Happy 121st Birthday, Max Ernst!

04/02/2012 08:56 am ET

Happy Birthday to one of our favorite surrealists, Max Ernst. Ernst's attitude towards authority was affected early on by his strict, religious father and his devastating experience as a soldier in the first World War. Rather than an artist obsessed with perfection of the craft, Ernst was constantly inventing new techniques that represented the most adventurous facets of the Dada and Surrealist movements. In an article in TIME, Ernst says, "Rebellious, heterogeneous, full of contradiction, [my work] is unacceptable to specialists of art, culture, morality. But it does have the ability to enchant my accomplices: poets, pataphysicians and a few illiterates."

During college, Ernst was inspired by his father's work with deaf and mute children and took up psychiatry and similar subjects at the University of Bonn. Working in asylums, Ernst became enthralled with the artwork of mental patients, a precursor to his later infatuation with deciphering the human psyche. In contrast with his Surrealist peers like Dalí, however, Ernst went beyond expressing his thoughts and desires through symbols, opting to experiment with texture and material in addition to painting. While many credit Ernst as a principal figure in the Surrealist and Dada movements, his innovations had a profound influence on the Abstract Expressionist movement in post-WWII New York, affecting artists such as Willem De Kooning and his son, Jimmy Ernst, in unfathomable ways.

Max Ernst, "Fleurs de coquillages," (1929).

The artist is credited with creating several techniques that came closer to embodying the spirit and philosophy of those daring early 20th century movements more than any other work at the time. Ernst's experimentation with collage and the creation of techniques such as frottage and grattage went against his father's painterly traditions; this became a catalyst for artists such as Jackson Pollock who saw spontaneous action as the quickest way to unlock thoughts and desires hidden by the super ego.

Max Ernst, "Malédiction à vous les mamans" (1928).

If you want to learn more about the life and times of Ernst, be sure to check out Peter Schamoni's 1991 documentary, "Max Ernst," here.

Happy birthday to a real innovator.


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