Category Archives: Surrealism

Evelyn Williams: Revelations of Inner Experience

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Perhaps because of events in my personal life, I find myself drawn to the Welsh artist Evelyn Williams (1929-2012). She pioneered a singular art of visionary and poetic power, albeit one that did not fit neatly into any art-historical box. She was largely neglected in her lifetime by the Art Establishment, although her paintings were admired by other artists and writers, including Angela Carter and Fay Weldon.

In the 1950s, when Evelyn Williams began her career, the art-world was a preserve of men and of male representations of women, many of them erotic. Female figures abound her art, with pale, oval faces, simply dressed or naked, their hair like the twisted skeins of embroidery silks. Even where naked (not nude), though, the figures suggest vulnerability rather than eroticism. Her subject, the most universal one of all, is human experience and human relationships – en masse, in groups, couples, or alone. This focus on human relationships isn’t domestic or cosy; indeed, the atmosphere in her paintings seems to oscillate between calm and disquiet. 

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Williams’ art is centred round deeply felt narratives, which reveal the hidden, interior world of their subjects. The narrative can be suggested by something like the cup of a hand to a face, or by something more substantial – a woman sleeping in a woodland clearing, an almost fairy-tale image. The pictures are often stark, with strong contrasts of light and darkness. Themes of loneliness and alienation recur. 

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Williams wrote that her paintings attempt to make visible an inner anguish and experience: “My work comes from my life…it will always be introspective. This is me and all I know about. I would like to show how people feel about each other, and describe how they deal with their own personal predicament, but this is groping in the dark.” She also said: “Is there a disease that manifests a person taking upon themselves the suffering of the world? What is its name? I believe I have the disease. In my case it is at the very centre of my work”.

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(c) National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As well as paintings, she produced sculpture. In fact, in 1961 she won the John Moore prize for sculpture despite having entered the competition for painting – her masked heads, built out of layers oil paint, resembled clay reliefs.

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Williams’ work combines the vision of a poet and the empathy of someone listening with her heart. The pictures are revelations of inner experience – Keats ‘unheard melodies’ perhaps. Despite the disquiet, the artworks offer consolation and understanding.

 

 

 

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The Clockmaker’s Revelation

“There is another world, but it is inside this one” (Paul Eluard)

The Encounter Remedios Varo, 1956

The Encounter
Remedios Varo, 1955

The Revelation of the Clockmakers Remedios Varo, 1956

The Clockmaker’s Revelation
Remedios Varo, 1959

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Filed under Art, Arts, imagination, Mexico, Myth, Surrealism

February Oodlings and Doodlings

February Oodlings and doodlings: or some things I did and pondered in February (which may or may not be true…)

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‘All Tied Up’

I saw a cloud in the form of a giant sky-turtle. I wondered about a dystopian world in which clouds are used as advertising billboards. I tweeted about imaginary essays by Jorge Luis Borges and about graveyards of red telephone boxes. I watched two mesmerising foreign documentaries, Nostalgia for the Light, and Le Quattro Volte, and wrote a song inspired by the former. I ate far too much chocolate, albeit dark, 85% organic. I sat by the river one night and spoke to a huge, gold-glowing magic fish in the water.

I celebrated writer Russell Hoban’s birthday on February 4th by putting quotes by him up around the village green and by the river. I listened to blue-tit and collared dove song each morning and wondered if birds sing in their dreams. I took photographs of knots and chains by the river’s edge and of silhouettes on a jetty; and I took a video of feet walking along a jetty. I had some funny conversations with a punning cat. I wrote most of a short story. I decided, in a pretentious moment, that reflections in windows at night intimate the real, slippery, multi-dimensional nature of reality far more than the clear light of day does. I rediscovered the beauty and eccentricity of singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.

I had an email correspondence with a friend about Keats’s art of negative capability, the ability to live with doubt, uncertainty and mystery – I concluded that I was aspirant but wanting in this respect. I spent quite a bit of the month in a bad relapse of the chronic illness I have, in significant amounts of pain, but congratulated myself on handling it with a degree of stoicism. I read an impressive surreal novel, Liquidambar, by the New Zealand writer Chris Bell. I had fish and chips at the end of a glistening road with my mother. I got angry yet again with the government for their treatment of the poor and sick, for their policies of austerity that are plunging the poor into greater poverty even as the rich stock up their coffers. I fell in love with life whilst watching the charming, gentle video of the Kings of Convenience’s I’d Rather Dance Than Talk with You.

(Note I got this summary-of-month idea from another blog I sometimes visit, tho that blog only does real events)

Cloud in the Form of a Giant Sky-Turtle?

turtle

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Annual Feb 4th Tribute to Writer Russell Hoban

“What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”

"What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”

“What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”

Every 4th February  – the birth date of Russell Hoban (1925-2011) – fans of this brilliant author write their favourite quotations from his books on sheets of yellow A4 paper and leave them in public places, and/or share them online (this is the Slickman A4 Quotation Event or SA4QE, which began in 2002.)

I first became aware of the SA4QE in about 2005 from an article in The Guardian, and have done the event ever since, often leaving quotes on A4 paper around the local village green next to the river. Doing this feels playful and subversive, a fitting tribute to a quixotic writer. I like the quotes to express what I love about Hoban – his mix of poetry, profundity and humour, his ability to veer effortlessly from the sublime to the hilarious.

