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Journey Into the Sun: California Artists and Surrealism

1. William Copley, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dealer," in Paris—New York (Paris: Centre national d'art et culture Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, 1979), 6. [BACK]

2. In 1944 Morley, with Sidney Janis, organized another important survey, Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States . She was also responsible for organizing or bringing to San Francisco many monographic exhibitions of work by surrealists, including that of Ernst, Arshile Gorky, Charles Howard, Madge Knight, André Masson, Matta, Isamu Noguchi, Onslow-Ford, Wolfgang Paalen, Kay Sage, Clay Spohn, and Tanguy. In 1935, moreover, she organized the first museum exhibition of Los Angeles Post-Surrealism, which traveled to the Brooklyn Museum the following year. Douglas MacAgy, who later directed the California School of Fine Arts and championed abstract expressionism, worked under Morley during this period. He was then a champion of surrealism and highly supportive of the Bay Area artists Charles Howard and Clay Spohn. [BACK]

3. On the relationship between surrealism and World Wars I and II, see Sidra Stich, Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art (University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, 1990); and William S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1964), 211. By the late 1920s, the surrealists found it difficult to remain in an isolated world of ideas, aloof from political action. Many of them admitted then that social revolution was essential, that the revolution of the mind and spirit could not cope independently with problems related to social revolution, but only in cooperation. Breton and some of the other surrealists joined the Communist Party in 1927, and in the second manifesto of 1929, surrealism was defined as a political revolution. [BACK]

4. As the cultural historian Michael Meyer has noted, "Los Angeles typified and typifies modernity in its mobility and artificiality . . . . Everything and everybody is uprooted and imported . . . the intellectual elite of European culture, ever enriching, contradicting, and reinforcing the latest level of indigenous achievement and establishment" ("Traditional and Popular Culture: Los Angeles in the 1940s," Southern California Quarterly 69, no. 4 [Winter 1987]: 293-94). [BACK]

5. See Naomi Sawelson-Gorse, "Hollywood Conversations: Duchamp and the Arensbergs," in West Coast Duchamp , ed. Bonnie Clearwater (Miami Beach, Fla.: Grassfield Press, 1991), 24-45, for a discussion of the Arensberg collection and its importance to the artistic development of Southern California. Through this collection many artists had direct contact with dada and surrealist art. Though the extent to which the collection fueled surrealist experimentation in Southern California has not been determined, its works by Duchamp, Ernst, Magritte, Miró, Mondrian, Brancusi, Calder, and Dalí, among others, may have influenced the direction Feitelson's art would soon take. [BACK]

6. In this the Post-Surrealists were thematically allied with the late surrealist artists such as Onslow-Ford and Matta. [BACK]

7. Diane Moran, "Helen Lundeberg," in Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg: A Retrospective Exhibition (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1980), 24. Feitelson introduced his students to diverse directions: classical working methods, such as master drawing techniques, and instruction in art history: the art of the Renaissance, Mannerism, cubism, futurism, and surrealism. He also took them to see the Arensberg collection. [BACK]

8. Diane Moran, "Post-Surrealism: The Art of Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg," Arts 57 (December 1982): 128. [BACK]

9. As Whitney Chadwick has observed, the surrealist attitude toward women was always ambivalent. See her complete treatment of this subject, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (Boston: Little, Brown, 1985). [BACK]

10. See Susan Ehrlich, Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists, 1920-1956 , exh. brochure (Laguna Art Museum, 1991), n.p. See also Joseph E. Young, "Helen Lundeberg: An American Independent," Art International 15 (September 1971): 47. [BACK]

11. Young, "Helen Lundeberg: An American Independent," 46. [BACK]

12. Susan Ehrlich, "Knud Merrild," in Paul J. Karlstrom and Susan Ehrlich, Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists, 1920-1956 (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1990), 138-41. [BACK]

13. Victoria Dailey, "Knud Merrild: Change and Chance," in Knud Merrild (Los Angeles: Steve Turner Gallery, 1991), 10. [BACK]

14. Jules Langsner, Knud Merrild: 1894-1954 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1965), 5. [BACK]

15. Other artists who exhibited with the Post-Surrealists were Helen Klokke, Ethel Evans, Etienne Ret, Harold Lehman, and Elizabeth Mills. See Moran, "Post-Surrealism: The Art of Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg" (as in note 7), 125. [BACK]

16. Feitelson wielded considerable political power himself as supervisor of murals, paintings, and sculpture for the Southern California Federal Art Project. [BACK]

