Saturday, May 10, 2008
Max Ernst Rough Draft
Max Ernst was born on April 2, 1891 in Bruhl, Germany to Phillip Ernst and Louise Kepp (Drost 18). At a young age Ernst did not seem destined to be the legendary artist he would later become. Growing up he looked down upon his father as a symbol of his youthful rebellion (Caulfield 38). He originally enrolled at the University of Bonn in 1909 to study philosophy which would prove effective in his formation of Surrealist works (Spies 18). Because Surrealism is an art form that uses the artist’s conscious presence in order to formulate a work of art, it came as no surprise that he became interested in art soon after (Introduction to Max Ernst). Ernst had suffered an interruption during his intellectual coming of age, when he joined the German forces in World War I. After his duty, Ernst would later become a cultural figure in the later stages of the Dada movement in Western Europe.
Before the rise of Nazi power in Europe, Ernst became the designer of a technique called frottage which was described as, taking a pencil or other drawing tool and makes a "rubbing" over a textured surface. The technique would later become associated with the foundations of surrealism.
After his creative peak, he fled the Nazi controlled France in 1938 with a painting entrepreneur, Peggy Guggenheim (Spies 29). They later had a love affair and married briefly and would later be Ernst’s most popular marriage. After his final marriage to Dorothea Tanning, he spent time circling the country and later settled in the cultural capital of the world New York City. With his newfound fame and fortune Ernst decided it would be necessary to move back to Paris, where the war had ended and artist were allowed to have their creative freedoms returned to them. Soon after his return, Ernst passed away exactly one day before his 85th birthday on April 1, 1976 at his home in Paris.
Max Ernst, as a founding father of surrealism, used complex techniques to create a political and social expression through the means of art. Surrealism delves into what the viewer sees deep in their subconscious and accurately portrays the political and even spiritual tides of Europe. The symbolism in his paintings follows him from his earliest works to the post war eras. Through works like Europe after the Rain (1942), L’Ange du Foyer (1937), and Celebes, just to name a few, have a historical and social representation of artistic struggle throughout the twentieth century.
To understand Max Ernst and his impact on art history, the knowledge of surrealism is vital to the topic. Surrealism has had many different definitions because it is an art form that is never changing. When Ernst originally pioneered the field of Surrealism, he had imagined it would be the start of a historical culture movement throughout Europe and eventually the rest of the world. However, the movement is now remembered as a period of time in the early 20th century in which artists and writers used elements of psychology to analyze events and actions of real life and bring these to the forefront. Surrealism was more than that; it was a time of new techniques and artistic rebellion, all which were important to Ernst who had worked so hard to make art innovative.
Surrealism by standard definitions is defined as “a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or non-rational significance of imagery (Warner 95).” Also, defined in a historical context as “a cultural movement that began in the early 20th century and is best known for the visual artwork and writings of the group members (Hopps 15).” None of these definitions really solidify the individual accomplishments of technique and innovation and capture the real meaning of the paintings. As Ernst had demonstrated, there is no real consistency amongst the paintings. Some paintings may be dark or playful then at the very same time have a romanticism era feel to them. Popular techniques and styles created during the era such as collage, decalcomania, and frottage were founded and advertised by Ernst.
Take for example the art form known as frottage, which had been created by Ernst. By definition, frottage was used, and still is used, as a method in which an artist creates rubbings of surfaces and finding starting points for images. Frottage was a word used to amplify and refine the amateur technique recording images on a relief surface (Drost 28). The technique proved to be rather fitting to the art form of surrealism because the underlying action of “rubbing” could be connected to psychoanalytic forms of art and surrealism as a primarily psychological art form utilized the automatic part of the brain.
To clearly demonstrate the use of frottage, Ernst’s 1942 painting Europe after The Rain II, highlights many of the social and political highlights of Europe during the time frame. 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.
Ernst had viewed the “western world” as bankrupt he had then continued his pre WWI goals in art. These included not including Dada as a reaction against expressionism (Spies 20). Along with many other artists such as Salvador Dali and Andre Breton, he had left the Dada movement of the early 20th century because surrealism was seen as a more active forum for artist. Surrealism was founded as a early form of counterculture revolution. “Being a Dadaist, he said, by profession was a contradiction of terms.” (Spies 19). His (Ernst’s) argument was that there was no such thing as an unchanging state of revolution. Ernst said this at the annual Dada exposition in Paris, France when he said this, a country with a long history of socialism and revolutionary ties. This ended up being rather beneficial to him at the prequel of war in Europe during this time.
