The Surrealist Portfolio – Drawing & Poem

Student coursework for the module Surrealism: Myth And Modernity (2020/2021), 2nd/3rd year elective

Automatism: Drawing & Poem

by Serife Bahce

Automatism was a way to try and expel the unconscious thought from the mind into something more tangible. Although automatism existed before Andre Masson, he was one of the first artists to use the technique in the context of surrealism. I regard automatism as the purest form of surreal, as you do not rely on your mind’s eye to create pieces from the mind. When discussing surrealism, the mind’s eye and skewered memory is not often talked about. Some people can recall dreams with innate accuracy, but others cannot imagine a face they know and love without seeing it first. Images in the mind’s eye can be clear, but for most people they are blurred shapes, colours, and distorted forms. This needs to be considered when looking at surrealist paintings, as from this knowledge we can speculate that the mind’s eye’s distorted aspects affect the finished artwork. Take a painting of a dream for example. The slight contortions of the mind’s eye would happen in every stage of the art process, every second of consciousness takes over the memory and realness of the subconscious. By the time you have sketched the overall images and figures from your dream, for most people, it would be near impossible to now remember the details, colours, and vague objects that appeared. By the time you have started the painting process, you must fill in some of the gaps through automatism and pure guess work, letting your current state of mind pick the colours and specific composition. In this sense, automatism is needed in order to complete the work, however it is so automatic that you would not even realise you are exploring automatism. This somewhat means automatism was prevalent in surrealism before it was decided to be. To me, this makes automatism the clearest and best form of relaying subconscious thought.

Breton stated in his Manifestos of Surrealism (1969) that automatic drawing was “A monologue spoken as rapidly as possible, without any intervention on the part of the critical faculties, a monologue consequently unencumbered by the slightest inhibition and which was, as closely as possible, akin to spoken thought.” Breton explains that whilst automatic writing was the truest form of spoken thought, automatic drawing was on par with it, as it was spoken thought processed and recorded in an entirely different way. This made automatic drawing much more surreal than just a piece of writing, as words sometimes leave little to interpret, and fine art fills that space.

This admission of the importance of automatic drawing came after his initial prejudice against it, and we have Masson to largely thank for this. Masson went on the inspire many American artists in the 1950’s, namely the abstract expressionist and names like Jackson Pollock. Masson clearly cemented himself as a notable figure in the Paris surrealist group, and is widely regarded as a great surrealist painter today.

As well as automatic drawings, Masson created automatic paintings and experimented with throwing glue and sand onto canvas to create texture and shapes. Masson’s work Star, Winged Being, Fish (1955) was created after this initial experimentation in the 20’s. In 1955 Breton used a much more precise method of spray adhesive to canvas and sprinkled on sand. These works tended to become humanoid figures and motifs. The depiction of fish and natural elements continued in his later sand paintings too

My automatic poem, dubbed ‘RESCUE ME’ after the largest words on the page, takes on a much more sinister, surrealistic tone. I personified the first phrase, ‘Blood Grass’ instantly whilst creating this. A feeling of uneasiness oozed from this as it was being created, the poem taking on a narrative roll in Blood Grass’ pain in the first half. From the firth line of words, it seems the narrator is revealing they might be the cause of pain, keeping BG (blood grass) captive.

The poem bargains with me, although I don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s direction at the reader is much more obvious than in the first poem, and I suddenly have a feeling I’m involved in the relationship between the poem and BG. I desperately want to help the elusive figure that’s in the poem’s captivity. Is the figure me? Am I BG? Do I need rescuing from a more subconscious turmoil, instead of a physical one? What do I have to do? How much will it cost? THREE.