle him after watching an exhibition, paintings were confiscated by the police and stored away, etc. Under the second world war, he escaped to Sweeden.
In 1937, he was invited to the first international Surrealistic exhibition at New Burlington Gallerie in London. His paintings were seized by customs and never arrived at the Gallerie.

The authorities were concerned about choking the audience, they thought the paintings were morally objectionable, they thought it was pornography.

The magic flower:
In connection with a happening, he would give a flower that was part of the set-up to a girl among the audience. But she did not want it, she reacted as if it was a plague-infested. The importance of the flower change.
WF understood that things may have a different meaning than the visible. It was what he describes as magic. Later on, he used this insight in his work.
Previously in the history of surrealism, the subject had a symbolic role for unconscious mental content. Now it’s replaced by a magically-functioning: image, object or action, which is being conveyed by an active mental energy that can interfere with the relationship between man and the outside world. Although this action is also symbolic, it is a symbol of real intervention

Skills are not the most important even I started as a naturalistic painter.
I was focused on the hallucinatory picture and recognizable and its value.
Now I’m interested in the value/interpretation of objects (its own value), a value I then use. All my things have a relation to the surrounded reality.
When something becomes a prop, I have to change it, find out something new.

Collage and the use of photos in painting:
The confrontation between the outer reality and my own created reality, I made it work together in one piece (picture). One highlights the other, I let the two things fit into a higher unit.

The surrealist attitude is built into me, but I am Wilhelm Freddie.
What I do today is decisive for next-generation action.

Surrealist Art Styles: Figuration and Abstraction

I want to make the same experiment with my dream images as I did with the list of words, related to the dream images. I will cut out elements from the pictures and randomly put them together in new constellations, new scales, and positions.
In this case, I want to involve coding as a tool for randomness.
Before setting up the cuts and coding, I have to look the visual language in surrealistic paintings; composition, shapes, contrast, etc. Maybe I can gather inspiration to create the function of the code.

Two main directions within Surrealism:
One was dependent on figuration, on the precise reproduction of natural forms – generally detached, dislocated, juxtaposed, transposed, or mutated far from real-life situations.
The second style of Surrealism was abstract, based on imagery without specific reference to natural shapes, and was largely dependent on forms generated by the unconscious.

Figurative Surrealism
The figurative or representational style of Surrealism (Veristic) appears at its most successful in the work of Magritte, Dali, and Delvaux, and in the work of certain other artists who in their variety and achievement escape categorization in any one mode. Picasso was one, Ernst was another, and Arp yet another, and in the 1930s and 1940s Giacometti and Moore (1898-1986).

Abstract Surrealism
In brief, surrealist abstraction rejected geometric shapes in favor of the visual and emotional impact of organic forms of nature: either actual (Jean Arp, Andre Masson, Joan Miro) or imagined (Yves Tanguy, Robert Matta).
The non-representational direction of Surrealism was no less vigorous. The work of Jean Arp was more often non-figurative, but the major artists most consistently independent of natural phenomena were the Spaniard Joan Miro (1893-1983) and the Frenchman Andre Masson (1896-1987), who had studios side by side in Paris and who both joined Breton’s surrealist group at its launch in 1924. For a period, both artists experimented freely with “automatic” drawings, the visual counterpart of “automatic” writing, which aim was to allow the free association needed to create a spontaneous expression. Both artists found that geometric abstraction – was sterile and inadequate to their needs.


Cadavre exquis

Cadavre exquis is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule.

The technique was invented by surrealists and is similar to an old parlour game called consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. Breton said the diversion started about 1925, but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918.

I have been playing this game, since I was a child, with familie and friends and now with my son Carlo. I like the tension under the game and the surprise when unfolding the drawing. It is a good way of sketching characters.




Exhibition: Wilhelm Freddie

SMK, National Gallery of Denmark

Yesterday I went to SMK, just to see if there were any artworks of Wilhelm Freddie (the surrealistic artist which suitcase I found).
The museum was under renovation, so the artworks of WF was moved to a small room with the headline ” Un-realities.”
One of the paintings was new to me; “The Dancer,” from 1943. It was little and, was rougher made than the others. It reminds me of David Lynch’s painting style in its motive, composition, and texture.
“The Dancer” was the painting I liked most. When WF’s painting is very detailed and accurate painted it makes me feel uncomfortable (which is probably the intention).
At home I googled the painting, to get further information. I read that the SMK’s conservators had struggled with the little masterpiece, when they got it in 2011, because of its bad condition.


David Lynch’s early short film

In the context of my research of surrealist Wilhelm Freddie, I started looking at other artists working in the surreal field. It surprised me that many very different artists have/had a connection to Surrealism. One of the general themes in Surrealism is subconscious.
André Breton (founder of Surrealism) highlighted in The first Surrealist Manifesto: “The importance of the dream as a reservoir of Surrealist inspiration.”
Dreams have been used, and are still in use, as a direct inspiration source; to image creation and storytelling.

I heard a lecture in Cinemateket CPH about David Lynch’s early short films. The speaker was the Danish David Lynch-expert; Andreas Halskov. He presented Six Men Getting Sick (1966), The Alphabet (1968), and The Grandmother (1970).
David Lynch started his art career as a painter; he got experiences of sound and movement while painting. That’s what turned him in the direction of filmmaking; he wanted to see moving painting.

Six Men getting sick:
First animation.
Animated Painting which should be seen six times after each other.
The film is about illness. “The illness that has to leave the body” is a key element in Lynch’s film.
The inspiration from other painters came among others from Francis Bacon, Edward Hopper, and René Magritte.


The Alphabet:
Animation and live action
Inspiration comes from his nice having a nightmare where she repeated the alphabet over and over.
Human voices make almost all sound/folio. A statement takes focus: Please remember you are dealing with the human form!

The Grandmother (1970):
Animation and live action
A boy cultivates a grandmother out of his bed.
It is an avantgardistic film having a blurry border between dream and reality.
The dialog is not meant to be understood. The folio sound is distorted, and the atmosphere sounds deep and creepy in combination with tinnitus sounding insects.


When the Danish Broadcast showed Twin Peaks in the early nineties, I was like many others hypnotized by the film’s sound and images, the storytelling and the mood. I just listened to the soundtrack an hour ago, and it brings me back to the house and the people I was living with at the time.
One of the recurring scene in the series; Agent Cooper’s dream, is still standing strong in my mind; a dwarf speaks and moves awkward in a red room together with Laura Palmer’s cousin. Agent Cooper appears paralyzed in his armchair. Each time, he comes to this scene, he will get a cryptic message from the dwarf.

Manifesto Surrealism

I have a fragment of the Surrealist Manifesto on my phone:

This spring I saw video artist Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto at Hamburger Bahnhof Gallery in Berlin. It was an experience which made a great impact on me. It´s a film installation in twelve scenes; big screens, high production value, same actor in all scenes, each scene  describing a manifesto. The general structure of all scenes is that the main character (actress Kate Blanchett) act in everyday situations while she recites the powerful manifesto directly to the viewers. The text, from the different manifestos, is arranged in a new text collages, forming unexpected dialogues with each other. At the same time in each scene, Blanchett stands in an equal position in the frame, recites exactly same text. It was a very expressive and powerful experience.

Afterwards I went for a walk in Berlin, it was raining and I felt blown away by the strong words from the past in the modern contemporary staging. One of the manifestoes from the installation was Breton’s second Surrealist Manifesto and I coincidentally started record a video in front of that screen. It´s now stored on my phone ..

Manifesto / Julian Rosefeldt
ISBN: 978-3-86335-856-3