Stemming from this incident Ernst improved upon an old technique, called collage. As one might be familiar with the craft, collage is the exploitation of the chance meeting of two distant realities on an unfamiliar plane. The culture of systematic displacement and its effects and the spark of poetry that leaps across the gap as the two hard realities converge (Beyond Painting). In other words, collages have layers of meaning on a single plane of artwork. His most famous work concerning this was the 1921 piece, Celebes.
Upon first glance at the painting, we see a giant, rusted green machine in an undisclosed location. There are several features about this machine that are easily detected. First, the object has a long, tubular throat like a giraffe or an elephant’s trunk. If we were to use the elephant imagery, than Ernst may have used it to point out an obvious problem in life, hence the phrase “the elephant in the room.” Next, there is a headless female figure in the room and one may assume that we are to use our imagination to fill in her role. Her psychological presence may appear to be a nurturing figure to the demon. Her physical appearance is nude and in turn is “stripped” of all meaning to life. In the recorded trials of Ernst, he had said that the central rotund shape in this painting derives from a photograph of a Sudanese corn-bin, which Ernst has transformed into a sinister mechanical monster (“Celebes”).
The painting itself is a demonstration of collage that can easily be distinguished. First, on top of the machine you can see the vast outlying images of fish swimming among the clouds and as often the case with Ernst’s works they are chasing birds. On top of the mighty machine is some kind of odd structure that is very different from the other objects in the painting. It look like a combination of a miniature piano sideways, and an aqua blue bucket holding a handheld saw. Within a hole inside the bucket lies another eye. Compared to the earlier works of Ernst such as The Horse, He’s Sick or The Massacre of the Innocents, the elements of the painting are very separated and each image in the picture has it’s own space. Along the right-hand side of the painting you see a setup that is composed of what looks like teapots that are the exact same color as the monster. At the feet/hooves/floor of the monster there is what appears to be a pencil lodged into the floor. In the distinct background, there appears to be a peephole with the faint view of an eye peeking in, indicating that somebody or something is watching the carnage ensue.
Note the misplacement of the images in the painting, these are intentional. Ernst had often used random images from things around him to include in most of his paintings. Ernst had frequently used these images in collages because like most surreal art, it would appear to be a spontaneous occurrence. The disorganized landscape could be composed to that of a dream in which surreal thoughts lay deep inside the foundation.
Some thought should fall to the title of the painting “Celebes.” Though not spelled the same way it is interesting to note the possible sexual imagery could reference celibacy, or the act of refraining from sexual interaction. The image of the girl with the missing head and the giant creature in the room could very clearly represent this belief. The giant creature is man’s brain and heart that it could be to envious, green, or too large that it is bound to create problems wherever it goes. To support this notion, the title of the painting is derived from a German school limerick that is too inappropriate here.
Tying this back to politics, the elephant/demon/monster in the room could represent Ernst’s socialist views. In a way the monster could represent the western bourgeois’ power grip on the rest of the world. Ernst might have believed in painting this that he could show the world that if the United States, for example, would use up power too quickly as the rest of the world sat back and watched.
However, when analyzing the picture it is not very likely that this is in a real “plane.” It appears that without the clear background that this might all be a dream, but much like political and social leaders of history their dreams always have an ending.
During WWII, Ernst is considered a political enemy by Nazi controlled France and flees the country with distinguished artists, Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall. Upon arriving in New York City in 1941, Ernst is detained by authorities and later travels throughout the United States. Also, the group of artists created a new line of creative thought referred to as Abstract Expressionism. In an apparent contradiction to surrealist thought the new artistic belief wanted to influence the intensity of the art as opposed to the inner most subjunctive thought process. After his migration to America, Ernst had traveled to the southwest where he effectively restarted his career after several marriages and breaks in art as well as history. From this point forward he had retreated back to some rather ancient methods of art known as Decalcomania. The technique, in brief, has a “carbon copy” effect on art because it involves rubbings of surfaces which then get pressed to larger surfaces (“Ernst” Humanities).