“It is a strange and frightening thing to be a human being, to partake of the mystery and madness of human consciousness.”

“It is a strange and frightening thing to be a human being, to partake of the mystery and madness of human consciousness.”

I also leave smaller versions of the quotes tucked under baked-bean tins and packets of biscuits in the local village shop. I like the idea, and like to think Hoban would have liked the idea, of someone picking up a can of baked beans and finding underneath a small piece of paper that reads, “What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”

As I was finishing up, a woman with a golden Labrador walked past, stopped, read a couple of the quotes and looked at me. “Oh,” she said. “Oh. Oh.”

“Yes, Oh,” I said.

She smiled and walked off. I felt it was a suitably Hobanesque encounter.

'Hear the earth, ponderous with evening, turning to the night.'

‘Hear the earth, ponderous with evening, turning to the night.’

'Rising in the moony ocean night and never, never finding never until now finding the mystery of me so long dreamt of'

‘Rising in the moony ocean night and never, never finding
never until now finding
the mystery of me so long dreamt of’

More information about the event and about Russell Hoban can be found at http://www.russellhoban.org/sa4qe

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ParkeHarrison: Technology and the Poetry of Existence

The Cloud Cleaner 1999

The Cloud Cleaner 1999

Mending the Earth 1999

Mending the Earth 1999

In a world saturated almost to extinction by images, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s photographs offer a unique, poetic and haunting vision. The couple want to portray our shattered environmental world but not in any simple documentary way. Their photographs tell stories of human struggle, loss and exploration within landscapes seriously damaged by technology and exploitation. The images “strive to metaphorically and poetically link laborious actions, idiosyncratic rituals and strangely crude machines into tales about our modern experience.” (Robert ParkeHarrison).

Their stark, often monochromatic photographs – such as The Architect’s Brother (1993-2005) series – are not simply taken but are fabricated in a time-consuming manner; the artists use performance and sculpture (man-made contraptions) to create the images as well as various darkroom and printing techniques. Robert plays ‘the Everyman’ in each photograph, engaged in strange, ritualistic tasks or in symbolic attempts to save our polluted planet. In Mending the Earth (1999) the man kneels on a desolate earth with a huge needle, trying to sew fissures in the earth back together. In The Cloud Cleaner (1999) he has a ladder and bucket and stares up at a filthy cloud.

Book of Life

Book of Life 2000

Burn Season 2003

Burn Season 2003

These are complex photographs with an antiquated look and with mythic resonance. “I want to make images that have open, narrative qualities, enough to suggest ideas about human limits. I want there to be a combination of the past juxtaposed with the modern. I use nature to symbolize the search, saving a tree, watering the earth. In this fabricated world, strange clouds of smog float by; there are holes in the sky. These mythic images mirror our world, where nature is domesticated, controlled, and destroyed. Through my work I explore technology and a poetry of existence. These can be very heavy, overly didactic issues to convey in art, so I choose to portray them through a more theatrically absurd approach.” (Robert ParkeHarrison).

More photographs can be seen at the artists’ website at http://www.parkeharrison.com/

A short video of the couple talking about their work http://vimeo.com/12897298

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Stuttering lights

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Dusky rainy world, lights stutter across the street, surfaces of reality slip and slide, become multiple and magical.

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Bill Brandt: A World Fresh and Strange

Bill Brandt (1904-1983), a founding father of modernist photography and one of the ‘greats’ of British photography, believed in “the power of seeing the world as fresh and strange” and thought photographs could help people “see the world anew…as something interesting and exciting.” His images are atmospheric – a penchant was for sombre, brooding scenes, with strong tonal contrasts and dramatic formal compositions. His vision and reputation were cemented in the 1930s in London but drew on his time in Man Ray’s studio in Paris, which gave his work a psychological complexity, even latent surrealism. While his style is distinctive, he was known for the diversity of his subjects, from social class, to London in wartime, to Northern industrial towns during the depression, to portraits of British literary and artistic figures, to landscapes, to strange, sensual nudes on the Sussex coast.

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Bombed Regency Staircase (1942)

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Battersea Bridge (1930s)

Bombed Regency Staircase (1942) was part of his series photographing London during the Second World War. Although the subject is obviously bleak, Brandt brings to the staircase a startling vision and latent beauty, with its arresting contrasts of shadow and light and sweeping lines of the cast-iron banisters, which seem to twist back on themselves improbably. In Battersea Bridge (1930s), taken from a low angle, the curves of the River Thames and its shoreline have a sensual, organic quality, while the sharp distinctions in tone and bold horizontal line of the bridge with the bus add visual drama. Francis Bacon (on Primrose Hill, 1963) combines portrait and landscape, the receding diagonal of the wet path contrasting dynamically with the oddly tilted lamppost and with Bacon himself, who has a dour, introspective expression yet stands solidly against the stormy weather. There is a surreal sensibility here, the work seeming both familiar and strange, and a narrative quality – the image could be a still from a film about Bacon or one captured at a significant point in a story. These three photographs all attest to Brandt’s sophistication as an artist. “[The] viewer will sense himself in the presence of a rare concentration of thought and feeling,” observed Clive James in 1981.

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Francis Bacon (1963)

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