SURREALISM’S EARTHLY VISIONS: carnivorous flowers of volcanic thought

Group Exhibition: Surrealism’s Earthly Visions

Opening November 3rd, 5-8pm

On view through November 24th

Comet Flowers by Penelope Rosemont

Laughing on the Outside by Winston SmithExplosive, irreverent, impossible dynamism—that is Surrealism. No one knew it better, could express it better, than poet Philip Lamantia as he did in the line we quote from Meadowlark West: “Carnivorous flowers of volcanic thought” that somehow puts desire on its sharpest edge and causes our idea of thought itself to explode red-hot lava. Ron Sakolsky says, “Surrealism must be prized for its uninhibited nature, unbounded by the reality police… it situates itself at the crossroads of desire and action, paying no attention to the stoplights of the status quo.”

An interesting thing about Surrealism is that while it invokes the marvelous, it is totally connected to visions of the Earth—no heavenly visions here, no angels playing trumpets, no pearly gates… If anything, Surrealists, along with Blake, Milton and the Romantics, are of the “Devil’s Party.” Surrealists turn towards desire and the deep passions at the core of our experience as human beings—and as very intelligent and troublesome animals.

“Beauty must be convulsive,” said André Breton. Lautréamont’s poetic visions of the cruel strength of the shark and the sensuality of the octopus still inspire Surrealists worldwide. These Surrealists have expressed their visions through painting, poetry, drama, film, stories—any and every human expression of desire in its infinite individuality.

Surrealists have especially wished to restore the delight, play, humor, and collective participation to everyday life, to art. While delighting in the uniqueness of each person’s expression, Surrealism long ago realized that games and collective play often result in extraordinary discoveries. Now, contemporary psychologists have arrived at the conclusion that games are good for the brain, stimulating the growth of new brain cells, and that being part of a social group also has benefits. We didn’t actually need them to tell us that. Everyday life in this society is robbed of joy by the constraints of work and war—it is necessary to resist, and try to build alternatives right here and now.

Object of Desire by Dennis CunninghamThe art world and advertising took up Surrealism in a big way at a certain point in the 1940s. There were Surrealist interludes in movies, Surrealist cartoons, Surrealist “designer hats.” Despite this commercial exploitation, Surrealism introduced a new way of seeing that has yet to be surpassed. It was too protean, too individualistic, too abstract, too specific, too just plain contradictory and difficult. It was a way of life. The artists themselves almost always were too political, too sexually odd, too demanding, to be depended on to produce pieces that would match your couch—or be easily labeled, pigeonholed. All of them not only wanted to create art but to write poems and manifestoes, too.

Surrealists love roving through the city streets, but they insist on defending the wolves and wild nature, too. They make collages and sculptures, but they want to change the world, too. The ideas of Surrealism draw people from all over the world together like a magnet. They reject the wars, the racism, the boring sexuality of western civilization and various other pretenses to “civilization” in favor of the poetic outlook of “primitive” cultures.

Surrealism still contains within itself the ability to challenge our thinking, to break the patterns of everyday life. Surrealists have glorified dreams as a space of free mental expression. But they don’t stop there; they want to convert them into conscious thought—to explore them, to act on them. Paul Garon clarifies, “The dream is a focal point for the aspirations of freedom, and if … the dream is a wish-fulfillment, I would be the last to deny it.”

As to how it functions for society and the individual, V. Vale says, “To me, Surrealism was not an art movement per se, or a revolutionary cultural movement per se… a great deal of its value stems from the fact that it was the only non-grant-funded scientific laboratory of the 20th century that was attempting to answer the question: What are all the ways we can be creative and inspire ourselves?”

Meeting Adjourned by Beth Garon
You Rang? by Marian WallaceSurrealism, our great experiment in human thought, began before the new psychologies, or neuroscience. These scientists still have much to do before they catch up to its intense magnetism, unblushing insolence, forbidden intensity, unapologetic, unfragmented sensation of desire liberated—its “carnivorous flowers of volcanic thought.”

