Thursday, January 14, 2016

Automatic painting and Surrealism.

I have always had a thing for Salvador Dali, Magritte and Escher, even as a kid.  Once, when visiting Florida as a 20 something year old I had the chance to visit the Dali museum and I was blown away, but highly confused by this master Surrealist because I didn't fully understand what it was about this bizarre movement that sung to me.  I mentioned in a recent blog that I think that it is important for artists to understand the art that they don't like, but in this case I want to understand what it was that resonated with me about Surrealism.  Why am I so attracted to it? Maybe I am just a freak who likes freaky art.  If that's what it is then I am OK with that, but I think there is more to it.  It's time to read up and then pick my own brain for answers since I obviously forgot everything from art history classes.

Salvador Dali, "The Hallucinogenic Toreador", a fantastical masterpiece of double imagery and visual illusion. - See more at:

Surrealism as it turns out, is sort of the sister movement of Dadaism.  In my last post I described the definition of Dadaism as being "anti-art".  It was the pendulum swing away from all that snobbish, over theorized, poo poo of the early 20th century. Surrealism is flipping the bird at the same art "gate keepers" as the Dadaists, but are doing it with a much more positive message and more of a technical approach to the craft of painting.  They base their work on Freud's research, and focus on dream like fantasies, but they paint in a very objective, almost photographic method  This worshiping of Freud would also explain why they often depict women as muses, or something to be admired from a distance.  Go Freud!  (not!)

André Breton defined Surrealism as "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - the actual functioning of thought." What Breton is proposing is that artists bypass reason and rationality by accessing their unconscious mind. In practice, these techniques became known as automatism or automatic writing, which allowed artists to forgo conscious thought and embrace chance when creating art. (

I think that much of today's popular movement called "Neopoprealism" moves along this same line.  In 1989 Nadia Russ first defined this new movement with her dream like paintings and drawings.   She later stated that "NeoPopRealism Art combines the brightness and simplicity with deepness of psychology, it has high energy colors and graphic nature."  (  Newpoprealism is NOT to be confused with Zen Tangle, which was copyrighted by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas sometime after Nadia Russ became well known. (  Zentangle is a form of meditation, not a form of "art" according to Russ. Like the Surrealist movement verses the  academic art world, Newpoprealists are the antithesis of the movements before it. The other thing that Zentangle meditation, Neopoprealism and Surrealism all have in common is the idea of Automatic writing.

I have always slid into this deep meditative state when working alone.  I cant really do it when I am sketching in public as I often do, because I am constantly gabbing with the audience, but when I am working alone I go someplace else and hand someone else the wheel. (I feel a country song coming on here.) I know this all sounds strange, but remember I have the artist ticket, so I am allowed to be strange!  Sometimes I wake from this trance and realized that I have added something to  my painting that I did not expect, or I went a bit deeper than I intended to.  I have been able to do this whole leaving the body trick since I was a kid.  I guess I was embarrassed about it at the time because I didn't really talk about it until I started developing ghost tours in 2010.  When learning about human/ghost communications I researched the phenomenon of automatic writing.  I had no idea that other people actually did this kind of thing.  Wow, I am sort of normal?  REALLY?! I do not consider myself to be psychic, (just a bit psycho perhaps), but the paranormal idea is that you relax your own mind and let the spirit take over and write his or her own ideas with your hand.  I am not convinced that it is a ghost doing this, but that would be kind of cool if it were true.  When I was 12 I thought it was an angel who used to be a painter taking over, or perhaps an art guide from another earth plane shutting my waking self up.  It was rather beaten out of me in art school. Now I just don't know what causes this meditative state, but I embrace it anyhow as being rather normal and common.

Lately I have been doing more of it.  Not being normal, but automatic painting.  For example, I was doing this portrait of someone very close to me who was in recovery from a lifetime of substance abuse.  I ended up drawing her shadow to look like a demon coming out of her head.  I never gave it to her, but I could not destroy the portrait either because it came out of my own deep personal feelings. It crawled out of my hidden subconscious and buried emotions about this person who I love very much.

I think that it is because I have always drawn automatically that I am attracted to Surrealism and now to Neopoprealism.  I think I would prefer to think of today's current pendulum swing as "Neo-surrealism".  It seems to fit it better.  I didn't realize it 30 years ago, but I must have recognized the automatic approach to painting when I visited the Dali museum and that is what confused me.  I think I also see it in the works of Gustav Klimt, so I will study up on him very soon.

What ever you want to call it, it is highly attractive for me to think that anyone can reach deep down into their subconscious muck and pull out this art stuff that is more real than reality itself.  Lets take it a step further and say that I think that when we juxtapose photo-realism with pattern, symbols and fantasy, we get to a place where we are viewing a lucid dream.  This combination of realism and fantasy creates a reality more real than our waking world. This is why I got so excited when I saw the amazing works of Salvadore Dali, and then more recently when I first viewed Neopoprealist, Kehinde Wiley.  I want to be Mr Wiley when I grow up!  (

Samuel Johnson, 2009 , 2011
Oil on paper 84" x 55"

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