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The Dadaistic Life of Max Ernst

Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation. – M. Ernst

Dadaism was a movement of the grotesque, absurdity, and an expression of the modern world meaninglessness. Not only paintings, sculptures, and poems artworks, but the life of artists was an artwork itself.

Max Ernst’s life wasn’t an exception.

Early life

Maximilian Maria Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany as the third of nine children in a strict middle-class Catholic family. His parents were devoted Christians who were raising their children to be religious, God-fearing and capable individuals.

His father was an amateur painter and he introduced painting to Max at an early age, which will further determine his life path.

Philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry were areas that first interested him, so he went to study it at the University of Bonn.

He was visiting asylums and got fascinated with the artwork of mentally ill people. But he abandoned this studies because he realized that he had more interests in the arts, claiming that his interests included anything connected to painting.


Love for Painting

His love for painting was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life to it.

In the earliest days of his painting career, he met works of the most famous artists of all time, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cezzane and Picasso, who influenced Ernst’s further work.

His favorite themes were fantasy and dreams, and he adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.


War and Dada

After finishing his studies, Ernst was forced to join the German Army in World War I as a part of the artillery unit, so he was directly exposed to the drama of warfare.

The war was ruinous for this young soldier, but inspiring for him as an artist. He became highly critical of western culture and these charged emotions directly fed into his vision of the world as irrational – an idea that became the basis of his artwork.

Memories of the war and his childhood helped him create absurd, but interesting scenes in his artworks. In 1918, after returning from the war, he took painting seriously.

With Jean Arp, a poet and an artist whom he met before having to go to war, he formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne.

They edited journals and created a scandal by organizing a Dada exhibit in a public restroom. More important are his collages and photomontages he started making in 1919.

His collages represent an important phase of Dadaist art.


Collages

He was using different materials in creating collages, such as illustrated catalogs, photographs of various animals, drawings etc, which resulted in creating somewhat futuristic images.

One of these compositions is Here everything is still floating (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made of cutout photographs of insects, fish and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identities of the things represented.

He approached descriptive expression with his collages. Besides that, a three-dimensional spatial perspective and dreaming illusionism of Giorgio de Chirico heavily influenced his work.

Adjustment to his take on Chirico’s style moved him away from Arp’s plain drawings and provided a transition that later became an illusionist branch of surrealist painting.

Arp’s and Ernst’s attempts to reach “beyond painting” – Arp with his low, painted and machine-cut reliefs, and Ernst with his collages – don’t represent an attempt of anti-art, as much as a response to feeling that the pre-war art was too hermetic and aesthetic.

Their work made a base for painting-poetry that lived through Dadaism and inspired quarter century of Surrealism.

Ernst’s unique masterpieces enabled him to create his own world of dreams and fantasy, which helped him to heal his personal issues and trauma.


Surrealism

In the 1920s, Surrealism occurred.

In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris where he became a founding member of the Surrealists, the group that gathered artists and writers whose work outgrew from the unconscious.

In 1923, Ernst finished his Men Shall Know Nothing of This, known as the first surrealist painting.

He was one of the first artists to apply The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud to investigate his deep psyche to explore the source of his own creativity.

In 1929, he started using techniques of decalcomania – transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together, and frottage – pencil rubbings of the things such as wood grain, fabric or leaves, to stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind.

These techniques resulted with the accidental patterns and textures that made the artist contemplating free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (Histoire naturelle, 1926) as well in many paintings such as The Great Forest (1927) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (1945).

Ernst gained quite a reputation despite his strange style.


Also in 1929, he turned to collage again and created The Woman with 100 heads, which represents his first collage novel.

Not long after, he created the collage novels A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930) and A Week of Kindness (1934).

After 1934, his attention was oriented towards sculpture, where he was using improvised techniques just as he did in painting.

For example, Oedipus II (1934) was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.


Moving to the United States

At the beginning of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States. There he joined his third wife Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him to break through American art scene, and his son, American painter Jimmy Ernst.

While living there, he concentrated on sculptures such as The King Playing with the Queen (1944), which shows the influence that African culture made on him.

He helped to form American art during the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to his ingenious and extraordinary ideas that were different from those of other artists of that time.

Ernst’s obvious denial of conventional styles and imageries in painting was what fascinated American artists.