—Penelope Rosemont, October 2013

Magnetic Attractions by Penelope Rosemont

Long-time Surrealist Penelope Rosemont co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group. Her most recent book is Dreams and Everyday Life. She has also contributed to City Lights Journal and Free Spirits (published by City Lights Books), and edited Surrealist Women: An  International Anthology (University of Texas Press). She met André Breton and the Surrealist group in Paris in the 1960s. In 1976 she met Philip Lamantia, Nancy Joyce Peters, and V. Vale at the World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago. Last year she showed her “Insect Music” collages with Winston Smith and Dennis Cunningham at San Francisco’s Grant’s Tomb gallery. Her works have also been shown in London, Paris, Lisbon, and Prague.

I Think We're Lost by Winston Smith

Winston Smith is a veteran collagist. He combines Surrealism with a darkly-humorous vision of everyday life in the modern world, to produce works of détournement and fantasy. His reinterpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” entitled “Happy Birthday, Christ,” is now regarded as a contemporary canonical classic. He has gone far beyond Max Ernst in making collage one of the most important art forms of today. Now ap-proaching “household name” status, Winston Smith has had his work re-produced on the covers of albums by the Dead Kennedys, Green Day, and other musical groups, as well as on the covers of the New Yorker magazine. Perhaps one of the biggest musical influences on this Oklahoma-born artist was a lengthy residency in Italy, where he studied art and learned to speak fluent Italian. A longtime resident of the Bay Area, Winston Smith aspires to launch a Museum of Collage in San Francisco.

As Above So Below by Marian WallaceAs a Bay Area painter and printmaker, Marian Wallace is known for her underwater scenes—dreamy and ethereal—and her experimental films echo these themes. Her prints, paintings and films are both subtle and dynamic, and she always brings a Surrealist sensibility to her unique vision. Her work reflects her grounding in the Surrealist ideas of juxtaposition, attention to chance, spontaneity, ephemerality, risk-taking, and other-worldly experiments. Marian Wallace also edits and produces San Francisco’s monthly “The Counter Culture Hour” television show on Public Access Channel 29. She is instrumental in editing, designing and producing the journal RE/Search, known for its daring subject matter and in-depth interviews.  In an earlier incarnation, Marian Wallace worked as a post-production sound engineer on The Godfather Part III, Rising Sun, and other feature movies. She holds an M.F.A. degree from the San Francisco  Art Institute.

Temptation by Dennis CunninghamDennis Cunningham puts together found-object sculptures. He has been a seeker and procurer of unusual items his entire life—never able to abandon his fascination with shells, pebbles, wood and odd metal castaways that provoked his curiosity as a child. These would inspire him; he would bring them home where he would marvel over their forms and textures. Then he began re-deploying these finds to create assemblage sculptures viewable from many different angles. He enjoys three-dimensional mystery, and loves puzzling over widely disparate objects in a quest to bring forth an optimal dynamic beauty through synergetic juxtaposition. His house and yard are filled with his creations.

More known for his work as a defender of the Black Panthers, Judi Bari, and prisoners, Dennis Cunningham still maintains a hectic schedule as a San Francisco defense attorney.

Defeat of Velazquez by Beth Garon

Beth Garon is a painter and collagist, but like most Surrealists refuses to limit herself, so she has also put together sculptures and objects. She brings a dynamic wildness to her work, which may contain running horses or flying birds; her work depicts fantastic motion and doesn’t stand still. Using just a few basic elements, Beth is able to find and Accentuate startling beauty in her work. For decades she has been active in the Chicago Surrealist group, and recently participated in “Surrealism—Now & Forever,” the 2012 Surrealism show organized by Joseph Jablonski in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Beth Garon is co-author with Paul Garon of Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues, a new edition of which is forthcoming from City Lights Books.

Surrealism’s Earthly Visions: carnivorous flowers of volcanic thought
Sunday November 3rd 2013, 5 pm.
The Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (map)
Delicious complimentary snacks. Drinks by donation.

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