Artistic Influences: Max Ernst

Max Ernst began his career as a surrealist around 1920 with the production of semi-humorous, but somehow disturbing collages.  “Ernst took disconnected fragments from old anatomy books and collections of engravings and rearranged them in accordance with the irrational demands of the imagination.” (The Concise Encyclopedia of Surrealism by Rene’ Passeron)  Ten years later, Joseph Cornell (see earlier posting) saw these collages and utilized the same techniques before concentrating on production of his boxes.

In 1983, I began experimenting with variations on this surrealistic collage technique to illustrate biblical themes and events.  I utilized as my source material illustrations from Nineteenth Century medicine almanacs, trade cards and (especially) black and white engravings from Jules Verne novels. Later I supplemented these sources with old British boy’s magazines from 1850-1910.  Most of these early pieces were no larger than 3 1/2″ x 5″ (Max Ernst’s collages were similarly small in size).  It soon became obvious to me that the all black-and-white collages, such as Ernst and Cornell produced, were often indistinguishable from simple untouched engravings unless some fantastic element was introduced–which was sometimes, but not always, my intent. 

Mostly Monochromatic (2003)
20″ x 16″

The above piece utilizes black-and-white illustrations exclusively as is appropriate for a work showing the utter banality of  existence in hell.  Because of its relatively larger size, it bcame necessary to find imaginative ways to disguise the seams in the picture (as with the tall pile of tires you can see in the center).

I later found that the most striking visual effects could be obtained by introducing figures from old engravings into modern color photographs as backgrounds, such as in the diptych below picturing, respectively, Jesus’ birth and ascension.

                      Descent (2005)  (16″ x 20″)                                Ascent (2005)  (16″ x 20″)

My largest, and most technically challenging, collage to date, labeled “Successions,” incorporates a decorative strip down the middle mirroring the two Biblical transitions pictured.  One is that from King Saul to King David, marked by violence. The other is the peaceful transition of spiritual power from Elijah to Elisha.

Successions (2007)
4′ x 2′

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