ANDRE MASSON. Combat. Private Collection
The excesses of Cubist discipline, the ponderous, constant recourse to intelligence, the straining after a premeditated plan of construction, the submission to an omnipotent rule and sacrifice of every last creative spark were bound to induce reaction. In the northern countries and even in parts of France, Expressionism was already regaining its sway.
The Dada movement, which was born in Switzerland in 1916, appeared as a revolt, a desperate protest of the individual, an assertion of the will to live in the face of social obligation. Faced with the unprecedented breakdown of reason, the horrible betrayal of confidence and human hopes, the only outlet was absurdity, the void, the complete negation of the rational world. Soon groups were formed, made up primarily of the literary talents of France, Germany and even the United States. They engaged in a frantic effort to destroy, by means of ridicule and scandalous publicity, all accepted standards and at the same time to undermine the prestige of reason.
Before they had scattered over the world, these refractory elements met in Paris for a few years. The poet André Breton proposed to give their subversive enterprise a less negative character and explore to the full this defensive reaction of instinct. Surrealism, which he founded in 1924 and still rules undisputed, became an unprecedented glorification of the instinctive forces. It was defined by him in his first and successive manifestos as: "Psychic automatism by means of which we propose to define. . . . the true function of thought, dictated in the absence of all control of reason and situated beyond æsthetic or moral preoccupations." Further the aims of Surrealism were "to give back its original freshness to the thinking process" and to "try to perceive more and more clearly what resides, unknown to the individual, within the depths of his mind."
The following year, André Breton presented his first group show of Surrealist artists. In it figured Masson, Miro, Klee, Max Ernst and Chirico, to be later joined by Dali and others.
When it comes to the immediate transcription of consciousness, two methods offer themselves to the Surrealists: to explore the domain of the irrational; and to liberate everything stifled, hardened by habit and conformism, thus carrying the effort into the realm of psychological investigation. Whether making use of automatic writing, which merely means permitting the creative instinct to express itself freely in the face of reality, whether consulting dreams with all their obsessions, their sexual frustrations, their unlikely sequences, their mysterious associations, here was a means of discovering those buried impulses which elude reason but which Freud, in his recent books, has proved to be behind even the smallest human act.
In what seems almost a linear debauch, in interlacing, sensuous curves feverishly scattered over the canvas, Masson seems to deliver himself of a deep sense of tragedy frequently colored by eroticism. His cursive, hasty writing quivers with an intense, innate life, the canvases are animated by a prodigious seething of forms and personages. Withal, this eruption remains the expression of a painter in possession of his best talents, master of the lyricism to which he gives such intelligent rein.
No less lucid and impulsive in his mustering of poetic images, Miro brings to them an elegant fantasy which dissembles the profound seriousness of the true Spaniard. The strange, heterogeneous symbols with which he sows his empty spaces, their sonorous colors suggest totemic incantations and convey genuine magic power.
Recoiling from anything even indirectly related to the physical world, Klee proceeds by roundabout allusion, even by contradiction. His graffiti, his color spots intermingled with a rare delicacy, his fragile rubbings burgeoning into intangible form have the charm of suggestion, gradually drawing the observer under their spell.