DORA: The Art of Surrealism

“Why should one always begin at the beginning? As if life were linear …” ~ Maar, Adoration of Dora

Sans Titre by Dora Maar

KOLT’s next production, Adoration of Dora, is told in the style of Surrealism. Surrealism was the style that Dora Maar worked in as a photographer and Surrealist writers and artists composed the social circle with which she surrounded herself. Therefore, playwright Lojo Simon has used Surrealism as the style in which to tell Dora’s story.

In Adoration of Dora, the character of Dora Maar is split between two actresses – one as the primary personality and one as the shadow self and inner critic. Scenes flow into one another and the play does not follow a linear timeline. Dora’s friends – Jacqueline, Valentine and Nusch – morph into fantasies and nightmares that taunt her. A tragic bombing is recreated onstage and two women fighting over a man transforms into a Spanish bullfight. So what is Surrealism?

Surrealism has come to be seen as the most influential movement in twentieth century art. Figures like Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte and Man Ray not only had an important influence on avant-garde art, but through their commercial work – in fashion photography, advertising and film – they brought the style to a huge popular audience. The Surrealist impulse to tap the subconscious mind, and their interests in myth and primitivism, went on to shape the Abstract Expressionists, and they remain influential today.

The Surrealists … defined drawing very broadly. They invented or breathed new life into drawing techniques like frottage (pencil rubbings) and the game of exquisite corpse. They commandeered collage and took it places the Cubists never dreamed of. They also tended to crossbreed such techniques (as well as photography) in all sorts of enriching ways. ~ Roberta Smith, ‘Drawing Surrealism’ Art Show Review 2013

Surrealism was officially founded in Paris in 1924, when André Breton wrote Le Manifeste du Surréalisme. In this, he proposed that artists should seek access to their unconscious mind in order to make art inspired by this realm. As a reaction to the horrors of World War I, Surrealism was embraced by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Discarding rationalism and literary realism, and powerfully influenced by Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists believed the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos. Influenced also by Karl Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution. Their emphasis on the power of the imagination puts them in the tradition of Romanticism, but they believed that revelations could be found on the street and in everyday life.

The visual artists who first worked with Surrealist techniques and imagery were the German Max Ernst, the Frenchman André Masson, the Spaniard Joan Miró, and the American Man Ray. Masson’s free-association drawings of 1924 are curving, continuous lines out of which emerge strange and symbolic figures that are products of an uninhibited mind. Breton considered Masson’s drawings akin to his automatism in poetry. In 1927, the Belgian artist René Magritte moved from Brussels to Paris and became a leading figure in the visual Surrealist movement. Magritte painted erotically explicit objects juxtaposed in dreamlike surroundings. His work defined a new form of illusionistic Surrealism practiced by the Spaniard Salvador Dalí, the Belgian Paul Delvaux, and the French-American Yves Tanguy. Dalí moved from Spain to Paris and made his first Surrealist paintings. He expanded on Magritte’s dream imagery with his own erotically charged, hallucinatory visions. Breton praised Dalí’s representations of the unconscious in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism. They became the main collaborators on the review Minotaure, a primarily Surrealist-oriented publication founded in Paris.

“Surrealism also battled the social institutions – church, state, and family – that regulate the place of women within patriarchy. In offering some women their first locus for artistic and social resistance, it became the first modernist movement in which a group of women could explore female subjectivity and give form (however tentatively) to a feminine imaginary.” ~ art historian Whitney Chadwick

We’ve discussed the fraught experience women found with Surrealism in a previous post. But it was clear that many women were drawn to Surrealism for the freedom it allowed them to pursue nontraditional paths with their work. For Dora Maar, her photography utilized Surrealism’s dreamlike nature and eroticism.

The organized Surrealist movement in Europe dissolved with the onset of World War II. Breton, Dalí, Ernst, Masson and Matta, among others who first joined the Surrealists in 1937, left Europe for New York. In 1940, Breton organized the fourth International Surrealist Exhibition in Mexico City, which included the Mexicans Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Surrealism’s surprising imagery, deep symbolism, refined painting techniques, and disdain for convention influenced later generations of artists, including Jackson Pollock, Joseph Cornell and Arshile Gorky. There is no consensus as to when, and even if, Surrealism ever ended as an artistic or literary style. It continues to affect and influence literature and art across all disciplines, cultures and societies.


Adoration of Dora opens in less than two weeks and is already selling out! Join us for the ride – get your tickets on our website today!

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~ by KOLT Run Creations on October 13, 2015.

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