Surrealism Art Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 1 June 2017

Surrealism Art

Surrealism is an international art movement, which draws from the depths of the subconscious mind and explores the human psyche. Frenchman Andre Breton, who described Surrealism as ‘pure automatism by which it is intended to express the true function of thought’, championed surrealism in the late 1920s’. In this period of time, the world was inflicted with the two major wars, that filled humanity with horror and unimaginable terror.

Some artists of this period were chosen illustrate these horrors by representing a psychedelic of images from the human mind or to seek an altered reality, which created the intellectual playground to these artists, as it aroused the philosophical argument of what is real and un-real. Surrealism is characterised by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter, using a fascination with the subconscious mind. It is a type of Fantasy art that defines a psychological element, attempting to create artworks that explore the artists’ perception of their dreams, fears and imaginings.

In turn, Surrealist artists attempt to represent their visions, by Looking through and creating an altered reality. This period of art dominated the art world during the period just before the Second World War, but still is current in the Postmodern world, continuing to flourish in its subjective approach to representing the imagination. “Surrealism! What is surrealism? In my opinion. It is above all a reawakening of the poetic idea in art, the reintroduction of a subject but in a particular sense, that of strange and illogical. ” (Paul Delvaux)

This quote is relevant when referring to the artist James Gleeson, as he explores the depths of the human subconscious mind, while creating his own imaginative world. He achieves this through the juxtaposition of seascapes with living organisms, self-portraits from the human fertile mind and the horror of social concerns through distorted imagery. Gleeson works mainly within a subjective context, where highly emotive paintings are drawn from the inner self . Gleeson paints to understand the difficulties faced with the stress and questions unknown in the modern world.

James Gleeson is known as one of Australia’s major painter and important poetic art critic. In his long-lasting career that blossomed from the late 1930’s to the 1960’s, Gleeson wrote the first text in Australia that defined the meaning of Surrealism, and was known as Australia’s leading Surrealist artist.. While working within a subjective context, influenced by Salvador Dali, Gleeson’s overriding concept behind his work is that ‘humanity is driven by the subconscious mind’.

Gleeson preferred to work in artificial light and avoided working in sunlight so that he was to paint his dreams and surreal landscapes in a more imaginative way. While the application of painting oil on canvas with luxurious textures of paint with a mixture of translucent glazes and rich encrustations, attracts his viewers, Gleeson’s works inspires the imagination of the viewer. In relevance to the quote ‘the reintroduction of a subject in a particular sense’ Gleeson’s works encourage his viewers to look through and beyond Surrealist’s artists concept of what is reality, and not only, the imagination of the subconscious mind.

Gleeson presents his viewers with a number of observations so vivid in concentration, in order to tap into our own secret fears; the fear of the unknown. “We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit” is presented with geological features of by a secluded beach. In which a man’s facial features and woman’s naked torso dissolve, revealing hollowness inside the figures. It was painted in 1940, just after joined Sydney’s Contemporary Art Society, where Gleeson became fascinated with the writings of famous psychologists, for which became major intellectual influences for his works.

“We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit” is in a traditional subjective context, with a historical form, as Gleeson’s metaphor for the dissolving figures in this piece, represents the corrosion of the world and the human mind between the world wars. Gleeson, like in almost all of his pieces, uses the method of abstraction to increase the sense of his altered reality and reawaken his audience to his subject matter. He has achieved this through his geometric composition of shapes, for which the placing of the objects is deliberate, yet absurd.

The large scaled landscape and close up confrontation of figures attract the viewer. He has used a saturated balance of colours as a visual sensation for his viewers, heightening a realistic feel, but destroying it with the corroded figures. This is a direct relationship in the work between Gleeson’s subjective context as well as the terror of his historical outlook. This painting is an example of how Gleeson encourages his viewers to look through the painting and into the depths behind his altered reality of the horrors of war and the human fertile mind.

We inhabit the corrosive littoral of Habit 1940 oil on canvas 40. 7 x 51. 3 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1941 © Courtesy of the artist In Gleeson’s piece “The Arrival of Implacable gifts,” he quotes that ‘The sea deposits all these things that were longed for, that turn out to be things that blind us or even destroy us’. Gleeson’s underlining message lies with the reintroduction of a subject in a particular sense of what draws from the subconscious mind for depicting reality.

While a seascape rocky shore is represented, it is juxtaposed with human-like organisms presented in this artwork. This painting was painted in 1985, oil on canvas, in the stage where Gleeson had moved to making large scale ‘Psychoscape’ paintings. These workings had been a way of showing liquid, solid and air coming together directly implying the interface between the conscious and subconscious mind. “The arrival of implacable gifts” represents a range of distorted rocks, monsters and shells in a twisting state of metamorphosis.

The imagery of this painting is abstractly beautiful yet horrific, denoting a feeling of uncertainty for the viewers, and promotes a dialogue with the unimaginable. He achieves this through the use of variance in contrasting colours of earthy tones. The deep space of softened green clouds hovering over the horizon juxtaposed with the swarming mass of rocks and monsters, of diluted earthy reds and browns, allowing his audiences eyes to drift throughout the painting into the imagination of the viewer.

He has used a rhythmic texture in the piece; helping to heighten and guide the surrealistic feeling of a dreamlike scenario. Instead of engaging his viewers to look at or in the painting, he creates a strange and illogical scenario to reawaken his audience to look through his altered reality. The Arrival of Implacable Gifts 1985 oil on canvas 198 x 245 cm Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney © Gleeson/O’Keefe Foundation My Body of Work has and will continue to explore the concept of looking through. Studying the altered realities of dreams, fears and imaginative has helped shaped my artist practice.

Through James Gleeson’s outstanding talent of juxtaposing symbolic objects with the use of rhythmic texture, contrasting colours and abstracted landscapes, Gleeson has effectively helped influence in shaping my body of work. The use of juxtaposing objects with landscapes through the representing of these images with a range of gentle contrasting colours and translucent layering also has heightened the altered reality feeling in my works. The wide use of abstraction has also been an effective tool when creating more emotive works for my Body of Work.

This has been a Direct influence from Gleeson, and he continues to inspire people all around the world with his outstanding reintroduction of a subject with the use of Surrealistic techniques. Gleeson has reawakened my views of Surrealism, to help paint from the subconscious mind and see way beyond what is seen with your eyes, but what lies within the imagination. “Surrealism is a word that is applied to those forms of creative art which are evolved, not from the conscious mind, but from the deeper sense of the subconscious”.

(James Gleeson) The subjective context denotes works that strongly reflect artist’s experiences, imaginings, feelings and psychological experience. For Gleeson, his artworks tends to explore his mood and imagery of the darker aspects of the world. Exploring the subconscious mind, and for that an altered reality in his eyes; Gleeson’s work is considered so significant because he allows his artworks to have an emotional impact on his viewers. In relevance to the quote; “Surrealism! What is surrealism? In my opinion.

It is above all a reawakening of the poetic idea in art, the reintroduction of a subject but in a particular sense, that of strange and illogical. ” (Paul Delvaux), James Gleeson works with his poetic side to create a reintroduction to his altered realities for his viewers.


Art Gallery of New South Whales. (2000). James Gleeson- The arrival of unplaceable gifts. Retrieved 08 15, 2013, from New South Whales Art Gallery: http://www. artgallery. nsw. gov. au/collection/works/225/1985 Donald WIlliams, C. S. (1970). Art Now- Contemporary Art. McGraw-Hill Book Company. Israel, L. (2000). Senior Artwise. Jacaranda.

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