The Surrealist movement grew out of the anti-art Dada movement of 1918 and the 1920’s. Dada hoped to move the world in a new direction, away from the nationalistic, materialistic and industrial ideals that had spawned World War I but it soon got caught in its own limitations, particularly in the concepts of free association and automatism.
In 1924 Andre Breton formalized Surrealism when he published his first Surrealist Manifesto. Surrealism was embraced worldwide and Paris became the hub of its activities with Breton recognizing and then dismissing “official” members as he saw fit. The membership list was remarkable: Arp, Dali, de Chirico, Ernst, Giacometti, Klee, Magritte, Masson, Matta, Miro, Paalan, Tanguey, (Picasso never became a formal Surrealist though his work was admired by the Surrealist group.)
Since surrealism was as much a literary movement as a visual arts movement and the two worked hand in hand with many surrealist poems and other writings published with illustrations by surrealist artists.
In Paris in the early 30’s there were two studios that were actively working with surrealist printmakers, that of Roger Lacourière and the other was begun by Englishman Stanley William Hayter, which came to be known as Atelier 17. Artists Ernst, Miró and Tanguy worked at both, but it was Atelier 17 that brought together a broad, international gathering of artists, both noted and unknown, working as equals with this new visual “language” they were all learning.
One of the most difficult things for these classically trained artists was to put aside their backgrounds and give way to the “automatic line” which Hayter had embraced in the ‘30’s. The atmosphere was informal and they experimented with different intaglio techniques, including plaster prints, engraving, soft-ground etching, gauffrage, relief printing of intaglio plates, etc. The idea was to work directly on the plate, not transcribing a drawing or painting but creating a unique work. Hayter encouraged artists to work until they “destroyed’ the plate.
Atelier 17 moved to New York in 1940. Many of the artists, displaced from their homes in Europe with the onset of WWII, also moved to New York and, often uncomfortable in an unfamiliar society, found camaraderie at the workshop. Louise Bourgeois, Calder, Dali, Masson, Matta, Miro, Matta, Nevelson all worked there. It was open 24 hours a day and experimentation was the norm. They began working in color, eventually developing the simultaneous color print which allowed a color intaglio to be printed from a single plate in a single printing utilizing the different viscosities of various colors of inks (another blog to come).
The concept of the automatic line that the Surrealists embraced became much of the foundation for action painting and Abstract Expressionism that began in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. Surrealist ideas continue to be a major interest to artists worldwide.
These prints and many others from this period can be found at our website, just add “Atelier 17” into our Search our Site field: http://www.annexgalleries.com/