The Appeal of Visual Surrealism

Have you ever seen a work of art that looked like it came from another dimension? As if it was a fragment of your worst forgotten nightmare? Most likely it is a surrealist work of art. The Surrealism movement began around the 1920s, and culminated with famous artists such as Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte, just to name a few. If you don’t recognize those names, I guarantee you aren’t the only one. Although Surrealism was a significant movement in the art world, it has remained relatively fringe to pop culture. Its avant-garde style is not as palatable as other art, and as a result, it takes a certain curiosity and taste to explore. However, it is by far my favorite art movement; not only has it produced some of the most visceral and intriguing works of art, it also evokes an entirely unique feeling in the viewer.

Plaza (Piazza) – Giorgio de Chirico

Imagine being a kid again, playing hide and seek with friends. You’re in a small cupboard, the perfect hiding place. You hear the seeker count down, and eventually they shout “Ready or not, here I come!” You can’t help but laugh on the inside: thinking about how they’ll never find you, and how impressed they’ll be when you win. Gradually, however, the darkness of the cupboard intensifies, until it’s as black as oblivion; a dark, empty void. You have no sense of time; it has wandered into the darkness and gotten lost. Has it been seconds or minutes? Maybe even hours? You can’t hear anything; no voices, nobody wondering where you are. The claustrophobia starts to set in as the cupboard shrinks. It’s hard to breathe, there’s not enough air. They’ve forgotten about you, they’ve stopped looking hours ago. Panic and anxiety run through you like electricity, you can’t stand it anymore: you have to get out. You burst out of the cupboard and take in a breath, like a drowning man breaking the surface. You hear voices coming towards you and suddenly your friends are there. They can’t believe you hid in there; they say they never would have found you. You won, but you can hardly enjoy it.

Son of Man – Rene Magritte

For me, surrealist art evokes that same feeling. A mixture of anxiety and some primal fear of the unknown, just like being in a dark, claustrophobic cupboard. I think this feeling comes from the unusual color palettes that surrealist works share, the strange juxtapositions and oddities that defy reality, and some third thing that can’t be explained, but is linked to the unexplored subconscious of the viewer. Surrealism is based on the concept of the dormant subconscious, and surrealist artists attempt to explore it through art; the result is a small glimpse into the bizarre and sinister underworld of our minds.

Atavistic Ruins After the Rain – Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was especially known for his unique method in conjuring strange images. He would often sit in a chair and begin to fall asleep while holding a metal spoon. Right when he fell asleep, the spoon would drop from his hand and startle him awake. He would then paint the surreal images he had seen before slipping into unconsciousness. When looking at his works, I often feel like I’m in a waking dream: nothing quite makes sense and everything is a little off. It’s like waking up from a vivid dream that you can’t remember, and then realizing you’re still dreaming. You jolt awake, and you can’t stop wondering if you’re actually awake this time, or if you’re still dreaming.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

On a Local Painter

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This weekend I was able to attend the Great Lakes Art Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan. Artists from all over Michigan set up their art in booths and are able to talk freely with attendees, even sell their artwork. A wide variety of art was featured, including paintings, drawings, wood and metal sculptures, ceramics,glass works, photography, jewelry, printwork, and artisanal treats such as olive oils and dips, jerky, and even handmade soaps.

Although I may be biased by a predisposition toward fine arts, the booths that contained paintings were my favorite. I recognized one of my favorite Michigan artists, Thomas LeGault (whose work you can find here), and discovered a brand new one, Gerald Freeman.

Freeman paints primarily classic cars and other vehicles such as warplanes and bicycles, usually set in a backdrop of nature, but other works he was showcasing included human portraits, architecture, and a yacht on which fishermen wrestled with a huge fish popping out of the waves. His paintings are hyper-realistic–on his website, you can hardly tell that the pictures are of paintings and not of photographs.

In talking to him at the art fair, I learned that he does paint using photographs, but he doesn’t limit himself to just these. He would find a particular car he liked in one photo, then use the backdrop of trees or a dirt path from another, and, in the case that there was a person in the photo, he would often use a model in a studio. He said he wasn’t one for outdoor painting, but just a glance at his gallery told me that he loves nature, and had spent years studying it, trying to capture its beauty.

