ERNST Max
A painter of the École de Paris, born in Brühl, near Cologne, in 1891, died in Paris in 1976. His father, who was a teacher in a school for deaf and dumb, made him continue his studies at the Faculty of Letters of Bonn from 1909 to 1911. He became interested in the latest works of Picasso and Chirico, also in those of August Macke, and in the Expressionist trend among the young German painters. Dadaism, however, had a much more determining influence on him. In 1914 in Cologne Max Ernst met Hans Arp, who was one of the founders of the first Dada group in Zurich. Together with Baargeld they created the Dada group of Cologne. Under the sponsorship of André Breton an exhibition of Ernst's works was held in Paris. With Arp he made collages called "fatagaga" (fabrication of paintings guaranteed to be gazometric) which already announced Surrealism. After the last exhibition of the Cologne group was closed by the police, Ernst left for Paris and took part in Surrealist manifestations. In 1921 he came at last to Paris, and became one of the active figures of the Surrealist group, joining up with the poets André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Robert Desnos, and René Crevel, all of whom are represented in one of his canvases, in the company of Raphael and Dostoevski. Owing to certain techniques which he discovered or revived, Ernst became the Surrealist painter who fitted in best with the activities of his poet and writer friends. He found a pictorial equivalent for automatic writing (so much in vogue for the creation of a poem) in the process of 'frottage': black lead was rubbed onto paper held against an object, producing the effect of the weave of a piece of cloth, the graining of wood, or the veining of a leaf. These impressions, skilfully done and exploited, formed mysterious works suggesting strange landscapes and animals, and vast expanses of imaginary country. Ernst also used the process of 'collage', which the Cubists had used to integrate elements of purely plastic value into their work (vide Papiers collés). But Ernst looked for disparate elements of an anecdotal and descriptive nature, in the illustrations of such varied forms of writing as tales of adventure, love stories, technical treaties. Their juxtaposition in the same work increased (often humorously) their powers of evocation. A meaning which is always fantastic and sometimes horrible, sentimental, and pathetic, reveals itself behind his most innocent compositions. Yet these divertissements are characterized by a juxtaposition that is a little too mechanical. Each of his works has been produced with a precise aim in view: to induce a kind of confusion in the spectator in order to make him sensitive to the appeal of the bizarre and the fortuitous. Purely plastic preoccupations became secondary, if they were not sacrificed altogether. At the beginning of the Second World War he left for America and settled down in Arizona, where he constructed a house himself.
Later, particularly after his long stay in America, his works freed themselves more and more from his tendency. The artist created a world which was quite his own, without diminishing its poetic power. He remembered his 'frottages' and created a strange chaos of forms which seem like an abbreviation of the cosmic evolution: madrepores and strange minerals, plants that change into insects, human eyes and animal muzzles on the surface of petrified silhouettes. All the kingdoms -- animal, vegetable and mineral -- meet in confusion on a planet in effervescence. These forms are freely created by the painter, in accordance with the requirements of his picture. Their perfect plastic coherence makes then seem intensely alive. They constitute one of Surrealism's greatest successes in its exploration of unknown worlds born of dreams and imagination. Dadist, Surrealist, Max Ernst has always enjoyed the thrill of astonishing people, even to creating a scandal. He has employed to a high degree of success the collage medium as well as that of rubbing a surface against another (frottage), thus obtaining extraordinary "matière" effects. He has published with Paul Eluard ( Répétition ( 1900) and Les Malheurs des Immortels ( 1922).
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