Theres way much more to surrealism than Salvador Dalí or Frida Kahlo. Surrealism is one of the most appealing art currents due to its great images and hidden meanings. Thats the reason why so many female artists explored it.
I know a lot of people love and admire Salvador Dalí, but as you might guess from the title of this article, today we're not going to praise the Spanish artist. It’s quite easy to associate him with the Surrealist movement because he’s one of its most popular icons. I’m certain that there might be people who aren’t familiarized with his works or even his process as an artist, but everybody (or almost everybody) recognizes him physically. His mustache and crazy eyes can be found on phone cases, shirts, bags, cups, notebooks, pillowcases, literally in every object you can imagine. But was he actually the main or at least one of the best surrealist artists?
Well, here’s where I’ll disagree with all his fanbase. To start with, he was kicked out and banned from the Surrealist group due to his greed and political views that favored fascism. Moreover, although he has some good paintings, he built his career prioritizing money and his persona rather than focusing on art. So, for that reason, I think it’s time to push Dalí aside and focus on real artists who devoted their lives to their work and who, honestly, did a better job. More importantly, it’s time to focus on all those female artists who found in the movement a space and lifestyle that gave them the freedom to explore their sexuality and realities that the outside world forbid them. So, without further ado, here are five surrealist female painters that are really worth paying attention to.
Dorothea Tanning (1910 - 2012)
Born in Illinois, Tanning was a self-taught artist captivated by the free world of the Surrealist movement. She belonged to the American circle of Surrealism. Throughout her life, she worked every day to develop her own take on the current. Most of her paintings center on depictions of young women exploring their emotions and sexuality in a more intellectual rather than explicit way. Of course, in each of them she used those classic surrealist combinations of the unconscious with the real world.
Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 - 1977)
Alice Through the Key Hole (1971)
Born in Austin, Texas, Abercrombie envisioned a different outtake on Surrealism. Merging the symbolism and imagery of the classic gothic art of the Midwest with the mystical and abstract nature of the current, she was also inspired by the contemporary and wild side of modernity, which was present not only in her life but became an important part of her art. Often portraying night landscapes, Abercrombie became famous for her flat and almost two-dimensional figures representing the mundanity of the world.
Leonora Carrington (1917 - 2011)
Born in the UK but nationalized Mexican, Carrington is now considered one of the most important female Latin American artists in history. Working in both paintings and sculptures, she created a mythical, abstract, and kind of atemporal world with no comparison. Following the literary Latin American current of magical realism, she created extremely interesting scenarios that merged reality with the irrationality of the unconscious with a unique narrative nature that keeps inspiring new artists.
Dora Maar (1907 - 1997)
Portrait de Picasso (undated)Often remembered as Picasso’s muse and lover, Dora Maar was actually a quite prolific painter and photographer. Born in Paris and raised in Argentina, by the time she returned to her hometown she had already a view of the cultural diversity the world had to offer, which later became an important part of her work. When her artistic and emotional relationship with the cubist artist ended, instead of running away from all he represented, she took all those mixed feelings and poured them into her religious faith and artistic work. Sadly, she didn’t live to see her work being sold or exhibited. In fact, it was unrecognized until a couple of years after her death, when they were sold in an art sale.
Remedios Varo (1908 - 1963)
Like many Spanish artists, Varo had to flee to France when the Spanish Civil War started. She settled in Paris, where she became acquainted with some of the most prominent icons of Surrealism. Like Carrington, who actually became a good friend of hers, she moved to Mexico, where she actually improved and forged her own take on the Surrealist current, also creating a unique style. Most of her work is a reflexion of her own intellectual and spiritual concerns taken into a fantastical dream-like realm.
Despite the liberating space art provides, without a doubt it has been a male-dominated world. Throughout the story of art, there have been trailblazing women who have questioned this apparently ingrained norm, and it’s our job to continue exploring their job and their amazing creativity.
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