When you think of Surrealism, do you visualize melting clocks and a pencil-thin mustache? Many of us see Salvador Dali as the face and spirit of Surrealism. Although his strange, melancholy, and dream-like scenes certainly fit the bill, to stop there would be a tragedy. The Surrealist movement was vast and diverse, stretching across continents, cultures, and time periods. In fact, Surrealism transcends into writing, film, sculpture, and theater!
If you have a love for the strange, dreamy, or occult visual realms, you’ll love Surrealism of all stripes. These 7 books explore Surrealism beyond Dali, and are each well-worth a purchase.
This book by art scholar Whitney Chadwick is a fantastic primer on the women who shaped Surrealism. Often forgotten in favor of Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, or Joan Miro, the women who worked as artists immediately before and after WWII redefined gender, sexuality, and what it meant to be a practicing artist. Today, scholars are restoring the place of Surrealist women in art history, and this book is a great place to start a journey of your own. Chadwick includes first-hand writings from women artists, correspondences between them and other Surrealist artists, and essays about their work.
Most of us are familiar with Frida Kahlo on some level, but the enigmatic and prolific artist always bears revisiting. Compiled from the journals she kept during the last 10 years of her life, this book weaves together drawings, watercolors, personal reflections, and thoughts about art. Oftentimes an artist’s own journal is the most honest way to learn about their art and who they were as people. Embark on an intimate journey to learn about Frida Kahlo in a very new way, and in her own words.
Dorothea Tanning was an American Surrealist artist known for her dark and sometimes creepy compositions which often took place in hallways, doorways, or other points of architectural transition. The characters in her artwork were sometimes monstrous, demonic, or anamorphic, but are always somehow female. This book partners reproductions of her pieces with essays, contemporaneous writings, and even previously unpublished interviews from Tanning herself.
Leonora Carrington is another woman who was instrumental in the Surrealist movement, and who is only now getting some of the recognition that she deserves. Carrington was a Mexican painter who incorporated spiritual, religious, and personal symbolism into her images, creating strange and otherworldly scenes. Elements of her style seem to approach Medieval art, although she spins them in a uniquely personal, anachronistic, and feminist way. This book provides a biographical look at her life and art, and in doing so, illuminates the larger Mexican Surrealist art scene.
One of the best ways to dive into any art movement is to read manifestoes, and other writings about what the artists were trying to achieve. Surrealism actually began as a written movement, and as such, has a notable wealth of written musings focused on what it is, where it might be going, and why it is worth the time. Of course, in typical Surrealist fashion, the manifestoes themselves aren’t always easy to understand. Half informative prose and half meandering poetry, Surrealist manifestos offer a fun and curious read.
This book extensively traces over the life and work of the painter René Magritte, famous for his jarringly bizarre artwork full of repetitive imagery. Symbols like the bowler hat, apple, cloud-covered sky, pipe, train, clock, and many other seemingly benign objects, took on special poetic and cosmological significance in his artwork and in the way that Magritte understood the world. The image, the illusion, the dream, and the written word are all explored and considered at length in Magritte’s work, and this book walks through his process and how he came to work in his distinctive style.
Joan Miro is one of those artists that most of us instinctively recognize, even if we’re not sure of their name or where they worked. His dazzling organic, colorful, and abstract images inspire the imagination. This book juxtaposes Miro’s images alongside his own words about his process, guiding philosophy, and work ethic. It’s at once a peek into what made Miro into the artist he was and a source for other artists to divine inspiration and words of advice.
The Surrealist movement took hold at the perfect time and in the perfect way to allow women artists to become equal proponents. These pioneering women explored traditional gender roles, sexuality, and gender expression through their art, pushing boundaries and shifting norms. Women like Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, and so many others led the way for women artists to come. It is a critical piece of art history, and for the first time, scholars are exploring the impact that these women had. It’s a great time to read about women working in the Surrealist movement!
However, what we love the most about Surrealism is its embrace of the imagination, curiosity, and creativity. Nothing is too wild, strange, or out-there. No imagery is too shocking or creepy. Nothing has to make sense! In a very literal sense, Surrealists are free to dream out loud, or in this case, onto paper and canvas.
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