Words by Reece David Merrifield; acknowledgments to David Morris’ ‘The Lives of the Surrealists’
When I had to come up with a research topic in my second year, it was only ever going to be related to surréalisme. I embarked on an ‘art translation’ project inspired by Brauner, Tanguy, Miró, Magritte etc etc etc., and the week itself, all alone on the hottest week in July, only added a surreal edge to proceedings. This piece however, is not a reflection on that time, but why I reserve such interest in Surrealism.
For me, it is the adult’s excuse not only to escape reality, but also to question it too. Why must a watch never droop? Why can’t a businessman have an apple for a face? These are probably the most famous examples, but the point still stands. We need these points, not a forward-straight path of reality, to enjoy ourselves. Surrealism embodies a resistance to established norms in flamboyant fashion. It isn’t (or at least I don’t think it should be) violent or dismissive, but playful and emotive. Max Ernst put it succinctly when he said ‘I believe the best thing to do is to have one eye closed and to look inside, and this is the inner eye. With the other eye, you have it fixed on reality, what is going on around the world’. You must observe your surroundings, but not let it fully dictate your relationship with it too. Surrealism to me is ironically a constant act of balance, a businessman on a tightrope.
I enjoy incorporating surrealistic elements into my own work (and usually persist even if others don’t understand). I also enjoy work that, although not directly related to the movement, contains surrealistic tendencies, like Magic Realism or (up for debate) science fiction. It is away from what I already know or am expected to know and is subsequently all the more interesting because of it.
In preparation of this article I have been reading Desmond Morris’ ‘The Lives of the Surrealists’. I am in equal measures astonished and fascinated finding out about the characters beyond their paintings and writings. Dalí is a well-documented case: not only did he fantasise about Hitler, he also supported Franco’s reign in Spain, only to flip-flop between these beliefs when the Second World War was beginning and, after Franco’s death, ‘transferred his allegiance to the Spanish royal family’. He also carried the largest ego within the movement, and after a while a person like that can become, in my mind, over-indulgent and sickly. It was also a shock to find that Breton, the proclaimed founder of the movement, was misogynistic and homophobic, and was often seen by the inner circle of Surrealists as dictatorial (and to their credit a lot of them brought up this point, only to be expelled or angrily dismissed). It is difficult to accept that these people held such beliefs or actions, but they must be put aside as individual characteristics, and allow Surrealism as an ideal to prevail. I relate much more to Miró, a ‘figure […] of small stature and immaculately dressed in an a quietly elegant suit’. He seemed, as Morris supposed, someone who put so much into their work that that was enough creativity without further causing or spilling havoc around him. If there were to be a neo-surrealistic movement, it would need its celebrities, but also many more Mirós.
I think that I will always hold Surrealism in high regard and defend it to the hilt. I enjoy the inhibition it allows, the games you can play, the vividness it creates. On my travels, coming upon art galleries, I always hope to find art that is surreal, regardless of its owner’s artistic motivation or association. Long may that continue.