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                    Doesn’t the Paint Say It All?    DORTHEA TANNING (KASMIN) 

Andre Breton, poet and critic, published The Surrealist Manifesto in 1924.  Surrealism was to unite conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in ‘an absolute reality, a surreality.’ ”Brittanica  

Dorthea Tanning, known as a surrealist artis, along with her husband, Max Ernest, would not describe her later paintings as surrealism.  But these paintings are akin to the “trance between two worlds” that Breton described as “the magic dictation: of automatic revelation.”  

Doesn’t the Paint Say It All?  DORTHEA TANNING (KASMIN), a new book about Tanning’s later work, examines these singular paintings from  a pivotal one-woman show. Art scholars Mary Ann Caws, Pamela Johnson, Kate Conley and Victoria Carruthers have traced Tanning’s journey after surrealism to these extraordinary visions. There is an introduction by Johnson, essays and Tanning’s “To Paint,” about her process. Such intense visceral emotion is not often depicted in paint or exhibited. Here whether raw, erotic or playful, the paintings reflect the integrity of Tanning’s uncompromising vision. 


 For Tanning, Caws explains, “Behind your eyes” stands in for a secret space behind doors about to open. The door is a two-way mirror opening onto a canvas that reflects back and can be penetrated.” DOOR 84 (1984) above continues this theme, which emerged in her 1942 painting BIRTHDAY below.


 ”When I was assembling the  anthology Surrealism and Women, Caws writesshe (Tanning) wrote she had no desire to be a ‘women surrealist,’ since she was an artist, not a ‘woman artist,’ and of course hated to bear any label.” 

“She remained both in and out of the project as an artist and a writer, which perfectly characterized her perception and unique status  She was herself  a door leading in and out, openess and secrecy uniquely incarnate.” 

Portrait de famille (left)

 (Family Portrait) 1977. 
FAMILY is a verticle column of bodies. Separate and connected. Individuals have little identity. They are flesh– connected generations. It’s a shocking painting.
Carnality, is a word  often limited to sexuality. Yet being human in this painting is about sensuality, flesh of a human animal. The body is how one human builds on the life of another. Rather than rational or spiritual aspects of human beings, the focus is the body in this painting. Yet…
At the base of this Family column sits a clothed young girl. Apart but also cradled bythe column, the girl is unaware. Her focus is on the baby doll she cradles.   
An innocent in shadow, you see the curve of the girl’s blonde hair, a puffed sleeve, her face entranced by the doll. The mystery of where nurturing desire leads,-flesh and pain, is hidden. Shocking and true. 
Woman Artist, Nude, Standing 1985-87.
This painting  was continually painted, until done. Woman has a head encased in a sawed-off tree trunkwith an apple in hair-leaves. Her body is naked and in motion inside and out. It’s surrounded by a porous looking cosmos. Perhaps this is a “tree of knowledge,”which gives her insight–where her eyes are unseeing?  These are intimate painting that show courage with uncertainty. Tanning’s paintings are about a female experiencing her world–painted places unknown. I am pleased Art History has a new context for Tanning, beyond Ernst and the Surrealist label. 
Surrealism grew out of the earlier Dada movement, which before World War 1 produced works of  anti-art that deliberately defied reason. The idea was to“produce fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in, literature, theater by unnatural or irrational juxtapositions of combinations.”  Wikipedia
Why did surrealism defy “reason?” Dada was a reaction to the “rational” decisions of nations that led to the “War to end all wars,” 1914-1918.  Surrealism soon followed with WW2. Today, media-entranced humans are awakening to the danger of a third, perhaps final war. There is again anger at leaders and nations.Imaginative serious thinkers may yet evolve another powerful visual vocabulary of revolt. 
In 2024, the major purpose of fantastic incongruous images is to attract consumers. Consumerism, a highly “rational” but ultimately reductive ideology, has changed independent customers “voting with their wallets” to passive “consumers”of  offerings. Creative workers, as “content providers,”are not considered independent thinkers. They exist for exploitation. Copyrights have become less certificates of ownership than guidelines ignored by corporations rushing voracious robots to market. 
A Surreal era, to restore individual autonomy and life to our planet.  


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