Thursday, July 03, 2014

La femme 100 têtes

It might have been 1968? I became very interested in the dada anti art movement of the early 20th century. I had begun to draw comics and design posters and was intensely interested in art history. I became fascinated with Alfred Jarry and the Pere Ubu plays, but one day, I discovered the work of Max Ernst. Ernst constantly invented new ways to create which he used and were rapidly copied by his comrades. Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhn, Germany and much of his work was confiscated by
a grattage, an image created from rubbing graphite on
paper over a texture to "liberate" it
the Nazis and used in their shows of degenerate art. By that time, he had moved to France and had allied himself with the surrealists. He invented relentlessly. He was a skilled draftsman and painter, but he would look at the patterns of wood grain and use what his imagination saw as a departure into
L'ange du foyer
1937 oil on canvas
his own personal mythology. He would make rubbings of the wood grain to release the images he saw. He would slather paint on canvases, stick them together then pull them apart and then let his subconscious suggest the subject matter. When WW2 broke out, he was living in France and was involved in creating his own world, an incredible house with his companion,  the surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington. He was a German citizen, so he was arrested by the French and put into an internment camp. Through the intercession of his friends, he was released. When he got back to his house, he had found that Leonora had suffered a mental breakdown and had sold the property for a bottle of brandy. Shortly after, the Germans invaded France and he was arrested by the Gestapo. In a series amazing episodes, he managed to escape with the help of Peggy Guggenheim and Marcel Duchamp. He married Guggenheim and she got him pout of Europe and they moved to New York. Marcel Duchamp had pretty incredible conceptual ruse going where he adopted an identity as a cheese exporter and managed to smuggle much of Ernst's work out of Europe disguised as cheese. In New York, he was involved with Guggenheim in a stormy relationship and kept creating relentlessly.  He started a series of paintings that involved hanging buckets of paint with a hole in the bottom from ropes and letting them swing over the canvases. One day Jackson Pollock visited him and saw what he was doing and Voila! After divorcing Guggenheim, Ernst moved to Arizona and lived for years with his wife, the painter
The Bewildered Planet
Ernst, 1942, frottage, drip, oil on canvas
Dorthea Tanning. He died in 1976 after coming back to Europe and is buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The technique that had captivated me as youngster was his incredible collage work. He created a series of surreal "novels" by creating images by cutting up old commercial steel and wood engraved images in books. The works I acquired were the Dover Editions of La Semain de Bonte and La Femme 100 Tetes, first published in 1929. Here is a link to a PDF version of La Femme 100 Tetes.  I still have them and still refer to them for inspiration. In 1967, French film maker, Eric Duvivier attempted the impossible. He made a film version of La Femme 100 Tetes and I think, in pulling it off, he created something very unique. He recreated the collages. Some with just a few props and some with very elaborate sets. It was an incredible endeavor and succeeds. 
One of the original Ernst collages
for La Femme 100 Tetes

Why go to all this effort in 1967? The clue is in the name and logo of the producer—Sandoz—the pharmaceutical company that invented and manufactured LSD. Sandoz had a film division which they used to create promotional films for their products. Among the ones related to LSD are Images du monde visionnaire (1964), directed by Henri Michaux and Eric Duvivier, and (possibly) La femme 100 têtes. I say “possibly” only because I haven’t seen this confirmed but why else would a pharmaceutical company that just happened to make the world’s most famous hallucinogenic drug make a Surrealist film? Whatever the reason it’s a remarkable piece of work and a true homage to one of the most heroic, profoundly influential. relentlessly creative and quiet figures of art in our time. 
Duvivier's film re creation of the collage

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