16 April 2008

Social Movements: Surrealism

By Vicki Gaia

Artists tend to explore the shifts of social moods. They express their opinions through their imagery. And if it's good art, then it makes a person question their own perceptions. One of my favorite art movements is Surrealism. Founded in the early 1920's in Paris, this movement explored the imagery of the subconscious mind. Based on Freudianism, the surrealists tapped into the rudimentary beginnings of psychology before the subconscious became a household word.

I had the chance to see the "Surrealism USA" art exhibit. It wasn't until the thirties that surrealism caught on in the United States. "The America of the twenties, capitalist and materialist, did not fit the Surrealists' revolutionary aspirations, which was reaffirmed in isme au service de la Revolution. Yet within ten years, Surrealism would become a major artistic trend in the United States, influencing American fashion and design." (Isabelle Dervaux - exhibition book - Surrealism USA)

Major art movements develop from societies open to new ideas and thoughts. It's not surprising that Europe led the art world until World War II. During the war, European artists fled to America, especially New York. These artists had a major influence on American artists. I wrote about this in Fragments of Light. Claire O'Neill is an artist living in New York. She's enamored by the European artists, many of them well-known. Her style changes as she meets her mentors and explores new ways of painting. Here's an excerpt:

The French surrealists and the American artists gathered in their familiar circle of friends, language an obstacle to the two groups co-mingling. Richard spoke impeccable French and conversed with Marc Chagall in the corner. Claire's French was not as polished, but passable, and she spent time with many of the French artists, enjoying their viewpoint of the modern. She'd hoped to pick up useful techniques to incorporate into her work. Richard appeared comfortable with Chagall, comfortable with foreigners in general. Without their cafes, bars and meeting places for spontaneous gatherings, these exile artists felt alienated, and many suffered financial hardships. Claire understood Richard's empathy for these expatriates, experiencing his own alienation.

Turning away, she concentrated on the painting in front of her, an otherworldly landscape of oddly shaped images, juxtaposed at odd angles, but strangely balanced. The solitary landscape evoked a spiritual response to the horrors of war. Yves Tanguy's painting held mastery. Reality and imagination merged. Flirting with surrealism, Tanguy retained his unique vision and garnered Claire's respect.
After the war, New York became the new art mecca. "...exiled artists began returning to Europe after the war, the major galleries that had promoted the movement closed, and Abstract Expressionism emerge as the dominant tendency, all of which signaled the end of Surrealism's heyday in America." (Isabelle Dervaux - exhibition book - Surrealism USA)

I'll leave you with images of paintings by Salvador Dali. Many of the American surrealists dream-like and fantasy imagery was influenced by Dali.


Happy Reading!
Vicki Gaia