By this point in Ernst’s life he had already gone through several hardships and quite possibly realized that the world was not ready to adapt to him so he adapted to art, which is grandeur for thought and emotions. His 1937 painting L’Ange du Foyer represented his disgruntlement with the surrealist movement and in a more historical context envied the works of other artist such as Picasso and Dali. The beginning of WWII intertwined with the rise of fascism and communist rule in Europe. Ernst said about the painting, “It was the impression I had at the time of what was likely to happen in the world, and I was right (Turpin 33).” In the picture there is a recurrence of a monster figure very different from that of Celebes who is not clearly defined in most contextual portrayals.
The title directly translates to The Angel of Hearth and Home, and it is quite ironic. The creature we see in the painting is no angel and the setting does not provide the viewer with a sense of hearth and home. It appears that the monster is roaming the plains of Europe carelessly trouncing all that it sees. There is no real distinction amongst the colors of the monster, but incorporated into the demon’s pant leg is a dragon that is following his lead. Oddly, the dragon’s tail looks like the crown of the Statue of Liberty, implying that America is the dramatic monster following his tracks into the world. The original title of the painting was to be called The Triumph of Surrealism as a joke about the art’s status during the rise of fascism. Sigmund Freud held that repression was at once a malevolent inhibition of natural instincts leading to illness and operations for carrying out civilization (Turpin 33), Surrealism whose attempts at releasing the unconscious mind from rationale were confronted by a spectacle of a destructive force roaming Europe (Turpin 33).
From destruction to love, Ernst had never really had much success with women and love. He originally married Luise Straus in 1918 at the end of his service in WWI and they had a son, his only one, she later tragically died at Auschwitz in 1944. Next, he had a love affair with Loenora Carrington and she soon after had a mental breakdown. Then, he briefly became involved with art entrepreneur, Peggy Guggenheim that would last briefly, but also be his most famous marriage to date. Lastly, he married Dorothea Tanning and they remained together until he died 30 years later in a villa in Paris. Sadly, his death occurred one day before his birthday on April 1, 1976.
One of his final pieces or art was The Marriage of Heaven and Earth, in which with little detail he is able to make a contrast and connection to his real life and his art life. In the image all we see is a mustard yellow background or foreground covered by a black mass of light. One may say the luminous glow of yellow represents the sun or heaven whereas the black mass represents Earth. Cold and calculating, the Earth who refuses to see such light given upon it everyday. In retrospect, the combination of images looks like a human’s face met at the eye and nose abridge. The lesson may very well be that people are a combination of hate and love. Those with love hate that the world around them is not as luminous as they would like it to be. The people with hate see the world in black and white, possibly a reference to the Nazi ethnic cleansing campaign in Germany.
Though not written by Ernst one of the founding principles of surrealism, created by Andre Breton, is that “so strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in real life. I mean-that in the end this belief is lost (Breton 17).” The prime purpose to Ernst’s paintings is the foundation of politics. In a specified perspective, politics can be seen as the belief in which people and organizations govern their own lives. It would end up making sense that the first human belief would be to live for as long as possible. For writers and artists like Ernst, you would have to believe strongly in the belief of life in order to find ones purpose in the world. In the world of politics there are leaders who seek to rectify the evils of society. In Ernst’s case, he may very well have intended to be a leader, but a bigger question stemming from his art may have been what it was he desired to change. It may have been the decline of art during the 1920’s or possibly to cure one of the diseases of Europe during the century the restrictions of artist and intellectuals.
Perhaps that was just the kind of luck Ernst had always had. He had never really been in love, his family was a pain to his early development, and he could not change history and politics through his art work when all was said and done. However, Ernst had started a new wave or a new breed of artistic revolution, so in that regards he succeeded. His works often went to show that fate was really a bunch of crap. We all get what is coming to us much like the enemies of both world wars found out to harshly. Much like in the real world all around us, Ernst was right. Whether it involves the passing of one’s who are ever so close to us or whether it is being active in our communities we all bear some responsibility for the actions of civilization. When a politician is sworn into office he or she is sworn to uphold our basic beliefs, or human rights and when they are being violated everyday we have lost a battle. That is what Ernst, and other surrealist, had tried to prove that if people didn’t change that in turn art wouldn’t change. In reality what was so different between art and human life? The answers could vary, but Surrealism proved that we are not alone out here, there are people who all have voices with a stroke of the brush or by the stroke of a fist we all have a voice. Max Ernst is a folk hero for political activist everywhere because as one of the founding fathers of Surrealism was it not the responsibility of cultural influences to reach out to people.