Anna Powell Lecture | Surrealism

Today’s lecture focused on Surrealism, which was interesting because it is something I have do a little research in myself recently. Anna hoped to provide insight to the movement as well as relating it to Graphic Design.

Anna provided us with a video of the Surrealist manifesto by Andre Breton.

Automatism In this, published in Paris in 1924. It defines 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 functioning of thought.” Reason would play no part in restricting the flow of thought in automatic writing and no moral or aesthetic control would be exercised. Surrealism offered a psychic mechanism to gain access to a superior reality.

Surrealism, 1924-1950’s, was a style in which fantastical visual imagery from the subconscious mind is used with no intention of making the work logically comprehensible. Its aim was to liberate artist’s imagination by tapping into the unconscious mind to discover a “superior reality”. The movement drew upon the images of dreams, the effect of combining disassociated images and the technique of pure automatism, a spontaneous form of drawing without the conscious control of mind.  Max Ernst was a primary pioneer of the Dada movement but his work is best associated with Surrealism along with Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte.

Surrealism is very rarely associated with typography and therefore is often missed as influence is design. Whereas movements such as Contructivism, Dada and Bauhaus are more typographical and influential in design practice. Surrealism tends to be more photographic, but does that mean that it cannot be typographic? No.

Here is Alphabet, a typeface created by Roman Cieslewicz for Guide de la France mystérieuse, 1964

The letters are photographic, collage inspired and have a Gothic feel which is intriguing. It is also important that individually they are still readable and practical, simply influenced by Surrealism.

Surrealism is something that is often missed in Graphic Design, however is commonly used or influenced in contemporary design subconsciously. Rick Poyner strongly believes this, and has led exhibitions portraying contemporary surrealist design.

My favourtie design firm Sagmeister and Walsh are often influcend by Surrealism and contributed to Rick Poyner’s Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design exhibition.

Most graphic design conforms to an underlying grid, a sense of structure and professional good taste, which brings order but also imposes limits. The images and designs in Uncanny break free from these bureaucratic restrictions and follow the impulses of a wayward, subjective, dreamlike logic to arrive at their own kind of equilibrium and form. They show that graphic design, too, can sometimes be a place to encounter the strange, the fantastical and the uncanny, to rediscover our lost sense of mystery, and to experience the convulsive beauty and capacity for enchantment and wonder that the Surrealists called “the marvelous.”