Paris in the 1930's
On Jules Pascin:
To draw unobserved he worked out a cramped method of preliminary sketching executed in his coat pocket on stiff paper with a pencil stub: his models remained unaware of being sketched.
He was seen passing the Cabaret du Neant, a name surely appropriate to his contemplations, non-etre, not to be... nothingness. Pascin deplored an evident decline of quality in the work of such painters as the Dutchman Van Dongen who had been one of the original Fauves (the Wild Ones) now grown tame and fashionable. Kisling too had discovered that his hollow-eyed portraits became appealing and collectible the larger and more sentimental the model's wistful stare. Decadence set in, what was once daring had become commercially chic.
Joyce and his friendship suffered a series of setbacks because of McAlmons lightminded flippancy in matters Joyce considered sacred and from an increasing disillusionment, (on McAlmon’s part), with the obeisance expected of the Joycean acolyte, Sylvia Beach considered that Joyce had “earned” this undivided devotion of his followers, but McAlmon in the 1930s began to stray.
Joyce’s Irish sense of humor could condone such incidents as the stir McAlmon caused at the reading of Anna Livia Plumbelle, a lyric section from Joyce’s Work in Progress (Fiimegans Wake). The reading was held at Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop since‘ the ALP section, as it was known in short, had been translated into French (already difficult enough in the original English) by Valery Larbaud and others, the audience, naturally, predominantly French literary dignitaries. McAlmon was a reluctant participant to what he considered a secular version of High Mass and at one point, as the audience sat in hushed reverence, McAlmon raised his hands, palms together, in a gesture of mock prayer. Immediately a Frenchman rose from his seat and slapped McAlmon’s face. It turned out that the Frenchman (Edouard Dujardin, who was said to have originated the technique of “interior monologue” Joyce had adapted so brilliantly in Ulysses) was not protesting McAlmon’s irreverence toward the séance but thought McAlmon was mocking his wife's thick ungainly ankles, about which he was sensitive to the point of obsession.
This was “Gala,” Elena Dimitrovna Diakanova, formerly married, the surrealist poet Paul Eluard. Known as “the surrealists’ muse“(}a Was the centerpiece in an uneasy ménage a trois with Eluard and painter Max Ernst, until Dali contrived a secret rendezvous with he, and overcame his lifelong impotency-according to his unreliable account in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalz’ at first sight.
For this initial tryst, or grotesque encounter, Dali was wearing a silk shirt with the sleeves cut away to reveal armpits painted blue. He sported a dog collar of pearls, a pair of bathing trunks donned backwards, and a geranium behind his ear. Somehow this outlandish ensemble “on Gala’s heart-or appealed to her Russian temperament, or over. whelmed her as a result of the scent Dali had concocted from sheep dung boiled in fish oil flavored with essence of aspic.
“I swear to you,” Dali swore to Gala, “that I am not ‘coprophagic." This was to account for the minutely detailed merde depicted in some of his paintings. “I consciously loathe that type of abberration . . . burl consider scatology as a terrorizing element, just as I do blood, or my phobia for grasshoppers.”
Gala confessed to an obsession of her own, a death wish brought on by the instant, wanting suddenly to be slain by Dali’s hand, a desire that strangely coincided with the very thought of killing Gala that Dali himself had entertained.
DALI WAS THE leading exemplar of a movement to which Picasso only marginally subscribed. (Cofounder of cubism with Braque, Picasso now abandoned the group theory of art and was content to remain a school of one.) Picasso did, however, share his poetry with Breton and designed the very first cover for Breton’s surrealist journal. Minotaure. The mythical beast-a bull’s head upon a lusty male torso-became an iconlike motif in Picasso’s life and work, and immediately inspired a series of lithographs, drawing, and paintings. Evidently Picasso identified his own sexual nature with the man-beast symbol, a signature creature that appears repeatedly in his work.
Minotaure as a journal, was not as doctrinaire as its Marxist-inspired founder, André Breton, and not all contributors to its pages were hardline surrealists (or Communists), Picasso for one, and certainly not Matisse.
Surrealism evolved from the épater-le-bourgoeis antics of Philippe Soupault, Tristan Tzara, and Francis Picabia, when dada was the rage in Paris and “anything goes” attitudes directed or misdirected the dadaists. André Breton refined that movement into a more disciplined philosophy of Marxist thought combined with Freudian dream theory applied to experimental verse, “automatic writing," and later to modern painting.
Cafe manifestos were drawn up; Breton was joined by poets Louis Aragon (whom Dali referred to as “a nervous little Robespierre“) and Paul Eluard in defining the cult's doctrine. Considering the controversial natures and individualistic bent of painters and poets, it is surprising that the surrealist alignment remained unbroken for as long as it did. Throughout the 1930s the movement represented the predominant fashion in artistic and literary experiment. Even when the alliance dissolved, in the way of all such previous isms meant to define succeeding stages of modern art (fauvism, futurism, expressionism, cubism“ number of painters persisted in the surrealist mode. At least in France, dream imagery and sexual symbolism continued to appeal long after surrealism as a movement had faded from the Paris scene. Faithful to the Freudian influence ever after were Giorgio de Chirico, Yves Tanguy, Andre Masson, Max Ernst-and above all, Salvador Dali.
In his Mainfeste du Surrealisme, Andre Breton described the surreal approach to art as purely psychic automatism--the absence of all control exercised by reason. But Breton’s doctrinaire insistence was responsible for many of the defections and dismissals. One must write and paint as Breton prescribed. Alberto Giacometti innocently returned to the use of models for his sculptures: “When I did that the surrealists considered it a reactionary activity or whatever,” and he was dismissed from the ranks because of a practice banned by Breton. The poets Aragon and Eluard broke with Breton on ideological grounds, refusing to adhere to Trotskyist principles Breton attached to surrealism-and the same shift in party line so disturbed René Crevel, author of La mot!
dificile, that he committed suicide. Gertrude Stein pronounced the epitaph to surrealism: “They missed their moment of becoming civilized. . . . They wanted publicity, not civilization, and so really they never succeeded in being peaceful and exciting.”
Miro abandoned the art scene in Paris to return to his native Spain and Magritte quit the Paris group to return to Brussels where he founded the Belgian branch of the movement. Dali, the young turk. outlasted the breakup of the fraternity to become surrealism personified. "C'est moi," he declared, "et moi seule," after being dismissed by Breton who called him “Avida Dollars," a witty and pertinent anagram on the name Salvador Dali.