New and innovative ways of painting interested young American artists, so this unique style of Ernst gained the attention of painters who became familiar with his work.

Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning playing chess with figures that are Ernst’s creation

Conclusion

In his later years, he divorced Guggenheim and married Dorothea Tanning, a surrealist painter who lived in Sedona, Arizona.

They were traveling to various places to learn more about different art techniques. The couple settled in France in 1953. A year after, Ernst received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, a prestigious awards contest.

Max Ernst died in 1976, in Paris, only a day before his 85th birthday. His legacy lived on as he was inspiring artists throughout the world.

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Death to Drab – The Wall Murals and Street Art of Belgrade

The city of Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia, have been in existence since 279 B.C.

Several empires fought for it and ruled it. All of these empires had a certain influence on its culture, people, urbanism, and architecture.

The 20th century brought several wars (Balkan Wars, First World War, Second World War, the civil wars in the 1990s) that left countless consequences.

The town’s leadership was drastically changed and the lifestyle of the people changed. Crowds of people from the countryside came to live in Belgrade after World War II.

Impoverished by wars and conditioned by a large number of people who wanted to live there and needed a home, the city got many buildings (entire settlements) built cheaply and quickly.

These were concrete buildings with no decoration, very simple, in different shades of grey. So, the once vivid and romantic city became concrete – cold and grey.

Bringing Back Life

Luckily, there were people who hated the monotonousness of their city.

These people were painters, professors and students of the faculty of arts who started to paint murals.

The first known murals appeared in 1970s. The greatest project was done in 1977, within the manifestation The Week of Latin America.

A group of Chilean artists painted a wall of Student Cultural Center (SKC). The mural was called “For unity and solidarity with people of Latin America.”

Professors, especially Čedomir Vasić, and students of the Faculty of arts gave the biggest contribution to mural popularizing.

Their campaign started in 1983 when professor Vasić engaged some students to make suggestions on what to do with some of the city walls.

The goal was to repair the city, to do ‘artistic beautifying’ and murals were the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that.

The peak of the campaign was the year 1988 when City Hall adopted mural painting as a legal way to improve the city – it got official then and was legal for the first time.

There was caution in the beginning, so it was hard to get permission.

Through years, responsible organizations accepted this kind of interventions in their city and came as support.

Despite that, out of ten projects, only one was realized.

Popularization of Murals in Belgrade

Many murals were painted during the 1980’s. Most of them were painted by professor Vasić and his co-workers, mainly his former students who were working on popularizing murals with him from the beginning.

The most interesting mural from this period is the one on the facade of the cinema in the center of Belgrade.

It was painted when the President of France visited Belgrade in 1984 as a gift from France to Belgrade.

It shows six vertical and horizontal interlaced lines – two of them are blue, two are red, and two are white, which symbolize French and Serbian flags and friendship between these two countries.

Today this mural isn’t visible because a building was made in front of it and hide it.

In this period, some other artists were active and many walls, buildings, schools, walls of Belgrade Zoo and even a theatre, were painted and decorated.

The first great act of decorating the city was carried out in 1989, regarding the 9th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, that was held in Belgrade.

On that occasion, several art projects were produced, including five murals. After that, only a few murals were painted, and all were damaged or destroyed.

Expansion

After the year 2000, the most significant murals were made within the Belgrade Summer Festival (Beogradski letnji festival – BELEF).

Main characteristics of this wave of painting the city were graffiti popularization and foreign street artists participation in it.

During the BELEF in 2003, artists from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina created a graffiti mural in the center of Belgrade, which was one of the first multi-national projects.

An expansion of street art and creating murals happen in the last decade.

Worth mentioning are murals made by Grobari (Gravediggers or Undertakers), organized supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, one of two major football fan groups in Serbia.

They painted portraits of former Partizan players, its famous fans, and great individuals (Serbian actors, musicians, Nikola Tesla etc.) all over the city.

These murals are all black and white because colors of the club are black and white. An accident occurred earlier this year when someone ruined many of these portraits.

  

One of the liveliest murals represents the friendship between Serbia and the Netherlands.

The author is TKV (The Kraljica Vila – The Queen Fairy) and is made in cooperation with Netherlands Embassy in Serbia.

The orange color and Deft porcelain are clear connections to the Netherlands and its culture.

