Max Ernst, German pioneer of Dada and Surrealism, was an accomplished creator of new imageries and atmospheres. This is in no small part owing to his virulent aesthetic iconoclasm and technical innovation as an artist. His career was so marked by his ranking in the Surrealist nomenclature and lust for novelty that much of what is said about Ernst centers on these factors. I hope, in my approach to Ernst’s work, to take a different direction in focusing on close readings of the specific narratives in his individual works.
So many authors have effectively covered the tabloidism of Ernst’s life and gestalt that I will leave that territory to them. I could say the same of another critical hobby-horse of mine; the literary works of Gabriele D’annunzio, the larger than life poet and author of early 20th century Italy. He, too, is perhaps best known for the outlandish stories and gossip around his creative life. Even his most quintessentially Modernist work- Notturno- is perhaps best known in the English speaking world for having been authored on thin bands of paper by a hallucinatory and partially blind D’annunzio after a plane accident. It’s true lyrical innovations are often forgotten.
Andre Breton described Paolo Uccello as an early Surrealist or “Pre-Surrealist” for sharing the same spirit of experimentation, tolerance of disquieting imagery, oneiric guidance, and thematic preoccupations as the Surrealists. My own critical work has centered around a re-Modernist critique of the Symbolist era. Much like Breton’s fascination with Uccello (a fascination I have shared since childhood), I include Ernst in my critical purview as an artist of evocation. He, as the Symbolists did, experienced intriguing metaphysical states and realms and disocculted them. While I would not go so far as Breton to suggest Ernst was a “Late Symbolist,” I will apply every approach that I have used with the Symbolists to his works.
Sporadically (I wish that it were otherwise, dear reader, but it is still the busy season of work for me), critical essays will show up here on Coup de Des about Max Ernst fairly soon. I am very much looking forward to this, and I hope you are as well.