Bertrand-Jean Redon, better known as Odilon Redon, made visible the ambiguous realm between sleep and waking.
The French symbolist painter blurred distinctions between memory, imagination and delirium with a sort of magical ease. His works were revolutionary in their quest to represent what was invisible. Though he was deemed a 'marginal' artist in his time, Redon's symbolist style paved the way for surrealism in the years to follow.
Born in 1840 to a prosperous family in Bordeaux, Redon began drawing at the age of 10, working in charcoal and lithography before switching to pastels and oils. An exhibition at Fundacion Mapfre captures Redon's dramatic transition from dark to light, a remarkable shift which arguably cannot be found elsewhere in art history.
Redon's works are as difficult to describe as last night's inscrutable dream, clearly emblazoned in the mind but impossible to relay to another. The hallucinatory quality to Redon's work is not limited to the subject matter but extends to his aesthetic as well. Radically different from his contemporaries, Redon worked in pastels that bubbled up, popped, and faded into sweet oblivion.
Natural forms had a monstrous uncertainty about them while monsters were rendered to look like a faithful memory the viewer too could recall. Even the portraits glow with a ghostly light as if all people were just mythical characters. Boundaries between species, forms and colors collapse into a stream of images. Part science, part myth and part madness, Redon invited the world into the dark recesses of his mind -- although it turns out the dark recesses of his mind proved to be quite lovely and colorful.
Redon's work will show at Fundacion Mapfre in Madrid until April 29.
See the breathtaking works below. What do you think, are these images more reminiscent of dreams or nightmares?