Last time I wrote about surrealism I called it the art of disquiet and that is, I think, still true of the genre. All art should have a certain element of discomfiture. It should, at some point, derail your expectations. Any art that doesn’t is kitsch.
Surrealism doubles down on that. Science fiction and fantasy illustration have some commonality with surrealistic art. The illustration of a science fiction or fantasy idea can sometimes look like a surrealistic painting divorced from its intent of illustrating. Surrealistic painting, however, is not in service to another idea. The surrealistic painting is its own expression.
Surrealism strays into all other areas of art from modern culture to food to sex to death. It presents conflicting visual ideas and through that juxtaposition unsettles the viewer into thinking or feeling something that they would not normally have felt or thought and, indeed, may never have wanted to.
I’m getting long winded and, possibly incoherent. Let’s move on to the surrealistic art.
Jeremy Geddes was born in Wellington, New Zealand. He studied painting at the Victorian College of the Arts and began working full time as a painter in 2003. Although he has done work for comic book covers (and won the Spectrum Gold Award for his cover art for the comic Doomed) and illustrated his own picture book for children, The Mystery of Eileen Mor, Geddes is chiefly known for his surrealistic paintings of bodies floating in space.
He painted a series of images of an astronaut floating in the air above a city. The position of the body in the air has a serene quality as it hangs suspended in the air. Through the series the gravity defying astronaut seems to get closer and closer to the ground until finally he gently lands on the pavement. The juxtaposition of the weightlessness in defiance of the implied gravity creates a dissonance in the viewers mind.
Geddes other series of bodies floating in space eschews the spacesuit and portrays subjects in a vulnerable state. Indeed the serenity of the floating figures in contrasted with the violence of their arrival in the scene. Each figure has, it seems, been forcibly ejected through a solid structure and is caught in a moment of pure movement. The serene position of the body floating in space is contrasted with the extreme violence of the breaking environment. The fact that the figures are vulnerable, dressed in flimsy clothing or, in some cases no clothing at all sets up a disquiet about the conditions that led them to this moment and the implied awful fate awaiting them at the inevitable end of their trajectory. One moment of beauty and serenity is surrealistically juxtaposed with implied events of great violence and pain.
In each of the paintings a bird appears. It is an oddly comforting presence within each of the pieces and highly symbolic, but of what I could not say.
Victor Safonkin’s work is self-described as Eurosurrealism or European classic surrealism & symbolism. His work is redolent of Salvador Dalí or more particularly Hieronymus Bosch. Victor’s work has been highly acclaimed and in 2005 he was invited to exhibit at the European Parliament in Brussels. The rock band Killing Joke used his Inhuman Rearing as an album cover in 2006.
Safonkin’s work, although bright in many places, is unsettling in that it depicts images of struggle, of warfare and violence alongside strange, misshapen creatures. In some ways his work is the most obviously surrealistic. His imagery is a catalog of elements that have shown up in surrealistic painting over the decades, yeat Safonkin manages to give it a fresh new treatment.
His realistic painting style, naturally, adds to the unsettling nature of the images. His figures’ predicaments, the close proximity of realistically painted flesh in uncomfortable proximity to very realistically painted sharp, metal objects, is enough to create a palpable disquiet in most viewers. His figures come together in a clash of warfare like violence and yet the composition and elements also conspire to suggest a bacchanalian-like celebration. The juxtaposition of these two dichotomies further enhances the discomfort level.
Safonkin and Geddes are two excellent examples of surrealist painters whose work cannot easily be compared to science fiction or fantasy illustration. The elements might be similar, but the “language” of the painting is different. I’m going to continue this topic next week by examining surrealistic painting that blurs the lines of separation between surrealism and science fiction and fantasy art.