Saturday, 22 January 2011

Max Ernst (1891-1976)...

Max Ernst was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst is considered to be one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism. Early in his career, Ernst became fascinated by the art of mentally ill patients and was influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin after visiting the Sonderbund exhibition in 1912.

Notable Artworks:

Eye of Silence (1943)

'The Eye of Silence is a more fascinating; more sophisticated example of Ernst's work. The painting depicts a lone woman reclining by the shore of a lake surrounded by impossible formations of plants; faces, animals, columns, and towers overgrown with a web of indeterminate character that binds the forms into a single frozen mass.'

The Elephant Celebes (1921)

' The central focus of the painting is a giant mechanical elephant. It is round and has a trunk-like hose protruding from it. The figure's round body was modeled after a photograph in an anthropological journal of a clay corn bin from a southern Sudanese tribe, the Konkombwa. Celebes suggests "ritual and totemic sculpture of African origin", evidenced by the totem-like pole at right and the figure's bull horns. The painting uniquely combines found imagery and tribal elements. Ernst's creature has a frilly metallic cuff or collar, and a horned head and tail. The low horizon emphasizes the creature's bulk, and the gesture of the headless mannequin introduces the viewer to the figure. The mannequin wears a surgical glove, a common Surrealist symbol. This nude figure may have a mythological connotation, suggesting the abduction of Europa by Zeus while disguised as a bull. Ernst told Penrose that the title Celebes was derived from the opening words of a German schoolboys' rhyme with sexual connotations:'


The elephant from Celebes
has sticky, yellow bottom grease
The elephant from Sumatra
always fucks his grandmamma
The elephant from India
can never find the hole ha-ha

Die Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius (1945)

This painting is based on the life Anthony the Great or Saint Anthony, the Christian saint from Egypt, particularly focusing on a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage to the desert.

Capricorn (1948)

'Capricorn, a group of highly imaginative figures, is a family portrait of Max Ernst and his wife, fellow Surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning. On a deeper level, it expresses the fundamental duality of male and female. For the Surrealists, as for the ancient Greeks, the minotaur (half man/half bull) symbolized the eternal battle within the soul between rational mind and aggressive instinct. This minotaur figure was probably inspired by a horned kachina – a spirit sculpture made by the Zuni – that was owned by the artist. A small mermaid and a whimsical dog, with pipe eyes and trowel tongue, rest on his lap. The mermaid is also a hybrid. Part woman, part fish, she lives in the sea, a symbol of the feminine unconscious.'

Der Hausengel (1937)

Europe After the Rain II (1942)

The Wavering Woman (1923)

'A fashion victim for the Machine Age, the protagonist of Ernst’s bizarre fantasy advances precariously along a catwalk that also turns out to be an abyss. She has been locked into a contraption of ingeniously strange design, part article of couture, part instrument of torture. She stretches her arms out to either side, as if walking a tightrope. Her mechanical encumbrance has tubular arms of its own, one of which reaches up to cover her eyes.'

The Forest (1927)

Oedipus Rex (1922)

'The painting, Oedipus Rex, was a direct result of his fascination with birds and the idea of a deeper unconscious mind working beneath the veil of surface thoughts. Ernst believed fervently in the premise of the bird as a symbol of how mankind sought to be free through flight, which acts in accordance with the Freudian concept of condensation. The link between the play by Sophocles and the painting only invigorate this idea, since the premise of the son in Freud's theory is to free himself from fatherly constraints to bond with his mother in intercourse. The nut being portrayed in the painting is clearly a female symbol of the vulva with the male fingers vying to enter it.'

Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924)

'The combination of flat painted surfaces and unexpected objects in this work, made in the year of Surrealism's founding, extends the strategy of collage that Ernst and fellow Dada artists had employed. A red wooden gate affixed to the painted surface opens onto a deceptively pastoral scene dominated by blue sky. One female figure brandishes a small knife as though fending off the unassuming nightingale at left; another falls limp in a swoon; a man who lights atop the roof carries off a third, his hand outstretched to grab the knob fastened to the old-fashioned frame. Ernst gave two autobiographical references for the nightingale: the death of his sister in 1897 and a fevered hallucination he experienced in which the wood grain on a panel near his bed took on "successively the aspect of an eye, a nose, a bird's head, a menacing nightingale, a spinning top, and so on."'

Moonmad (1944)


Loplop is the name of a birdlike character featured in prints, collages and paintings by Max Ernst. Loplop was an alter ego which Ernst developed and functioned as a familiar animal.

Forest and Dove (1927)

'Forests appear frequently in Ernst’s works and recall his feelings of the ‘enchantment and terror’ of the woods near his childhood home. Forests are a potent symbol in German tradition, and were also adopted by the Surrealist group as a metaphor for the imagination. In this work, a small dove, which Ernst liked to use as a symbol to represent himself, is trapped among menacing trees. The shapes are created using a technique he called ‘grattage’, in which paint is scraped across the canvas to reveal the imprint of objects placed beneath.'

1 comment:

  1. May I use the image eye of silence for my book? I ve been requested to write Sand Painting book

    May I contact you via email? Thx