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


The mysterious suitcase and notes about Surrealism


Surrealism is a cultural movement which began in Europe in the early 1920s. The surrealists were inspired by Freud’s psychoanalysis and his work with the unconscious.
Karl Marx also inspired them: The liberation of the human being, as a basis for a classless society where everyone is equal.
Leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement.

The question of the medium was in the very beginning debated by the Parisian surrealists; many had the opinion that painting didn’t have the potential of psychological depth or socially subversive, which was the movement’s primary focus. The art of painting was a consciously controlling intellectual construction without the ability to express life in modern reality. For the Surrealistic project, the preferred media therefore were collage, film, photo and object-art.

Wilhelm Freddie and surrealism:
Wilhelm Freddie’s art mostly builds on the idea of collage; even in his painting and sculpture.
The gap between the various element creates the tension; the viewer is searching for a connection and meaning.
The human being is the focal point in WF’s art; the human body is the base for all kind of examination and reflection of human existence.
Wilhelm Freddie about his working method:
“I exclude reason and logic and reproduces only the things that the spiritual eye sees in our subconscious.
I seek to find an expression of the mystery that hangs over the lives and the enigmatic and strange, hanging over our everyday environment.”
Breton’s method:
Bring you into a passive or receptive condition – release control – open the canal for mental movements appearance that instantly recorded in writing or image.
Wilhelm Freddie about his paintings:
They are like a renaissance in terms of color, and so, surrealism is new content.

To be honest; I never really liked Surrealism: The first thing that comes to my mind is the famous picture “La Persistencia de la Memoria” by Salvador Dali which I know only from poor reproductions. I don’t like his painting style; it makes me feel seek and uncomfortable.But I have realized that surrealism is much more than that; the thoughts and ideas behind surrealism are inspiring and interesting.

Wilhelm Freddie and Breton both talks about being impulsive in the creating process. That surprises me because I found the surrealistic paintings very constructed and detail oriented in contrast to expressionism which is more “here and now” regarding the material and the object. But as I understand; the surrealist work with “the before,” they had a dream or a sight, something occurred in the subconscious, and that is what they want to express in an immediate way.

The collage idea/strategy and the conscious clash of elements make for me a connection to the montage form in motion pictures which Eisenstein represent (one plus one gives three).

I like the idea of translating collage not only to be on paper but the idea of bringing various elements together – that is workable for any kind of media.

When I read about the surrealism movement’s interest in the darkness of humanity, the instincts, and sexual urges, it came to me that the filmmaker David Lynch is using the surrealistic language in his film. Dreams often used as a storytelling element in his film as well as subconscious meanings and sexual undertones.

Finally, I found that WF was a great colorist, he didn’t had that much focus (as Dali) on symbolic objects and he worked with a more simple and graphic expression.

Wilhelm Freddie, Stik Gaflen i Øjet/ Staten Museeum for Kunst
ISBN 978-9200-28-5

More about the mysterious suitcase

Since the suitcase of the Danish, surrealist Wilhelm Freddie came into my home, lots of thoughts about Surrealism and WF came into my mind.
Another thing I have in my home is a extensive book about the artist. “Plug the fork in the eye” is the title of the book which is made in connection with an exhibition at National Gallery of Denmark in 2009. The strange thing is that I had never opened the book until now.
With a quick glimpse, the book shows a very diverse artist; sculpture, poetry, film, installation, theater, windows decoration, design, etc. It surprised me and made me more curious.
Wilhelm Freddie’s, life, and person, was an artistic project. His reputation was as a provocateur. He was arrested because of his art and he’s works were confiscated.

“[My art] is based on the theory that the subconscious instincts and the instincts are the only absolute and immutable in human existence.”
Wilhelm Freddie

My next step will be; to look at Wilhelm Freddie’s art with this quote in mind.