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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

APPROACHES - In The Words Of . . . .

From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988.

Max Ernst

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Natural Histories
1926- Writings and Theories

Botticelli did not like landscapes and thought they were a genre deserving "short and mediocre investigation." He also said, scornfully, that "if one threw a sponge soaked in different colors against a wall, the trace left would be seen as a beautiful landscape." This drew a severe admonition from his colleague Leonardo da Vinci: "In order to be universal and please different tastes, a composition must be made to include some areas of darkness and others of soft penumbra. In my view, it is not to be frowned upon if, on certain occasions, you stop to contemplate traces on walls, in ashes, in clouds, or in rivers. And if you examine them closely, you will discover admirable inventions that the painter may, with his genius, use to compose battles of animals and humans, landscapes or monsters, demons and other fantastic things that will do honor" . . .

On August 10, 1925, an intolerable visual obsession made me discover the technical means that enabled me to put Leonardo's lesson into practice in a very broad manner. Starting from a childhood memory in which a panel of false mahogany across from my bed provoked a vision in my mind while I was half asleep, and, being in an inn by the sea during a rainfall, I became obsessed and irritated with the patterns of grooves in the floor, accentuated by thousands of washings. I decided to investigate the meaning of this obsession and, to aid my meditative and hallucinatory faculties, I made a series of drawings from the floorboards by randomly putting sheets of paper over them and rubbing graphite against the sheets. Closely examining the drawings obtained, the dark areas and other, I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary faculties and the haunting succession of contradictory images superimposing each other with a persistence and speed that may be characteristic of the fleeting memories of a romance . . .

The fact must be stressed that drawings so obtained gradually lose, through a sequence of suggestions and transmutations that arise spontaneously--as happens with hypnagogic images--the character of the matter being investigated [the wood, for example] to take on the form of unexpectedly precise images, so as to reveal, probably, the initial cause of the obsession or to reproduce a semblance of that cause . . .

This rubbing procedure relies therefore on nothing more than an intensification of the irritability of the faculties of the mind by appropriate technical means, excluding any conscious mental conduction [through reason, taste, or morals], reducing to an extreme degree the active role of the one who has thus far been called the "author" of the work . . . . Consequently, this procedure proves to be the true equivalent of what is already known as Automatic Writing. The author participates as a spectator, indifferent or passionately involved, of the birth of his work and observes the stages of its development.

Max Ernst, The History of A Natural History

[An Exerpt From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988. p. 258]




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