Pijanista / A Pianist

The artist who stands out among the others is Pijanista (A Pianist), a professor at Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.

He is the founder of a campaign named #usracuse that stands against trash in Serbian culture (against bad music, literature, TV shows etc.).

Also, he is the founder of a street art festival called Runaway, that is happening in Belgrade three years now.

The festival is more popular year after year, and many foreign artists take part in it.

Pijanista paints portraits of celebrities who are supporting him in his campaign and who stands against trash by themselves.

He paints walls in his neighborhood, buildings in Belgrade and areas under bridges, as well.

His murals are most numerous and the most vivid murals in the city.

 

 

  

Visit Pijanista on Facebook here

Foreign artists

Not only Serbian artists paint in their capital city, but many foreign artists come.

Moreover, some of the most impressive murals are the works of foreign artists.

For example, mural Tree-eater is the work of experienced Italian artist Blu.

It is located at the entrance to Stari Grad (Old Town) municipality, the heart of Belgrade.

It shows a businessman who is eating trees and has skyscrapers instead of teeth, symbolics is clear here.

Artistic duo Nevercrew from Switzerland also left their mark in Belgrade in 2009.

Here is a video about Nevercrew.

This year, Israeli artist Dede donated a mural to Belgraders. He painted one of the city symbols – sparrows.

The mural of Argentinian artist Francisco Bosoletti carries the most meaningful message.

He said that the mural was inspired by his impression of sleepiness of Belgrade that he got in the first few days being there.

The image of a sleepy girl, or a girl who suffers, surrounded by geometric figures, one of the main characteristic of his work, should make the citizens of Belgrade see their country the way he saw it.

He wanted to remind them that its time for waking up, that ruins of past times in the center of the city should make them rise and look into the future, the same way as they inspired him.

Destiny of the Murals

There were more than 50 murals painted in Belgrade over the years.

Unfortunately, many of them are damaged or destroyed. Different factors affected this situation, but probably the most important is the ignorance and the lack of interest of the community.

There is still hope that these new projects and campaigns (such as #usracuse and similar) will change something and bring a brighter future to the Belgrade murals.

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The World According To Bosilj

It’s hard to understand life, but it’s easy to paint. You only need to start, afterward it goes with ease. When a picture is finished, you see everything in it is vivid as it is in life, and you realize that every truth has two faces. – Ilija Basicevic Bosilj

Nothing is predestined and impossible in the world of art.

So it wasn’t predetermined and was completely possible for someone who didn’t have the intention of becoming an artist to become one in his old age and to be remembered for being an artist more than for anything else he did in his life.

The richness of spirit and imagination is the essential condition for art to arise and so the opus of Ilija Basicevic is unique and undeniable proof of it.

Life Before

Ilija Basicevic Bosilj (in Serbian – Ilija Bašičević) was a Serbian painter, a classic example of Serbian naive and outsider art. He was born in 1895 in Sid, Serbia (then Austria-Hungary), and died in 1972, also in Sid.

His parents were respected peasants. He was born as the youngest, the ninth child in the family. He finished four grades of primary school (for comparison, nowadays, pupils are required to finish at least eight).

When finished with the education, he started helping his parents in fields and on the farm. He was 19 years old when World War I began. Despite his young age and inexperience, he wanted to go to the army – to see the world (Galicia, Carpathian Mountains etc.).

He tried to switch with his brother who didn’t want to go to war because he had wife and children and didn’t want to leave them. But, it didn’t work for him. He was returned every time, once because of his horses (he wanted the foal to come with him and the mare, but superiors didn’t allow) and twice because of his health.

The war was over and he didn’t go to the army and didn’t see the world. When World War II started, he was married with children. They had to escape to save their lives.

They were in a labor camp near Vienna. There Ilija’s health condition got worse, he got ill of tuberculosis. When the war was over, the authorities took the fields from Basicevic family.

Bad health condition and loss of his fields lead him in a situation where he had a lot of free time that he needed to fulfill somehow. So, he started painting.

The beginnings and The Bosilj Affair

He made his first painting in 1957 when he was 62 years old. He painted an icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

His son Dimitrije, respectable art historian and artist himself, later known as Mangelos, didn’t approve his work at first. He even tore up his father’s first paintings.