17. The ideal the surrealists sought was to transcend social and economic approaches to experience and to function independent of, though side by side with, political revolution so that the experiments of the inner life could continue. [BACK]

18. Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 74, 75. [BACK]

19. Jules Langsner, "About Man Ray: An Introduction," in the exh. cat. Man Ray (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966), 9. Like Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp was an important presence in Los Angeles during the period, through the patronage of Walter and Louise Arensberg. Duchamp and Man Ray had been the catalysts of the Arensbergs' New York salon, which was the unofficial center of the New York dada movement in the teens. The Arensbergs revered and were deeply committed to Duchamp. His work, including Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 , made up the core of their extensive and renowned art collection (Naomi Gorse, "Hollywood Conversations: Duchamp and the Arensbergs," in West Coast Duchamp [as in note 5], 25). Duchamp's influence also extended to Northern California artists in the 1940s through Clay Spohn, who taught at the California School of Fine Arts during the period and had met Duchamp in the 1920s in Paris through Charles Howard. When Duchamp participated in the 1949 "Western Round Table on Modern Art" in San Francisco, Spohn reconnected with him. A few months later Spohn created his Museum of Unknown and Little-Known Objects , a neodada installation of discrete objects at the California School of Fine Arts. [BACK]

20. Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination , 74. [BACK]

21. Ibid.; and Merry Foresta, "Exile in Paradise: Man Ray in Hollywood, 1940-1951," in National Museum of American Art, The Art of Perpetual Motif (New York: Abbeville Press, 1989), 285. [BACK]

22. Foresta, "Exile in Paradise," 297. [BACK]

23. This was the interpretation of the work by Susan Ehrlich in her essay "Man Ray," in Forty Years of California Assemblage (Wight Art Gallery, University of California at Los Angeles, 1989), 188. [BACK]

24. Fortune or chance was a popular theme with surrealist artists during the period. Many of their works alluded to the difficulties they faced in escaping from occupied France. [BACK]

25. Man Ray exhibited at the Pasadena Art Institute; the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art; the Circle Gallery; and the Modern Institute of Art. [BACK]

26. Foresta, "Exile in Paradise," 304; and Copley, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dealer" (as in note 1), 32. [BACK]

27. Charles Howard, quoted in Abstract and Surrealist American Art (Art Institute of Chicago, 1947), 16. [BACK]

28. According to the art historian Sidra Stich, "In Surrealist depictions, turbulence and frenzy, not logic and control, rule the universe. The illusion of harmony and ultimate or primal stasis is disclaimed, and a conception of human dominance, especially of reason as a regulating power, is torn asunder. Instead, a struggle between order and chaos is represented in which the dark forces of rupture and the vitality of the unknown reveal new or alternative possibilities" ( Anxious Visions [as in note 3], 108). [BACK]

29. For more about the Howard family, see Stacey Moss, The Howards: First Family of Bay Area Modernism (Oakland Museum, 1988), 7. See also Susan M. Anderson, Pursuit of the Marvelous: Stanley William Hayter, Charles Howard, Gordon Onslow Ford (Laguna Art Museum, 1990), and Douglas Dreishpoon, "Some Thoughts on the Enigmatic Charles Howard," in Drama of the Mind: Charles Howard, 1899-1978 (New York: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1993). [BACK]

30. Edmund Burke, Philosophical Treatise into the Origins of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1756) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), 73. See also Linda Dalrymple Henderson, "Mysticism, Romanticism, and the Fourth Dimension," in The Spiritual Art: Abstract Painting, 1890-1985 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986), 221. [BACK]

31. Gerald Cullinan, "Novel Exhibition Reflects Reactions of San Francisco Artists to Total," San Francisco Call-Bulletin , January 10, 1942. [BACK]

32. Sidney Peterson, manuscript, ca. 1940, the Oakland Museum Art Library and Archives of California Art, n.p. [BACK]

33. Basil Taylor, introduction to Charles Howard (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1956), 9. [BACK]

34. Howard was at the center of the circle of Bay Area modernists that included Adaline Kent, Robert Howard, Madge Knight, and Clay Spohn, all of whom took a surrealist approach. Until his arrival in the Bay Area few other artists were experimenting with surrealism: Matthew Barnes and Lucien Labaudt were prominent among them. [BACK]

