Max Ernst

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On a steely afternoon in a turbulent Paris of 1924, a budding 33 year old artist from Cologne became one of the founding members of the Surrealist group. Prior to this, after serving as an artillery officer during World War I, this dishevelled genius also helped form the Dada movement in Cologne. One of the original provocateurs of the art world, Max Ernst is regarded as one of the true self-taught artists of all time. Born in a strict Catholic family in Germany on April 2, 1891, a young Ernst initially attended the University of Bonn with the notion of studying Philosophy but soon realised painting was where his heart truly lay. Much of his time there on wards was devoted to self-taught painting – inspired by the works of Vincent van Gogh, August Macke and Paul Gauguin. Many researchers suggest that his love for painting was also inherited from his father – who despite being very strict, loved to paint. Ernst, being the rebel from a young age, found comfort in painting and also considered it an act to openly defy his father with whom he didn’t share a particularly close relationship.

After World War I broke out, Ernst served as an artillery officer where he witnessed enough drama and bloodshed that it formed one of the foundations of what would go on to define his future art – the human mind and its mysteries. Ernst came out of the war shaken but with a deeper understanding of the human psyche – particularly towards the mentally ill. The Dada group was where most of his early work was exhibited, depicting imagery drawn from his childhood memories and scenes of horror he witnessed during the war. The unconventional Dada exhibition featured showcasing his work in a public restroom which drew much ire from art lovers in Germany.  A few years later he received a Paris calling from a fellow artist in 1924; he moved and never looked back at Germany. It was Paris which reinstated the imagery brilliance of his work; Ernst felt that he never had to explain his paintings, which were a mixture of creative yet irrational imagery.  In Paris he discovered a new technique of painting called frottage which gave an almost life-like shadow to his fascinating art which bordered hallucinating imagery. He experimented with frottage and incorporated everything from faces, animals, buildings, to sculptures into his paintings. Looking back at some of his most memorable art pieces; the Barbarians or Celebes there is almost a Freudian like metaphor to each of them. Ernst challenged conventional art by creating art which was not only irrational but lacked clarity and titled more towards modernism.

Some of Max Ernst’s master pieces, the Celebes or the L’Ange du Foyer are depictions of his childhood memories, his disillusionment with society at large and his keen interest in mythology.  The L’ange du Foyer and the Barbarians are both based on his experiences of the horrors he saw firsthand during World War I and the impending doom Ernst knew lay ahead after World War II. There is a perfect mesh of human elements, eccentric objects, wild colors and master strokes. For Ernst his paintings spoke for him, what he feared, what his feelings were, his personal traumas and triumphs. For each of Ernst’s collage or painting, he treated each as his invention, discovery and revelation. Art was more to him than a mere decorative amusement.




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