Surrealism In 21C / by Geoff Harrison

I came across an excellent article by artist Anne Wallace in the latest NGV mag (Jan-Feb 2019) on the continuing relevance of surrealism, “…surrealism is so beloved because it taps into that deep well of profound alienation from societal norms felt by sections of each new generation.” You see surrealism everywhere on album covers and in advertising generally due to the arresting power of strange juxtapositions.

It was Sigmund Freud who first made us aware of the power and uncontrollability of the unconscious mind, so it is not surprising to see Freud’s name scattered throughout the literature on Surrealism. Wallace describes Surrealism as freeing expression from the constraints of rational thought - a liberating project to uncover the workings of the unconscious mind that Freud pioneered.

Anne Wallace “Daphne”

Anne Wallace “Daphne”

“Surrealism allowed artists to be frankly weird, degenerative and perverse in their obsessions.” Reference is made to Surrealism lighting up “the dark caverns” and artists such as Cindy Sherman and film maker David Lynch are also mentioned.

Wallace makes reference to the challenges facing surrealist artists in modern times due to the representational nature of the genre which is seen as anomalous by the avant-guard with its obsession with minimalism, abstraction and a dry conceptualism. Wallace claims that by the time she went to art school in the late 1980’s, painting, and especially representational painting, was seen as passe and an art form of consumption and decor. That is certainly the impression I was under when at art school in the 1990’s.

But Wallace believes surrealism “continues to be relevant not as a kind of kitsch aesthetic to be appropriated but as a kind of philosophy, a destabilizing principle, the invisible worm that corrupts our notions of normality……artists should be allowed to be obsessive, to pursue the enigmatic, to experiment - this is the philosophy of Surrealism.” Here here to that.