Photo CC of the ArtStory
Max Ernst was born near Cologne Germany in 1981. Ernst was fascinated with art as a child because of his father’s encouragement. However he didn’t study art when he went to college; instead Ernst studied Psychology but dropped out to study painting. He was still fascinated with the idea of psychology which led him to be one of the first Surrealist to employ Freud’s Dream Theory. Ernst was interested in artists such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Chirico. He was drawn to the dream like quality in their art. Ernst’s exploration of this style was halted by World War I. Ernst was drafted into the German military where he emerged four years later a changed man. He was scarred and angry at the Western World-this drastically changed the way he looked at the world. He saw the world as irrational which led to his joining the Dadists and then later the Surrealists.
Ernst first started experimenting with Surrealist ideas in 1919 with his collages. He was staring at magazine images and the longer he stared at them the more his overactive imagination saw images. This sensation-which is similar to Breton’s with automatic writing-led Ernst to create multiple collages using a number of mediums, such as scientific journals, children’s books, Victorian magazines, and other resources. These collages were created by altering (drawing over the images, combining pictures by gluing them together) the images he found. Collages were initially created by Picasso and Braque “for purely plastic purposes” (Tomkins). Ernst turned them into a way to explore the unconscious and a way to force inspiration.
In 1922 Ernst moved to Paris where along with Breton he helped found the Surrealist movement. Ernst moved in with the poet Paul Elaurd and his wife Gala where they formed a ménage à trois. During this period of intuitivity the Surrealists favorite game was called “exquisite corpses”. Each person would draw part of a picture then fold the picture and give it to the next person for them to draw without seeing what the other person had drawn. Ernst’s works flourished during this period, in which he continued to draw upon childhood experiences.
In 1925 Ernst started creating frontage (rubbing) images. He would drop pieces of paper on the floor and rub them with a pencil. He would gaze intently at these rubbings and see “hallucinatory succession of contradictory images” (Tomkins). Ernst experimented with other objects and through these rubbings he was able to create people, animals, monsters and gods. During this time in his life Ernst became obsessed with birds and invented an alter ego named Loplop who was a bird.
Ernst fled France before the start of World War II and eventually settled in Arizona with his fourth wife Dorothea Tanning, where he focused all his energies on sculpture. Ernst returned to Paris a decade later to reconnect with the Surrealists but because he accepted the prize at the Venice Biennial of 1954, the group ousted him (the accepting of the prize was seen as acknowledgment of praise for his work which the Surrealist group frowned upon).
“Oedipus Rex” 1922
“Garden Airplane Trap” 1935
“Headless Figures” 1928
“Elephant of the Celebes” 1921
“Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale” 1924
“Blue and Rose Doves” 1926
Left: “The Ego and His Own” 1925, frottage Right: “Stallion” 1925, frottage
Exquisite Corpse drawings 1928 & 1935
“Chaste Joseph” 1928
References and Cited Works
Tomkins, C., & Duchamp, M. (1966). The world of Marcel Duchamp, 1887-. New York: Time.
Rubin, W. (1968). Dada, Surrealism, and their heritage. New York: Museum of Modern Art; distributed by New York Graphic Society, Greenwich, Conn.
Crispolti, E. (1970). Ernst, Miró, and the surrealists. New York: McCall Pub.