What struck me about his paintings, though, were the cars themselves. Though hyper-realistic, the natural backgrounds of his paintings gave just a vague hint of being painted, if you looked closely for brush strokes–very closely. But no matter how closely you looked at the cars, you will find only a perfect mirror image of the landscape around it, down to the exact warping in the curved exteriors. I almost expected to see my own reflection peering into the paintings, looking back at me in concave form from the smooth, shiny bodies of the Mercedes and Lincolns.

They were absolutely flawless.

One particular painting showed the dashboard of a convertible. He told me that he had done it with oil paints, which floored me because, in my comparatively little experience, oil paints are quite thick and hard to use for such perfect, minute details. But this one, just as the other ones, was photo-realistic.

Talking with Freeman and seeing his paintings was incredibly inspiring. Sometimes when I see art that seems unachievable for me, it’s discouraging, and it makes me feel like no matter how much time I spend practicing, I’ll never get to that skill level, or I’ll never create something as wonderful as *this.* But somehow, hearing Freeman talk about his passion for painting filled me with tenacity. If he can hone his skill over time to create paintings as gorgeous as these, then one day, anyone can get to that level, with painting or with anything.

You can look at the rest of Mr. Freeman’s gallery here.

Get Creative This Halloween

With Pinterest and tumblr becoming more common and popular, it pushes the everyday person to want to take Halloween to the next level.  This means decorating the entire house instead of just the porch and front room, and only making Halloween themed food for every celebration, as well as only wearing homemade/DIY costumes.  These things are super hard to achieve, and somewhat unrealistic for the average person who isn’t amazingly artistic like everyone on Pinterest seems to be.

A new trend that has begun on Pinterest is to paint a pumpkin instead of carving one.  This trend is a great and easy idea that people of all ages and skill levels can easily achieve.  It allows you to be more creative if you want, but it’s not a necessity.  Both simple and complicated designs look great on a painted pumpkin.  And as a bonus, if you mess up then you can just repaint the entire pumpkin orange and start over instead of being stuck with it, like when carving.

Oddly shaped pumpkin I painted as a strawberry

Another bonus of painting pumpkins is that it allows you to get creative with the pumpkin you pick.  There is no longer only two options of short and fat or tall and skinny pumpkins because those are the only two that look good with a carving, now any size and shape of pumpkin works because you can use its shape to your advantage.  If you get a curved pumpkin you can make it look like a strawberry.  If you get a hourglass shaped pumpkin you can make it look like a skeleton head, or a triangle pumpkin can be a witches hat.  These are all also super cute and creative ideas that take little to no skill or time to achieve.

The only potential downside to painting a pumpkin instead of carving it is that you can’t put a candle in it to make it light up and be able to see it at night.  But that is easy to get around by putting several candles next to it or a lantern or really any light source, to be able to show off your pumpkin in the dark.  This means that there is no downside to painting a pumpkin instead of carving one.  Will follow the new trend this Halloween?

Painting a Coloring Book

Coloring was one of those things you did as a child. Taking your favorite characters and either scribbling all over their faces in colors that made no sense or meticulously choosing the right color and shading in the characters in a somewhat accurate way.

I’ve recently come to poses “Lost Ocean” a coloring book created by Johanna Basford that has lots of difficult designs and intricate patterns for coloring.

This is not mean for beginners with poor motor control to color but for a more practiced audience. Throughout my years at UofM I have heard the benefits of coloring as a child and as an adult expounded again and again. It helps relax people, it practices fine motor skills, and is an activity that requires just enough concentration but allows the mind to wander. In a sense I think it might even be like meditation for those who don’t want to sit in pure silence.

I really enjoy the art style of the book and am considering getting some of other coloring books by the same creator. When picking out this book I’ve decided to make the book a painting project. I enjoy painting, and have really wanted to work on creating depth with the medium.

The front cover of the book also inspired me with random golden highlights. I am a huge fan of metallic paints and how they show up much more to my liking than metallic colored pencil.

One evening I decided to break out the paints and start working. I have not gotten very far in my attempt yet. I discovered that some of the lines are so fine and the designs so intricate that I do not have a brush tiny enough to fit.

Trying to paint in such a small space with my thinnest brush really exposed some problems I’d never encounter before in painting. Sometimes the bristles of the brush wouldn’t be perfectly aligned creating random streaks where I did not want them covering over the original lines. It’s also easy to get too much paint on the brush, making weird blobs where I didn’t want them.