But it didn’t discourage Ilija. He was persistent and continued to paint. In the beginning he was creating drawings and gouaches and later started painting on different materials (wood, glass, canvas, cardboard etc.).

Dimitrije showed these paintings to his colleagues. Because he wanted an objective opinion, he didn’t tell them whose work was that. They were delighted with a new artist in the world of naive art and decided to invite him to the exhibition.

In order to avoid idle gossip because his son was connected to art, he chose not to publish his name and biography. He was exhibiting under the pseudonym Bosilj.

But, journalists uncovered who stood behind the pseudonym. It was claimed that the author of the paintings was not actually Ilija but Dimitrije and that they did that to make a profit because naive art was then in expansion.

It was named Affair Bosilj and culminated in 1965. In 1965 in Zagreb, he had to paint in front of eminent commission to prove that he is the author of the paintings.

As soon as he began painting, it was clear that they were wrong, that he was unjustly accused. He received apologies from both journalists and respected artists. As a result of this affair, galleries all over Yugoslavia didn’t want to exhibit his works.

But the world recognized this unique artist and appreciated his uniqueness, so his paintings went all around the globe, from Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Munich, Dortmund, to New York, Mexico City, and Japan.

Characteristics and motifs

While most naive artists paint social, usually rural life and the environment around them with sublime simplicity, Ilija takes us in his inner world.

Ilija’s opus can be classified in several major thematic units. Most numerous are paintings with motifs from the Bible, mainly from The Old Testament.

Then there is a series of paintings inspired by Serbian folk epic poems, myths and legends. Next comes cycle Iliad (meaning “the world according to Ilija”) that is named after the artist – Ilija, not after Homer’s epic poem with the same name.

It represents his clash with human stupidity, duplicity and hypocrisy. Furthermore, there is a cycle with numerous paintings of animals, especially peacocks, but there are also unreal creatures with human bodies and animal heads, and reverse – with animal bodies and human heads.

In the end comes a cycle connected to flying and astrological creatures.

Complex allegory is the main characteristic of Bosilj’s paintings. This allegory is best represented through two-faced and duplicity of the figures, both animal and human. It represents his understanding of the world and living creatures.

The artist himself used to tell that all creatures created by God have two faces, they show one in front of the outside world, while the second one is being hidden deep inside them.

People who were close to Ilija exactly knew what animal was representing which neighbor. It was possible to know because Ilija was convinced that the nature of that animal and the nature of that man are matching, and people knew that.

When it comes to interpretation of his work, titles that he gave to his paintings are of a huge help, because we’re never sure what is it we are looking at, is it angel or cosmonaut, wild animal or apocalyptic creature.

Legacy

Rich in age, but poor in health, two years before his death, he donated his painting to his hometown, Sid. In 1970 Museum of Naive Art Ilijanum was founded.

It is still opened and there we can see around 300 Ilija’s paintings as well as some paintings of other naive artists.

His granddaughter is a president of the Ilija & Mangelos Foundation, organization dedicated to preservation and promotion of Ilija Basicevic Bosilj and Dimitrije Basicevic Mangelos.

His work was more appreciated in the world than in his homeland.

In 2007, the magazine Raw Vision included Bosilj into 50 most influential art brut artists of the world. His paintings are spread in galleries all over the world.

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Naive Art – The Art Of A Brighter Reality

There is a colourful world filled with fabulous details, where everything seems peacefully flying and takes a person back to his childhood, evoking coziest memories. That’s the world of naive art.

Term naive refers to something that lacks experience, judgment or wisdom, something natural and unaffected, innocent.

In art, it doesn’t change the meaning. Naive art includes almost all of these. Naive artists have no relevant education, they paint without any awareness of anatomy, technique or perspective, and their paintings are simple, vivid, childlike – innocent.

Naive art is any form of visual art created by individuals who lack or reject conventional education and guidance that professional artists receive. It disagrees with dominant trends in art of their time.

These artists shouldn’t be confused with “Sunday artists”, who paint for fun. Also, it’s wrong to take naive artists for those who don’t know what they’re doing. They create with the same passion as educated and well-trained artists, just without formal knowledge of methods.

Beginnings and Henri Rousseau

It is hard to determine when and where this genre exactly originate. End of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is the time when this genre started getting more attention and appreciation.

