Surreal Life – Canadian pop surrealism and artist Stephen Gibb
Anyone who creates something remotely surreal owes a debt to Freud, for delineating the concept of the “unconscious” mind, Andre Bretton, for formalizing the surreal process into a movement and Salvador Dali for rising to the top as their darling poster boy.
It was Dali who captured in oil paint the highly rendered, dream-like imagery of the wandering mind into a form that was both disturbing and intoxicating. Dali spawned thousands of imitators, emulators and admirers, and love him or hate him, his influence today is undeniable. He may have borrowed from the godfather of the surreal, Hieronymus Bosch, but as one time card-carrying contemporary of Surrealism, he was the painter exemplar.
I often hear comments from people that my work reminds them of Dali and I forgive them for being naïve but also understand that it’s just a convenient way to tag me. As a simple point of reference that helps them to share in some kind of “art” experience, I know I should be more tolerant. It used to make me insane but now I’ve become numb to it.
But really, why should I protest? People are making associations; connections, conclusions that may not be particularly original but at least they are exhibiting what essentially makes surrealism tick – the instinctive reflex for humans to seek meaning out of chaos. If this is how the “audience” makes sense of their perceptions, how does the artist encode their intentions?
There was a reason I mentioned Dali above because I am now going to use him and his ilk to demonstrate my thought process in explain how I came to paint the way I paint. Often asked, “Where do your ideas come from?” I can now attempt to expose some of that process in a few clumsy paragraphs.
When I first encountered the work of Bosch, Breughel, Dali, De Chirico, Man Ray, Ernst, Magritte and others, I felt an immediate connection. No one had to explain or guide me through the subtleties of what I experienced. It was like a puzzle that had no conclusion, but was fun to unravel. That unsettling sense of familiar and unfamiliar blended into one form, touching the matchstick to the fuse in my powder keg mind is what drew me to the surreal. Something dreamlike, something innocent and perverse, something lurking in the shadows whispering inaudible prompts to draw you in, spin you blindfolded and shove you back into the world.
This is what art should be for me. Something that generates ideas, thoughts, and discussions and that just doesn’t pose as an answer. It should be embraced for the conceptual nudge it gives and not for some phantom truth that it strives for. It should be open-ended and mysterious, to open the floodgates of your reasoning and stir the colliding thoughts in a pot of egoless abandon. It should go with you once you leave it, and gnaw at your sleep. It should soak into your skin and enter your bloodstream. It should surprise you when it unexpectedly returns in your daily activity.
When confronted by surrealist art people are often hung up on meaning. “What does it mean?” is asked in haste and the question precedes the act of seeing. It also becomes the blind alley leading them away from self-discovery. To process without instruction is a liberty we should embrace. This is your chance to be creative with nothing more than a visual stimulus to get your cart moving. The elements of a surreal composition can set a tone and set you free to associate whatever idiosyncratic notions you may chance upon. There is no rulebook, map or schematic logic to follow. It’s up to you.