I am going to continue with this project after I find a thinner brush. I really think little projects like this really help gain new skills or just more patience. Practice makes perfect and being able to complete the whole book in the the style I want will be rewarding with having it look pretty but also hopefully improve my other skills, like patience and design work.

“It Belongs in a Museum!” 1500 Paintings Hidden from Public

If you haven’t been following international art news lately, then you may be in for a surprise.  An on-going investigation of looted art (presumably stolen and stored by Nazis) has revealed almost 1500 pieces of art that belong to one man.  Cornelius Gurlitt was the son of an art dealer commissioned to sell most of the works looted by Nazis.

Reproduction of a Franz Marc painting believed to be part of Gurlitt’s collection (Washington Post)

Authorities recently seized his collection, but according to a German statute of limitations, his years of ownership make the art un-seizable.  In other words, Gurlitt has a right to keep every last piece if he wants to.

Is this a case of ‘finders keepers’ gone wrong?

In terms of precious cultural pieces, I have always been of the Indiana Jones mindset that ‘it belongs in a museum‘, whatever “it” may be.  In this case, there is a lot of it.  1500 paintings by artists like Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann and Otto Dix are purported to be in Gurlitt’s collection.

A big question on most people’s mind is “Where did all of the paintings come from?”  Police believe they were looted or bought off of Jewish families during WWII, but their provenance remains a mystery and isn’t likely to be something that Gurlitt will reveal any time soon.

Gurlitt I don’t know how this case will end.  In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the reclusive and obstinate art collector said “I won’t voluntarily give back anything, no, no,” and that “When I’m dead, they can do with them what they want.”  This does not bode well for the art community, the German people, and especially the Jewish families who lost such precious pieces.



‘Riders at the Beach’ by Max Lieberman, another painting in Gurlitt’s nefarious collection

Even if the provenance was traceable, that is a lot of art to trace.  My suggestion and my hope is that someday a special art collection at a German museum will be established as a memorial to the families who lost these pieces.  The displays of art can be a reminder not only of the lost beauty from these personal collectors, but also the lost humanity in times of war.




Functionality Over Taste

This weekend, I attended a conference with a group called InterVarsity, which took place in enemy territory. That’s right, I went to East Lansing, home of MSU. Besides the fact that I was unable to wear anything from the maize side of my closet and I saw a LOT of green, I noticed a few things about the hotel I stayed in.

Pointed out to me by my (new) friend Mary, art student extraordinaire, the conference center and hotel was beautiful. From the way the sinks were designed, to the calming waterfall welcoming guests into what will hopefully be a home away from home, the layout was appealing, stylish, and modern. I noticed small touches, such as the way the comfortable chairs were placed near large windows, were the sunlight could filter in and provide a pleasant atmosphere when having a chat with friends. I enjoyed the placement of a revolving door, optional next to the regular door yet still an instillation that made the institution feel like a hotel. Yes, as Mary said, the architecture was great.

So that makes it artful, right?

When going to wash my hands, I had no idea where to place the complimentary bar of soap. When I found it could be tucked between the faucet handle and the raised edge of the sink, I felt proud…until it slipped of back into the sink.

Put on, slip off.

Put on, slip off.

The fountain, while gorgeous, spanned two stories. The water fell from the main lobby into the garage floor, into a pool with…what kind of sculpture? Really, what is that supposed to be? Did they actually pay money for that?

And why in the world would I want to look at a bale of hay right before I’m supposed to slip into pleasant dreams filled with friendship, laughter and rainbows? Hay is not particularly calming to me. In fact, I really don’t like hay (too many encounters on Rodeo Day. This is what I get for growing up in Texas).

All of these things culminated into a single question that both my friend Mary and another friend of mine Dean posed: Does art HAVE to have a reason?

In this case, I would solidly argue with yes, since a hotel is primarily functional rather than artful. I’m not sure if I necessarily agree all the time, but every time I’ve encountered art, either in audio or visual form, it’s made a clear statement. Deep? Maybe not. But a clear idea, theme, statement, whatever you have it? Yeah.

So I’m not sure what statement the bale of hay was trying to make. But hopefully, it was making a statement, and I just happened to miss it.