35. Douglas MacAgy, "A Margin of Chaos," Circle 10 (Summer 1948): 41. [BACK]

36. Howard's impact on the art of California during the early 1940s may have been as important as Man Ray's but possibly not as far-reaching. It has indirectly influenced diverse artistic generations, however—even such contemporary artists as Wally Hedrick and Jeremy Anderson, whose sense of form was molded by the organic abstraction of Bay Area artists such as Howard, Adaline Kent, and Robert Howard. [BACK]

37. See Rebecca Solnit, Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era (San Francisco: City Lights, 1990), 25-56, for an in-depth look at the Bay Area during the 1950s and the Beat poets and artists. [BACK]

38. Wolfgang Paalen spoke of San Francisco in these terms. Quoted in Amy Winter, "Dynaton—the Painter/Philosophers," in Dynaton Before and Beyond (Malibu: Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, 1992), 16. [BACK]

39. Lee Mullican, interviewed by Joann Phillips, Los Angeles Art Community, Group Portrait, Oral History Program, University of California at Los Angeles, 1977, 90. See also Mullican, interviewed by Paul Karlstrom, May 1992-March 1993, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. For more on the Dynaton, see Winter, Dynaton Before and Beyond . [BACK]

40. Matta and Onslow-Ford wanted to show the interrelationship between the perceived world and the higher dimensions. See Gordon Onslow-Ford, Towards a New Subject in Painting (San Francisco Museum of Art, 1948); and Anderson, Pursuit of the Marvelous (as in note 29), for more thorough discussions of the interaction between Matta and Onslow-Ford. [BACK]

41. See Martica Sawin, "'The Third Man,' or Automatism American Style," Art Journal 47, no. 3 (Fall 1988): 184. In Paris in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the war, Onslow-Ford created chance patterns by freely pouring Ripolin enamel on canvas laid on the ground and watching the colors run together, sometimes peeling off layers to enhance the illusion of depth. These paintings, which he called coulages (from the French verb "to pour" or "to flow"), predated by some years both Knud Merrild's and Jackson Pollock's poured paintings. The exploration of chance in automatic processes had been central to surrealism's inception. [BACK]

42. See Henderson, "Mysticism" (as in note 30), 229; and Anderson, Pursuit of the Marvelous , for more about the contribution of later surrealism. [BACK]

43. See Marica Sawin, "'The Third Man,'" 181—86; and The Interpretive Link: Abstract Surrealism into Abstract Expressionism (Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1986). [BACK]

44. In Mexico until the late 1940s Onslow-Ford created inner psychological dramas or journeys through vast cosmic landscapes in which beings, or personnages , having a reality of their own, interacted. Although the paintings, like the personnages , underwent changes over a period of several years, they can be seen as a continuum of transformative imagery striving to express the cosmic interrelatedness of all things. [BACK]

45. Henry Hopkins, "Visionaries," Antiques and Fine Art 9, no. 3 (March/April 1992): 76. [BACK]

46. Robert Motherwell, quoted by Sylvia Fink, "Dynaton Revisited," in the exh. cat. California: Five Footnotes to Modern Art History (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977), 36. [BACK]

47. The writer and poet Jacqueline Johnson, married to Onslow-Ford, also participated in the group, contributing an essay for the catalogue Dynaton 1951 (San Francisco Museum of Art, 1951), published to accompany the exhibition. [BACK]

48. Paalen essay in Dynaton 1951 , 26. [BACK]

49. Ibid. [BACK]

50. The viewer's encounter with the artwork was intrinsic to the Dynaton as advanced by the theories of Paalen. According to Lee Mullican, Time magazine published an article on Paalen that was widely quoted: "Paalen put the future of Modern Art into focus when he suggested that, just as the spectator may question the painting , in turn, the painting may examine the viewer, and as well ask, 'what do you represent? '" (Mullican, interview as in note 39, 65-66). [BACK]

51. Lee Mullican, "Thoughts on the Dynaton, 1976," in California: Five Footnotes , 41. [BACK]

52. Ibid., 36, 39. [BACK]

53. Gordon Onslow-Ford, interviewed by Ted Lindberg, March 26, 1984, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 41. [BACK]

54. California has always been more open to the influence of Mexico and the Pacific Rim than to that of New York or Europe. The art and philosophy of Eastern religions and pre-Columbian and Mexican native cultures have consistently informed art-making in the state. [BACK]