The 20th century was a century of experimentation when traditional ways of expression were left aside and artists were experimenting with new ways of seeing the world and were representing it in an original way.

In that time naive art was discovered. The main figure in naive art was French painter Henri Rousseau, who was discovered by Pablo Picasso.

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), retired toll and tax collector (that’s why he got a nickname Le Douanier – the customs officer), started painting as a middle-aged man and was self-taught.

He had been exhibiting since 1886, but nobody gave value to his work.

The first person who really paid attention to his work was young Pablo Picasso. He was amazed by Rousseau and considered him a true brilliance.

Rousseau’s works are the most frequently reproduced examples of naive art. He was painting portraits, exotic vegetation and jungle scenes, although he had never left France or visited a jungle.

He found his inspiration in children’s books and the botanical gardens of Paris. The magical world of his paintings doesn’t need any explanation (nor is it possible) in order to be understandable, to speak to the audience.

Maybe precisely because of that, its magic becomes so real.

In his works was finally gained a frank virtue of emotion that Gauguin was trying so hard to achieve. Picasso and his friends considered him as the father of 20th-century painting.

Rousseau influenced many avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Jean Hugo, Surrealists and others. They adopted the artist’s sense of freedom and instinctive approach to the composition.

Characteristics of Naive Art

Colorful, childlike simplicity and frankness are words that best describe paintings of naive art.

This genre turns the reality of adulthood into weightless joys of youth. It creates an altered, lighter reality. This is reached in different ways.

Often, there is an inconvenient relationship with the formal standard of painting. For example, artists ignore three rules of perspective which say that the size of objects must decrease proportionally with distance, the colour must be muted with distance and precision of details decrease with distance.

Breaking the rules is essentially what naive artist does, probably unconsciously, producing works that are geometrically inaccurate with crooked perspective and uneven shapes, as a result.

Also, details appear equally rich, no matter if they are in foreground or background. This makes an illusion that figures are floating or positioned in space without anything solid anchoring them in place.

The absence of perspective is one of the most important characteristics of naive art. Paintings convey a sense of frozen motion and deep, calm space, which contributes the feel that objects are floating.

Naive painters use beautiful, vivid, saturated colors that aren’t matching reality, rather than subtle mixtures, tones and shades.

Figures in paintings are usually shown full face or absolutely strict profile. They rarely cover up much of a face and almost never paint figures entirely from the back.

Intensity and passion are communicated through the figures, especially their staring eyes and preciseness of line and color.

Details are remarkably well-defined, which, besides bright colors, adds to the liveliness of a painting.

Most common motifs are live creatures, people and flora, nature, folklore motifs, and lives of ordinary people, especially rustic scenes.

The focus is on lively characters and rarely on lifeless objects. They paint exotic places, even if they’ve never been there (for example Rousseau’s jungle), fantastic creatures, wild animals, everyday-life scenes, rural life scenes (farmers, mowing the fields, shepherds, pets etc.), landscapes, landscapes under snow, sledding and much more.

Naive Artists

Rousseau is undoubtedly the most influential naive artist, but there are other artists of this genre who are worth mentioning.

Antonio Ligabue, an Italian painter, was one of the most important naive artists of the 20th century. He gained recognition for his work during the 1940s.

Russian painter Nikifor created over 40 000 paintings. Sidney Nolan created landscapes that aimed to celebrate Australian history. Grandma Moses started her artistic career at the age of 78 and was known for her take on American realism.

Serbian painters from Kovačica (most famous is Zuzana Halupova) create great panoramic paintings.

Ilija Bašičević Bosilj, outsider and naive painter, uneducated Serbian farmer, started painting as a middle-aged man, and despite that had solo exhibitions even in New York.

 Connection to other art genres

Naive art is often connected to primitivism, primitive (tribal) art, and confused with folk and outsider art.

Primitive art refers to tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, prehistoric and very early European art. Primitivism is used to describe any art that imitates or is characterized by primitive art.

Folk art is utilitarian and decorative art that expresses national identity. Usually, folk artists are uneducated, as well as naive artists. It’s obvious why folk and naive art easily confused.

Outsider art represents any work of art that is created by socially and culturally marginal people – undereducated, mentally ill, prisoners – unconnected to the conventional art world.

Appreciation of naive art has increased over years. Today, it is completely recognized art genre that is spread and represented in galleries all over the world.