Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another World...

...is a fabulous exhibition at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh that builds on their distinguished collection of surrealist paintings and related works (books, pamphlets, posters) to evoke the origins of surrealism (in Dada), its development and post-war fading and dispersion into influence on other movements.

This included an illuminating room of British artists both those who identified with and those influenced by surrealism. Here there were the known and familiar - a Paul Nash, a Cecil Collins, a Graham Sutherland - and (to me at least) the unfamiliar - John Armstrong and a haunting piece by Edith Rimmington called, 'Family Tree'.


What appears as a seascape in moonlight becomes hauntingly strange - both by the extension of the chain on the pier, extending as if into infinity and by the snake that weaves itself within the extended chain in the foreground. Connecting this with the title immediately brought sin to mind: the chain of consequence, passed through the tree of humanity, an interlinked chain of consequence, stretching forward and back in time/space, the snake an eternal reminder of a continuing choice.

It was also an opportunity for me to gain greater exposure to Max Ernst who exercised such a profound personal and artistic influence on Leonora Carrington (represented in the exhibition by only one, atypical, early painting of a death like mask, modeled, it is believed, on her attending psychiatrist during her breakdown in 1940). I liked his work very much - it has a bright surface with the darkest of undertows.


Like here in 'The Joy of Life' where a luxuriant jungle harbours a throbbing swarm of threatening insects from which a man and an ape, companions, shelter in the top right. The painterly romantic joy in showing forth nature is given a dark shadowing that captures Ernst own sense of the world's unraveling in the late 1930s. It is beautifully observed and the exhibition also showed Ernst's evocative studies of natural forms, drawing after drawing of close but imaginative observation.

The disappointment was only that you did not get a real sense of context - from what was Dada and then surrealism in revolt, what did this liberation imply? away from, towards what? One clear direction, not explicated here, but hinted at was a return to a more disciplined symbolism and a turn to the spiritual. It is there in Carrington, in Armstrong and in Paul Delvaux's wonderful 'Annunciation' with which the exhibition almost closes where Gabriel, depicted as female, comes to Mary in evocative, classical detail that yet phases into dream.

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