Clouds drew them together. Soft, cottony ones, floating freely on the canvas, against a soothing blue sky background. Every so often, brooding silently. A dream imagery, where incongruous objects marshal into harmony.
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) preferred the omnipotence of dreams, hallucinations and obsessions to fuel his personal reality, which he transposed into bizarre, sinister creatures and shapes with “the most imperialist form of precision.“ Always aware of the restless inventiveness of Freud‘s theory of the unconscious.
Venus de Milo with Drawers and Pompoms (1936/1964) is a befitting metaphor for the reservoir of repressed urges, emotions and desires. The forehead, chest and left knee of the Greek goddess of love reveal six drawers, slightly open, with silky tufts, intended as an “anthropomorphic cabinet.”
René Magritte (1898-1967) would have called them “resolving problems,” although he disregarded the psychoanalytic decipherment. Along with the Belgian Surrealist Marcel Mariën (1920-1993) he has argued that the understanding of the unconscious is dependent on language and so, one cannot descent into it unencumbered.
The Treachery of Images (1929)—showing a pipe with the text written beneath, “Ceci n‘est pas une pipe”—exploits juxtaposition, the notion of cognitive dissonance that is meant to shake up the viewer’s senses, to force him to look closer and question recognizable signs and worn-out values, as well as the relationship between objects and words. Magritte “puts the real world on trial,” and employs illusions and mysteries to orchestrate it. A certain quietness transpires through his paintings, disruptive and poetic at the same time, redolent of the Flemish painter Hans Memling‘s enigmatic aura of orderliness.
The spontaneity of automatism, or the principle of untrammeled free expression, was as much an artistic credo for Dali as a powerful engine of his paranoiac-critical method. A myriad of fantasies are captured in images of burning giraffes, soft watches melting down like creamy Camembert cheese in the sun, or elephants with spindly legs, all bouts of “irrational knowledge” meant to entice the viewer into a hallucinatory state.
Faithful to the academic virtuosity of nineteenth-century naturalism, Dalí and Magritte depict the objective reality unembellished, but add their idiosyncratic touch and convert the real into an unreal scenery by creating visual absurdities in defiance of the laws of gravity. It was the French poet André Breton (1896-1966) who first mentioned the “juxtaposition of two realities” in the “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), which marked the movement‘s official beginning. Organic shapes and patterns infused with intuitive expression also inhabit the phantasmagoric worlds of Joan Miró (1893-1983) and the French-German artist Hans Arp (1886-1966), whose biomorphic images in garish colours both challenge and enlighten the viewer‘s gaze.
Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian painter and writer who inspired the Surrealist squad with metaphysical dreamscapes, once said that “one must picture everything in the world as an enigma…To live in the world as if in an immense museum of strangeness.” Dalí and Magritte agree and encourage us to do so as well by inviting us into their visionary world.