Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Fascinating Surrealism and Biomorphism Of Yves Tanguy

I make absolutely no pretence to be educated, especially about the world of art, art history, but do consider myself to be widely read on the subject-if by widely read having perused hundreds of glossy art books and having run an art gallery which  meant having to thumb through commercial print catalogues.

I have been  privileged to have travelled a fair bit, and consequently, have been able to visit many of the major galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles, London, and most recently the Leopold Museum in Vienna.  These travels have allowed for surprising  finds like an exhibition at the Surf Hotel in New Caledonia which included a wonderful sketch by Foujita of the artist and his cat.

Yet for all that I get, from time, to time, doubly rocked back on my heels by "discovering" an artist who I find utterly amazing which also reinforces, just when I feel I have reached a level of comfort, that I am woefully ignorant, if there are artists of this quality of which I know nothing.

I have just discovered the French artist Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) who is best, I believe, for this exercise, described in this short biography (emphasis mine). Here is a link to some of his works (which can be expanded by clicking on them which, when expanded, gives a better understanding of his craft))

"Going to sea as a teenager and later serving in the French army,Yves Tanguy did not take up painting until his return to Paris in 1922.Without any formal training, he was influenced  by the work of Giorgio de Chirico and joined the Surrealists in 1925,subsequently concentrating on that style known as Biomorphism because its images were derived from living organisms. Inevitably Tanguy's paintings in the ensuing period drew heavily on memories of naval and military service. In 1939 he immigrated to the United States, where he married fellow artist Kay Sage and settled in Woodbury, Connecticut. 

In his last years his work took on a darker character, suggestive of dream sequences which reflected his fascination with the Freudian theories of psychoanalysis. His paintings were non-figurative, inhabited by small objects, often bony-like but defying description and suggestive of some other world."

It is quite an achievement to paint in what seems at first glance a rational, realistic manner, items that seem to have some connection to known objects but are in reality "other worldly". 

One can, with imagination, discern what have a similarity ear bones-hammer, anvil, stirrup, but these "objects" seem to be "alive". The minimalist background these "objects" inhabit seems vaguely suggestive of the sea or wind swept dunes but that too is an illusion.

That such small objects can have so much "movement" and dynamic interconnection, is a tour de force. The viewer is locked in to the canvas, as the eye moves from area to area, and is drawn in by the flowing motion of the objects curves, and the curve of the background they inhabit.

If it were only Dorothea Tanning and Tanguy I have "discovered" and been fascinated with, I would start to worry about my own mental state, but I was, happily, delighted to discover the female joys of Tamara de Lempicka (although I must admit there are some off-center aspects of her female studies) and her obvious joie de vivre.

I discovered Dorothea Tanning who in a way I wish I hadn't discovered, as her surreal art is totally unsettling, a comment I am sure she would have been delighted with. But my next discovery, which discovery is, I appreciate, totally idiosyncratic, an artist with a much lighter view of life-in fact extraordinarily so.

Tamara de Lempcika seems to have led a life straight out of an Hollywood fantasy, with multiple marriages, high society, bi-sexuality and heaven knows what else mixed in, over a long life filled with adventures of myriad sorts. A glance at her photograph says it all actually, but it is her art which I find even more fascinating.

Her style is totally redolent of the jazz age, Cubism, high society, fantasy. I find the movement, the ribboned effect the bright colours, the women (with the homosexual themes so obvious) fascinating and charmingly executed. 

There is a gallery of some of her works here and these are some of my favorites. If readers have not discovered de Lempicka I am delighted to have been able to introduce her-I am just sorry I have met her so late in life.

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