Picasso and Surrealism



After 1927 Picasso's works contain features that may be termed Surrealist. Even though slight tendencies in this direction occasionally are to be found before 1927, they are not yet explored consistently. While it can be shown that the gradual progress toward Cubism in his paintings obeys an inner necessity, Surrealism was an influence from' the outside. Picasso took from it only those elements which could enrich his own art; he used it just as he had used the art of the past or of non-European cultures. Moreover he was influenced less by individual Surrealist painters or their works than by the new vistas they opened, as well as by his association with the leading poets of the movement: for Guillaume Apollinaire, the champion of Cubism, before his untimely death also gave Surrealism its name. Picasso was closely connected with the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard, after the mid-thirties. From about that time he himself wrote Surrealist poems which he planned to publish with Vollard in 1939, accompanied with his own marginal drawings.
On the other hand it cannot be denied that leading Surrealist painters, among them his younger compatriot Joan Miró and the German Max Ernst, influenced him to some extent. Picasso even took part in Surrealist exhibitions. But although André Breton, author of the Surrealist manifestoes of 1924 and 1930, includes him in the movement, Picasso is no more a Surrealist than Paul Klee, whose works also contain some Surrealist' elements. But although Picasso's contact with Surrealism is only peripheral, a brief discussion of its nature and aims may be useful at this point.
Like Cubism, Surrealism is based on the breaking up of the natural object. As early as World War I, Dadaism, the Swiss-born progenitor of Surrealism, had uprooted objects from their familiar contexts and broken them up in an arbitrary manner. The Surrealists collected these naturalistic fragments of objects and reassembled them in unusual, indeed paradoxical and perverse, patterns. They combined parts of the human body with pieces of furniture or factory chimneys, flowers with railroad signals or clinical appliances, thus achieving baffling effects. They often used the technique of collage, but not as the Cubists had done. To them it was not the shapes but the recognizability of the fragments which was important.
Surrealism finds its theoretical justification in its preoccupation with the unconscious: it starts from the fact that in our dreams we associate things that can never be associated by logical standards. The Surrealist painter explores this unknown world, and his aim is to record the fantasy and symbolism of the unconscious. Therefore he must, at least in theory, renounce conscious, volitional artistic creation. To eliminate the conscious, personal factor he resorts to such methods as automatic writing, and becomes a medium, a discoverer of revelations made manifest through him, thus more or less surrendering to chance. In actual practice, such complete self-alienation can scarcely be achieved, but in theory Surrealism differs sharply from Cubism, which proceeds consciously and deliberately. What is reported about Picasso's attempts to make automatic drawings in a dark room is worth mentioning in this context. At the first trial he declared that he knew that he was drawing the head of a woman; at the second trial he declared that he did not know it, but he drew the same head facing in the opposite direction. As Cesare Brandi puts it, "his unconscious repeated his conscious performance." No wonder that the Cubist Picasso never subscribed to the principles of Surrealism, even though he made use of some of its discoveries. What he appropriated primarily was the Surrealist "metamorphosis."
The need to unify the heterogeneous components of Surrealist painting led to the Surrealist "metamorphosis." This offered the opportunity for the linking together of those fragments. In these metamorphoses technological forms are born from natural growths, and man-made objects suddenly develop monstrous organic excrescences: anything can change into anything, as in fairy tales. The artist enjoys complete freedom and joyfully unleashes his creative energies as though he had wrested the secret of life from nature and were now in a position to direct biological growth according to the whims of his imagination.
Picasso's series of Bathers, drawn at Cannes in 1927, shows us specimens of such monsters: we get the impression that various parts of the human body have been stimulated by injections to produce grotesque excrescences. As far back as the early twenties Picasso had manifested a tendency toward such exaggerations in some paintings of nudes on beaches. For instance a thigh or a foot was tremendously oversized in relation to the figure as a whole, or to its tiny head; but then such disproportions were the result of exaggerated perspective foreshortenings. Cesare Brandi has established that the well-known Three Dancers of 1925 contains Surrealist elements, but there they still play a subordinate part. Not so in the Bathers of 1927. Here the human figure serves merely as the starting point; although certain segments can be identified as the head, the arms, the legs, and the breasts, these elements are arranged with Cubist freedom and linked together in a metamorphic pattern, so that they seem to grow out of each other. The result is something like an amoebic formation or some fantastic plant. Aesthetically, at least, we cannot help but admire the vitality and robustness of these females.   
In another series of small beach scenes with figures in striped bathing suits, playing ball, painted at Dinard a year later, Picasso again disregards the natural proportions of the human body. Here the  treatment is two-dimensional and the interest is focused on the lively gestures of oversized arms eager to catch the ball. Maurice Gieure has given us a particularly detailed analysis of these works of the Dinard period, of their erotic subjects and psychological background. In the Seated Bather of 1929 and related works, some of which partly date from a much later time, fantastic pseudo-natural growths are combined with machine-like structures—a conception which might be paralleled with the modern tendency to use organic forms for technological designs (streamlining). The seated bather's "human" posture and gestures are all the more striking in view of the technological articulations of the form. Moreover, in order fully to understand this figure one must keep in mind the aspirations of modern sculpture. All these attempts to give plausibility to imaginary organictechnological phenomena of growth were fruitful preliminary steps to subsequent artistic solutions.
Surrealist in inspiration is also the idea of "monuments"—painted or sculptured representations of "unnatural" growth or striking combinations of fragments of diverse origins. During his visit to Dinard and Cannes Picasso made a number of drawings which he conceived as designs for monuments to be set up along the Croisette, the seaside promenade at Cannes. They consist of vertical, crudely modeled organic fragments pieced together in such a way that they arouse in the beholder associations of living creatures. A composition of this kind is also the aquatint drawing of 1932, one of a series of Surrealist variations based on the Isenheim Crucifixion, of Matthias Griinewald. It is constructed of undefined forms reminiscent of bone fragments, and the resultant form—chiefly because of its upright posture—suggests vague similarities to organisms.
The method used here is related to a specific Surrealist technique invented by Max Ernst in 1925, and based on the fact that the creative imagination is stimulated by amorphous or irregularly shaped objects, such as clouds, rocks, fragments of walls, and tree barks, which the unconscious interprets as figures. This technique was named frottage because Max Ernst actually made contact rubbings on paper with his pencil when first drawing such irregular structures. In order to exclude conscious creation as far as possible, Ernst freely admitted chance into the realm of art—a method since exploited by many other painters. Looking at Picasso's drawing, we recall that the same hallucinatory imagination is at work when people discover human shapes in the mandrake root. Little gnome-like figures appear in related drawings of that year, beings such as occasionally haunted Picasso's early works. This drawing, however, is striking chiefly for the way in which its elements are fitted together. The artist's share here is far more active than it is in the Surrealist frottage. And this is characteristic of Picasso.
The Surrealist influence is most strongly apparent in 1933, when Picasso sketched a series of drawings called An Anatomy, showing a series of little figures put together of organic and non-organic components, reminiscent of the "little men" that children occasionally piece together out of dried fruit and matchsticks. The machine-like elements in these figures can be traced back to the Cubist objet period as when, in a drawing of 1912, Picasso unconsciously gave human proportions to a construction devoid of organic elements. This  was long before Max Ernst had begun to give human traits to technological appliances. Animating these shapes in anthropomorphic fashion is as characteristic of Picasso as his active and conscious steering of the imagination.


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