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Key Surrealist artists

Surrealism sought to explore dreams and the unconscious, originating amongst writers and poets seeking ways to bring their subconscious into reality, creating a super-reality in the process. Often featuring surprising juxtapositions and subjects, the artists within the movement took inspiration from the Dadaists and psychoanalysis, exploring techniques like automatism and dream analysis to create images on the canvas. Featuring some of the most popular and well known work from the Modern Art period, below are some of the key artists from the Surrealist movement.

Salvador Dali

A Spanish artist with formidable technical ability, Dali was nonetheless known for his remarkable surrealistic and dreamlike images, producing some of the classic works of the movement. He had studied the Renaissance and Impressionism, but was drawn to Cubism where he began to make his name, and then Surrealism where his ability really came through. Often controversial, he was fascinated by Freud and incorporated sexually suggestive imagery into his work, amongst a smorgasbord of inspirations from classical and Modern Art. Beyond the work he was also famous for his method; invoking a paranoid state in himself to create, reasoning that because paranoia would often draw links between things that are not linked, it allowed an access to the irrationalities of the subconscious.

René Magritte

Magritte was a Belgian artist, who also studied Impressionism, but rapidly bored of it and became influenced by Cubism, Symbolism, and Futurism, developing his own style and ideas which made him a perfect fit for the Surrealist group. His dreamlike images were popular and he became a leading figure, exhibiting alongside Dali, Miro, Arp, and Picasso. Whilst respected, he found little commercial success, and after the war he renounced the pessimism in his earlier work and produced several paintings in a colourful Fauvist style, then tried his hand at banknote forgery, before returning to Surrealist work, which would go on to inspire Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Pop Art.

Joan Miró

An artist who in many ways stood somewhat apart from Surrealism, Miró had a unique personal style which often displayed Expressionist and Fauvist elements, but was deeply interested in the unconscious and subconscious mind. Initially Fauvist in style, his work quickly evolved, incorporating ideals of Nationalism and Symbolism before he joined the Surrealist group. His work gained more focus and maintained a consistent symbolism and schematic language, which over time became increasingly political and adopted the bird, moon, and female symbolism so well known in his later work, which also extended into sculpture.

Max Ernst

With a lifelong interest in sketching and painting, Ernst studied a range of subjects such as philosophy and psychology, finding fascination in the artwork of the mentally ill and began to take in Post-Impressionist art such as Picasso and Gauguin, and produced Cubist and Expressionist works. He fought at the front during the First World War and was profoundly affected, becoming a pioneer of the anti-war Dada movement. Like many of the Dada artists he soon evolved further, becoming a pioneer in Surrealism as well, developing the technique of frottage. After finding himself noticing interesting patterns and shapes in the marks of a wooden floor, he began taking rubbings from textured surfaces and then creating images from the marks and patterns created.

Yves Tanguy

After military service in the navy and the army, Tanguy worked through several odd jobs until seeing the work of Giorgio de Chirico and being inspired to become a painter. He was introduced to the Surrealist artists and quickly found his place amongst them and managed to make enough money to laze into a bohemian lifestyle and become less productive. His work was very recognisable, with limited colour palettes and compositions appearing like an alien landscape, often drawn from dreams, or inspired by titles pulled from statements by mental patients.

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