An ideal introduction to the rebellious art movement.
Zoologist Morris (Cats in Art, 2017, etc.) is well-known for his many BBC nature programs and the influential The Naked Ape (1967), but he’s also a fine painter and was a member of the surrealist movement. In 1950, he exhibited with noted surrealist Joan Miró and made two surrealist films. Readers will be thankful that Morris, now 89, wrote this very personal take on his fellow surrealists. Although he only caught the tail end of it in the 1940s, he offers a revealing book filled with shocking anecdotes and outrageous quotations about 32 of them, from the renowned—Salvador Dalí was the “most skillful, most accomplished”—to the obscure. In these witty and succinct profiles, Morris focuses on their personalities, which, in many cases, were stranger than their art; surrealism wasn’t only an art movement, but a “whole way of life.” Many of the opening sentences immediately grab the reader’s attention. Hans Bellmer “holds the record for creating some of the most disturbing images in the history of the surrealist movement.” André Breton, more poet than artist, was the movement’s “most central, most important figure” even though he was a “petty dictator.” Max Ernst “was the ultimate surrealist” and the most exploratory, “restlessly inventive and forever trying out new techniques.” René Magritte “was an artist addicted to contradiction.” He spent his life “trying to think up novel ways of insulting the commonsense values of everyday existence.” Wolfgang Paalen “has the dubious distinction of being the only surrealist to have been eaten by wild animals.” There’s a distinct tell-all aspect to the narrative; Morris doesn’t shy away from describing the artists’ sexual proclivities and numerous relationships. The book also includes stunning photographs of the artists and their work.
Like a modern-day Giorgio Vasari, Morris creates an intimate and unique you-are-there assessment of what made the surrealists tick.