Barcelona June 2010

With a nom de net like mine, it’s a given that I have an interest in art history.  It wasn’t always the case – in my teenage years, when dragged around the Louvre, I fell asleep at the feet of Michealangelo’s David.  Still we live and learn and so I’m sure that should I ever return, I will be much more appreciative.

Actually maybes aye and maybes no.

During my recent trip to Barcelona, a visit to the Joan Miro foundation was a given.

Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona

Even though surrealism is one of those art forms that baffles me.  I suppose I was hoping for enlightenment.  I’ve got to say I found it most of it highly amusing, especially that white canvas with a single blue dot, entitled Japanese Landscape.    There’s definitely something wrong when someone who can’t draw a straight line with a ruler or a circle with a compass, says I could do that. 

As for the canvases,

Hair Pursued by Two Planets


 let Joan Miro speak for himself

My latest canvases are conceived like a bolt from the blue, absolutely detached from the outer world (the world of men who have two eyes in the space below the forehead).

I’m sorry to have to say this but  a three hour trip around the Joan Miro Foundation confirmed that most of his canvases remain detached from my world. 

So I returned to Scotland with a firm conviction that surrealism was not for me. Then the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh was exhibiting a comprehensive collection of  dada and surrealist art.  Another World has been calling me all summer. 

Early November 2010

I resisted for 5 months but finally,  on a  fine sunny late autumn afternoon, I set off with a mission to understand,  accompanied by two knowledgeable experts, The Very Short Introduction to Modernism and The Very Short Introduction to Dada and Surrealism.

The Another World exhibition is full of iconic works by the great surrealists – pieces generally accepted as masterpieces.  Such as Duchamps readymade Fountain , a urinal to you and me; Magritte’s Menacing Weather,  Max Ernst’s A Week of Kindness and various disagreeable objects. (Hyperlinks to videos on youtube). 

The problem with much of this for me is the ubiquity of  male fetishism in Surrealist representations of sexuality.  Women are frequently reduced to torsos or wander around incongruous situation in varying states of undress.  Yes, I know it’s surreal and dreamlike.  But these are males dreams and  they are very wearing.  In fact, in some places downright offensive cf Bellmer’s dolls  The Dadaists would be delighted- their aim after all was to offend.  So this makes me their ideal audience.  The upside  is that I’m beginning to see the charm of Miro’s dream-like abstractions!

Head of A Catalan Peasant

Even with my bookish guides, which do a fine job of placing Dada and Surrealism and some individual works in context I found nothing to actually like about most of the paintings.  However, there were one or two surprises in store.  If Room 1, the Dada exhibits failed to excite me, room 2 had me in veritable ectasy!  It contained the library of Sir Roland Penrose.  OK so the books, magasines and periodicals were all about surrealist art but it was a lifesize library and it was glorious!

Further surprises in store in, I think it was Room 10, the section devoted to British surrealism.   There I found the British female surrealists: the haunting picture of a mental collapse painted by fellow Lancastrian Leonora Carrington and perhaps my favourite painting of the exhibition by Ithell Colquhoun.  At first I thought hers was a picture to repay the abuse frequently meted out to the female torso in Surrealist art.  But no, it transpires that Gouffres Amers was suggested by  imagery in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea change

Into something rich and strange

It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not an image I’ll ever hang on my walls, but Gouffres Amers became my favourite painting of this exhibition.