Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by poet André Breton. This movement was created as a reaction against the age of enlightenment, which was the time of reason and individualism. Surrealists believed that this era had surpassed the unconscious mind, so their goal was to free the mind from the boundaries of rationalism.
Techniques used in Surrealism
With the focus on Max Ernst
Max Ernst explained a collage to be an artistic technique where you are able to put multiple realities together in order to create a new, supernatural reality. He said that the absurd realities he created caused his vision to intensify and helped him to have visions of more contradictory images.
In making his collages he always made sure that the different pictures joined seamlessly, in order for the alternative reality to make more sense. He then often reproduced them through enlarging them.
The way surreal collage differs from collages from Pablo Picasso and George Braque, it that with Cubism the artist brought another world into their own artwork, whereas the surrealists created a whole new reality all together.
I’m sure most of us have done this when we were little; where you take a pencil and piece of paper and transfer the texture of a rough surface onto the paper by scratching over it with the pencil. You can use several surfaces to do this, like dried leaves, bark, wooden floors, coins, thread, etc.
Max Ernst developed this technique as a translation from frontage into painting. Here, he would add various objects underneath the canvas which will then be primed and painted on. Paint is then scraped off with a palette knife to create a similar effect as frottage.
This process involves adding paint to some areas on the canvas to which glass of paper was pressed onto it. The paint then creates interesting shapes as you lift the glass or paper from the paint. Ernst took this technique further by reworking the image create by the glass or paper with a paint brush.
Max Ernst often used the oscillation technique to start a painting. This involves tying a can of paint to a string, making a hole at the bottom of the can and swinging this can on string over the canvas in order for the paint to drip onto the canvas.
Some of the Most Famous Paintings in Surrealism
Salvador Dalí, “The Persistence of Memory,” 1931
In creating this painting, Dali made use of his paranoiac critical method which he invented in 1930. This technique relies on self induced paranoia and hallucinations. Ever lied on the grass and tried to recognise different kinds of animals in the clouds? This is an example of Dali’s paranoiac critical method.
The persistence of memory depicts our dream state, where time kind of melts away and is no longer important to us.
The Son of Man, René Magritte, 1964
This kind of makes you want to see the face of the man, doesn’t it? René explained The Son of Man by saying: “At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”
Harlequin’s Carnival, Joan Miro 1924
The carnival we’re witnessing is supposed to be Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”, in French), which is the Christian celebration before the Lent, where people eat rich and fatty food, before giving up animal products until Easter. Interesting enough, at the time, Miró was a struggling artist who barely managed to get enough money for food. This is why the harlequin has a hole in his stomach.
Games the Surrealists used to play
Many of us have actually played this one as kids. It’s when you and your friends take a piece of paper and draw something without the other person knowing what it is that you are drawing. You then fold the piece of paper and have the person next to you add a section to the drawing. This continues until everyone added something to it. What you then end up with is a collaborative, inspiring work of art.
So why not play this game for old times sake and make use of the strangeness that comes out of it in your paintings!
Like the exquisite corpse, one person would write a word and fold the paper. The next person writes a definition to the word he cannot see!
Another way of doing this is one person writing a question and the second person writing an answer to the question he didn’t see.
This is another children’s game that started with the surrealists!
Remember how you and your friends used to sit in a circle and start by whispering one word in your friend’s ear with each person adding a word? This eventually then formed a sentence that comes out all weird because someone down the line misheard something.
Use this another way to get your creativity going like the artists from the surrealist movement!
Putting random words in a bowl
You can ask people around you to write any random word or phrase that comes to their mind. For instance; person one writes “rabbit”, person two writes “hat” and person three writes “chasing a lobster”, person four and five also write something random.
Without anyone seeing what the other person wrote, these words are then placed in a bowl. If you draw the words of person one, two and three, you could very well be painting a rabbit wearing a hat while chasing a lobster!
Another way to get your creativity going like the artists from the surrealist movement is to start drawing or writing without thinking about what you are about to write or draw. The idea is also to not stop in between. Just keep scribbling away! Surrealists used this as a way for the subconscious mind to start taking over.