Whether its Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone or Rene Magritte’s iconic bowler hat, it’s safe to say that surrealist art comes in all— usually completely bizarre — shapes and sizes. Beginning in Paris in the 1920s, the movement saw a rise of art and literature that questioned rational thought. Illogical compositions, dreamlike lands, cities and seascapes, bizarre combinations of objects; all these aspects proved key components of the movement, and they’ve have been influencing artists around the world ever since. Whatever your artistic preference, there’s no doubt that there’s something quite sensational about surrealism, and adding works which nod to this intriguing style into your home can be a whimsical and amusing way to add a touch of escapism into your space.
Founded in 1924 in Paris by french poet André Breton, the movement rejected rationality in favour of philosophical thought and visual forms which valued dreams, the unconventional and the unconscious. Uncanny, magical and otherworldly, the style was shaped by Freud’s writings on the unconscious mind and dreams; as a result, to delve into their unconscious and access their innermost thoughts, many artists relied on automatic drawing (where the hand is allowed to move randomly to create an image) or writing. Alongside this interest in automatic practice, a number of other factors populate surrealist works, revealed in the works of its heavyweight artists and household names such as Dali and Magritte, as well as lesser known artists Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst and Dora Carrington. In particular, it is Dali who is known as the ultimate surrealist artists, and the genre is immortalised through his hazy, often menacing landscapes and the cast of strange, otherworldly and often anthropomorphic objects, in works with equally strange titles such as The persistence of memory or The burning giraffe. The result is a half-magical, half-uncanny experience, as his works provoke confusion and intrigue, humour and even horror. Perhaps most importantly, Dali speaks of the importance of freedom of imagination within artwork, and artists who have followed his example have in turn delved into a weird and wonderful world of unrestricted play and imagination.
The essentially ambiguous, sometimes humorous and often dreamy nature of surrealist pieces means that you can really get lost in the artwork, as it provokes questions, confusion and therefore prompts escapism for the viewer. As a result, they are a brilliant and unusual addition to any home, big or small. At our roster of fairs and on our online shop, there are plenty of chances to snap up some savvy surrealist pieces, and start following artists who redefine the conventional borders of what we might expect an artwork to be or depict. Read on for our sample of some surrealist favourites!
A sense of the magical and poetic world of the subconscious proves crucial to the surrealists, and many of our online artists incorporate dreamlike spaces, or a sense of otherworldly ambiguity, into their work. Joe Webb’s Super Highway (above), for example, captures a sense of space and timelessness that many surrealist artists employed. This is then taken a step further in his strange but brilliant Stirring up a Storm, where we literally see a whisk being used to whizz up a sea-like sky. Works like this can’t help but provoke questions, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination and reminding us there’s often more to an image than first meets the eye.
Barry Cawston’s intriguing Coat Napoli places a semi-luminous floating coat within a gorgeous Italian palazzo, undoubtedly encapsulating the poetic quality of a dream. This state is in turn reinforced by the interplay of light and shadow across the palazzo floor. The surreal quality of this work is felt all the more due to its status as a photograph, one more contributing to the collapsing of our usual notions of illusion and reality.
It’s a scary looking word, but put simply anthropomorphism means the attribution of human characteristics or emotions to non human things. This can be seen in the tendency for surrealist artists working in portraiture to replace the heads with unusual, absurd objects; take Katie Edwards’ Free your mind, or Pum’s The Capitalist, for example, where we see a bird cage or Corinthian column stand in for a figure’s face. To really reference the surrealist genius of Magritte and his classic work Ceci n’est pas un pipe, how about investing in Miguel Vallinas Prieto’s clever photograph, Ceci n’est pas un pomme. A perfect way to add a little whimsy to your space - hang as part of a gallery hang with other objects such as mirrors or photographs for your very own surrealist shrine!
A nod to the absurd
As champions of the irrational, the absurd was a key aspect of surrealist art. We can really see this in the wonderful work of Stephen Mackey. His use of birds, animals and insects create strange stories, leaving you wondering what is going on in the narrative. Highly unusual, narrative pieces work such as these are brilliant ways to entertain guests or invigorate empty spaces. Images where animals act as humans really capture the feeling of the absurd whilst injecting some fun too, such as Simon Tozer’s Looks Like Company. Hanging a work such as this in a connecting space, such as a corridor or a hallway, will make you smile every time you walk by.
Or, for a bigger statement, go bold and make a surrealist piece the main event in your dining or living room. We love this extraordinary piece by Suraj Kumar Kashi’s - The Golden Race - which celebrates the surreal and irrational in all its weird and wonderful glory, and nodding to key Dali works through its inclusion of the iconic timepiece.
Hazy horizon lines
A key component of surrealist pieces is a sense of discombobulation when it comes to place. And many artists have experimented with the horizon line within their works, meaning that for the viewer, it’s unclear where the land or sea ends and the sky begins. This sense of endlessness contributes to the surreal notion of time, or the lack of, which often populates its pieces. Intricate works by Alexandra Gallagher, who’s landscape collages such as In the light of my eye use pulsing and overlapping horizon lines, contributing to an overall feeling of uncanny repetition. Her Cookie Dip (second from top) takes this a step further, incorporating molten lava and other odd components into the piece, creating a strange interplay between figures, rock faces and objects and a sense of wonder and intrigue.
So, why not try adding a little surrealism into your interior — we’re sure you’ll be feeling all dreamy and introspective in no time!
Graham Cooke, Far, Far Away, 2015, £175, Archival Print, Arc Fine Arts
Graham Cooke, Far, Far Away , 2015, £175, Archival Print, Arc Fine Arts.
Featured art from first to last:
Joe Webb, Super Highway , 2017, £ 225, silkscreen print, Liberty Gallery.
Alexandrea Gallagher, Cookie Dip, 2015, £1,250, mixed-media, Degree Art.
Joe Webb, Stirring Up A Storm , 2017, £ 195, silkscreen print, Liberty Gallery.
Barry Cawston, Coat Napoli, 2002, £2,250, c-type, The Drugstore Gallery.
Katie Edwards, Free your mind, 2017, £80, silkscreen print, Wychwood Art.
Pum, The Capitalist, 2015, £320, silkscreen print, BROTHart.
Miguel Vallinas Prieto, Ceci n'est pas une pomme, 2017, £1,400, c-type, My Life in Art.
Stephen Mackey, Flea, 2017, £1,350, oil, Ingo Fincke Gallery.
Simon Tozer, Looks like company , 2013, £85, silkscreen print, Will’s Art Warehouse.
Suraj Kumar Kashi, The Golden Race, 2018, £2,850, acrylic, The Brown Easel.
Alexandra Gallagher, In the Light of My Eye , 2014, £1,250, mixed-media, Degree Art.