Eileen Agar (1904-1991)
In trying to find a suitable subject for today’s post I came across an interesting female Surrealist. Born in Argentina but living most of her life in England, Eileen Agar was a painter and a sculptor. The extensive use of found objects in her work greatly appeals to me.
Collective Unconscious, Eileen Agar
In her autobiography A Look at My Life (1988), Eileen Agar said that as an artist ‘one must have a hunger for new colour, new shapes and new possibilities of discovery’. The lyricism and vibrant colouring of Collective Unconscious is representative of her late work. The composition combines Surrealist elements with its abstracted “cut-out” forms and painterly surface.”
A biography on the Royal Academy of Arts, London, website states:
Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, Agar came to London aged six. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1921-1924) before travelling to Paris and Spain with her first husband, Robin Bartlett. In 1926 Agar began a relationship with the Hungarian writer Joseph Bard, who she married in 1940. In 1929 she moved to Paris set up a studio and studied under Franti’ek Foltýn (1891-1976) who she said encouraged her to free herself ‘from the cul-de-sac of representational painting, by learning the principles of abstract painting, and experimenting with colour as well as form.’
Agar was the only British artist to have work included in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936. Although she is often categorised as a Surrealist, Agar was equally interested in abstraction and did not strictly adhere to the tenets of any particular art movement. Agar was elected a Senior Member of the Royal Academy in 1988. “
From 1936 she experimented with automatic techniques and new materials, taking photographs and making collages and objects, for example The Angel of Anarchy (fabric over plaster and mixed media, 1936–40; London, Tate).
We talked about Automatic Writing a while back and the principles as applied to Surrealist art are very interesting. The definition from Wikipedia:
Surrealism in art, poetry, and literature utilizes numerous unique techniques and games to provide inspiration. Many of these are said to free imagination by producing a creative process free of conscious control. The importance of the unconscious as a source of inspiration is central to the nature of surrealism.
The Surrealist movement has been a fractious one since its inception. The value and role of the various techniques has been one of many subjects of disagreement. Some Surrealists consider automatism and Surrealist games to be sources of inspiration only, while others consider them as starting points for finished works. Others consider the items created through automatism to be finished works themselves, needing no further refinement.”
This would seem to lend validity to the practice within the art quilt world of “challenges”. These would follow in well-trodden, artistic footsteps as prescribed by the Surrealists (exquisite corpse, anyone?). And like the Surrealists, we could argue over whether these works are the starting points for future work or indeed, the finished works. I know that I participate in challenges (with “strangers” and with friends) if something about one hooks my attention. I think that there is value in working within a framework of “rules” that you haven’t set up and that you have limited control over, as a jumping-off point and as inspiration. What do you think? Does the historic precedent of Surrealist art games legitimize the propensity of art quilters to participate in their/our own art games? Do you find these types of games valuable in your own work? Why and why not?
By the way, is not “the cul-de-sac of representational painting” a fantastic, evocative expression, whether you agree with it or not?