Categories: Visual Arts

Master surrealists find inspiration from physics

Born in modern times, the surrealist movement produced a startlingly new kind of painting, with illogical scenes and bizarre subjects linked to early psychology’s studies of the mind. But as a current exhibition of works by surrealist artists reveals, these pictures also reflect landmark discoveries made in early 20th-century physics.

“Science and Surrealism” at Gallery Wendi Norris contains 20 works by surrealist artists influenced by the “new physics,” especially quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. Inspired by Gavin Parkinson’s book “Surrealism, Art and Modern Science,” the show is described by gallery owner Norris as the first exhibit to center on the relationship between modern physics and surrealism.

Surrealism originated in the 1920s, arising from Dadaism. Characterized by incongruous juxtapositions and precise renderings of nonsensical scenarios, surrealist art initially reflected the movement’s fascination with the emerging field of psychology and Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams.

For some artists, physics surpassed psychology as an inspiration. Concepts such as subatomic particles, electromagnetic waves, Werner Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty, and Albert Einstein’s theories on the connection of space and time affected how they depicted the world.

The exhibition features rarely exhibited works by about 10 surrealists interested in such science. General surrealist themes and the sheer imagination associated with the movement, too, are on display.

Natural forces meet those of physical science in many of these works, including “Indicateur de L’Espace” (1934), an oil painting by Victor Brauner. In it, a cloaked fantasy figure consists of a strange mix of organic and mechanical matter. A human foot appears in a hole on the floor, where the tile design defies perspective as we know it.

“Star Travel” (1938) is a gouache and watercolor painting by the Chile-born artist Roberto Matta, known for his cosmic scenes and space-related subjects. The work appears to depict the travel of light.

Max Ernst’s “Fleurs – Coquillages (Shell Flowers)” (1928) is a gouache-on-paper work from a series. Shell-like objects containing patterns of nature appear to have emerged from an ocean primeval.

In Yves Tanguy’s oil painting “Je Te Retrouve/Objet Trouve” (1938), odd organic objects, accompanied by similarly shaped forms suggesting extraterrestrial stick figures, occupy an alien-looking landscape. Childhood visits to the seaside and its tide pools inspired Tanguy’s art.

Marcel Jean’s “Sonde Magnetique” (1970), a gouache (flottage) work, depicts the dynamics of magnetism.

Additional featured artists include Gordon Onslow Ford, Wolfgang Paalen, Kurt Seligmann and Remedios Varo. The latter, whose paintings feature isolated female or androgynous figures, was often, due to her gender, unacknowledged as a significant member of the movement.

The exhibition also contains 1930s works on paper by Frantisek Janousek, in which distorted images resemble elements of the human body.

IF YOU GO

Science and Surrealism
Where: Gallery Wendi Norris, 161 Jessie St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. most Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 1
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 346-7812, www.gallerywendinorris.com

Anita Katz

Recent Posts

Nov. 18-20: Disney Junior Dance Party on Tour, End of Life Resource Fair, Castle in the Sky, Marion Nestle, Sonics, Esperanza Spalding, Bandstand, Volti and Left Coast Ensemble, Good Charlotte, Thanks to Hank

SUNDAY, NOV. 18 Disney Junior Dance Party on Tour: The 90-minute interactive concert experience for kids and families features live…

24 mins ago

SF Preps: San Francisco Section postpones football semifinals to Thanksgiving Week

The smoke and ash from the Camp fire in Butte County continues to impact local high school sports in the…

2 hours ago

In first hearing to appeal SF scooter permit loss, Spin alleges ‘biased’ process

Scooter company Spin lost its bid to operate in San Francisco but now it’s trying to spin that decision around.…

16 hours ago

California fires: Death toll in Paradise rises to 71; more than 1,000 unaccounted for

The death toll from California’s worst fire rose to 71 on Friday, with more than 1,000 people still unaccounted for.…

16 hours ago

SF residents urged to stay indoors, avoid smoky air

As poor air quality persists throughout the Bay Area from the Camp Fire in Butte County--the deadliest fire in California's…

18 hours ago

University of San Francisco Dons men’s and women’s basketball Sunday games moved to Monterey

With the air quality index in theSan Francisco Bay Area continuing to hover between very unhealthy and hazardous, the University…

19 hours ago