55. While frontier living usually lacks the energetic intensity of city life, popular culture and the film industry in Southern California have provided some of the same dynamics. Moreover, the sense of being outsiders on a cultural frontier has more closely bound artists and intellectuals together in the region. "Low culture" and the freedom to experiment fostered an environment in which artists less concerned than those in the East with the stature of their work created a less self-conscious art. Popular culture and fine art merged and distinctions between art categories and media dissolved. Experimentation in the region has been the rule rather than the exception, and hybrids of opposing styles have been not only possible but natural. Los Angeles thus has been hailed as the prototypical postmodern city. See Paul J. Karlstrom, "Modernism in Southern California, 1920-1956: Reflections on the Art and the Times," in Karlstrom and Ehrlich, Turning the Tide (as in note 12), 13-42. [BACK]

56. The European surrealists had been the first generation of artists to grow up on cinema. In the beginning the movies had helped shape surrealism; later, the direction of influence was reversed. Surrealism in the arts affected not only the underground film scene in California (the films of Wallace Berman and Bruce Conner, for example) but the entire film industry in Southern California and popular culture as a whole. [BACK]

57. Glenn Wessels, Art Digest (October 15, 1934): 17. [BACK]

58. California gave birth to Post-Surrealism in an egalitarian and didactic era in American culture. Although the region may have been surrealist by bent, it was striving less for absolute freedom or political liberty than for democratic and economic equilibrium. While surrealism posited a radical break with all tradition and institutional structure, 1930s Post-Surrealism paradoxically embraced the American Scene and the objectives of the federal art projects. Aspects of Post-Surrealism fall within the parameters of American regionalism, though the movement indisputably belongs to the modernist dialogue. [BACK]

59. Jules Langsner, Man Ray (as in note 19), 9. [BACK]

60. For a complete discussion of the art of Los Angeles artists of the 1960s and 1970s, see Charles Desmarais, Proof: Los Angeles Art and the Photograph, 1960-1980 (Laguna Art Museum, 1992). [BACK]

61. Jules Langsner, "Permanence and Change in the Art of Lorser Feitelson," Art International 7 (September 1963): 75. [BACK]

62. Ibid. [BACK]

63. In particular, John McLaughlin, in his search for absolute void, created an aesthetics of the desert and sea, of emptiness and absolute stillness. [BACK]

64. During the early years of Douglas MacAgy's directorship at the school, before the arrival of Still, numerous faculty members had worked in a semiabstract or surrealist style. MacAgy's wife, Jermayne MacAgy, who was acting director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor during the war period, showed Jackson Pollock in 1945 and Rothko in 1946—both artists were then making paintings heavily influenced by surrealism. These exhibitions had an impact on Bay Area art. For example, Elmer Bischoff's 1946 painting The Girls of Jermayne MacAgy was reminiscent of Rothko's Slow Swirl by the Edge of the Sea . Rothko taught summer sessions at the California School of Fine Arts in 1947 and 1949. His positive attitude toward surrealism helped offset some of Still's negativity. See Michael Leonard, "A History of Painting at the California School of Fine Arts, 1940-1960," master's thesis, San Francisco State University, 1985, 42 and 50-56 passim. [BACK]

65. Susan Landauer, "Clyfford Still and Abstract Expressionism in San Francisco," in Michael Auping et al., Clyfford Still (Munich: Prestel, 1992), 97. According to Landauer, in a letter to me, July 29, 1990, when the prominent printmaker Stanley William Hayter introduced surrealist automatic principles and thought to Bay Area artists in 1948 through a series of public lectures and classes at the California School of Fine Arts, John Hultberg and Frank Lobdell walked out of his painting class. Although Hayter and his teachings were still very much in favor in New York at this time, he was apparently not very popular at the school. Even so, it is likely that Hayter inspired artists in the Bay Area to visually and graphically express wartime horrors. The artist Reuben Kadish was one of those who studied with Hayter in 1940 at the California School of Fine Arts. See Anderson, Pursuit of the Marvelous (as in note 29), 14-25, for more about Hayter's California contribution. [BACK]

66. Among the other friends of the Dynaton artists were Richard Bowman, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Rexroth, Philip Lamantia, Harry Partch, Alan Watts, Adaline Kent, Robert Howard, Charles Howard, and Stanley William Hayter. [BACK]

67. Artists who exhibited their work at the Six Gallery include Deborah Remington, Peter Shoemaker, David Simpson, Leo Vallador, Sonia Gechtoff, William Morehouse, Sandra Carlson, and Harvard King. [BACK]

68. Anderson, Pursuit of the Marvelous (as in note 29), 35. [BACK]

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