Monday, April 14, 2008
Max Ernst and Europe after the rain
Max Ernst’s 1942 painting “Europe After The Rain” is a perfect representation of the art form of surrealism. Ernst had spent about two years working on this particular painting during the middle of World War II.
When first looking upon this painting, the setting is unclear, but whatever has happened to this place has left an impression upon the rest of the world. The one thing that seems to have remained in tact are two statues and very intentionally we can not directly tell if these two figures are humans or merely statues of the previous life. Upon first glance at the picture they look like a male and female. Together they seem mesmerized by the damage that has been caused. The bronzed looking man appears as if he is hung from a large pole while the green woman is looking away. Familiarly, the woman reminds me of the Lady Justice, the one who they say is blind.
The next primary feature of this painting is the invisible and metaphorical divide in the picture. The right is tarnished by rubble and the disorder while the left side of the painting is cleaner and well refurbished. The right possibly representing the east side of Europe (Russia) and the Left possibly representing the western countries who will be victorious and can re-establish themselves easily after the war. The emerald green that the middle tower is composed of could represent the economical repercussions of the war. The green tower in the picture seems to be tinted in black creating an image that there is a bomb at the top of it prepared to go off. I think that it is not a coincidence that Ernst had thought of something that could be this devastating to humankind as well as to the people who create such a disastrous outcome. Looking at the picture further there are no particular features in which are completely in tact “after the rain.” The lack of order represents the further implication that post and pre-war Europe will always be disorderly and incapable of recovery.
Next to the two figures lie piles of animals, birds, and human remains. Looking closer we can see that the male figure is not a human, but rather a man with a bird’s head. Ironically, the man who typically represents the brutality of war is turning toward the female figure observing the tragedy who I think represents the art of peace. The “war bird” sees the woman and seems to turn away, maybe frightened by the very notion of peace and harmony.
The colors introduce a sort of perspective that we see in the rubble. The sky, even though it has produced a storm, seems rather unfazed. The sky is cloudy and blue while what remains on Earth is nothing but a mist that can’t even be comprehensively seen with the naked eye. The color yellow, associated in the literary world with cowardly instincts and the sun’s power over humans, acts as a contrast to the bright, humanly blue skies.
The title of the painting is an interesting perspective of what a storm really is. The colors black, blue, green, yellow, and white are the different features of the storm. All these contribute to the paintings effect on the conscious mind, an important guideline to the art form of surrealism. Creating abstract pieces of art using the images you see in your mind helps create what it is we are supposed to be seeing.
Red is an image seen in the left proportion of the painting in the one of the few stable atmospheres present. Evil is evident as the effects of rain and the red associated with the painting is common to devastation. Hate is ever present in the flames of glory. In later allusions to post World War II art and imagery, the skies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are orange and red from the effects that mankind has produced. The painting could be looked as a foreshadowing effort in the world of surrealist philosophy. After all that is what surrealism in essence is, a philosophy in which artists use their own minds to create works of art that channel the outside world.
Ernst, as a Spanish born painter working in Paris during this era, can associate with the horrors that are going on at this same timeframe. Paris, occupied by Nazi forces, was a pioneering player in the field of surrealist arts. They had realized that there cruel lives could be used for such an important cause. They could use their artistic ability to portray the long term effects on the existence of mankind.