5 Bizarre Dream Paintings That Play With Your Psyche
Edition #6 - The wildest and weirdest imaginations of surrealists
Hello readers. Welcome to the sixth edition of my newsletter—Pursuit.
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In this essay, we would plunge into 5 paintings by surrealists and explore their bizarre world of dreams.
Language confines our imagination.
Art on the other hand is not worried about the words, nor about the sentence that follows the sentence to complete the idea. For a surrealist painter, the idea doesn’t even have to be perfect or complete. It just has to be. Exist!
The visual vocabulary of Dali’s subconscious or Rene Magritte's uncanny relationship to languages often begs the question — do we really “know” things or do we merely access their images via language?
Puzzled? Read on —
The 20th-century surrealists put ‘dreams’ onto canvas. Whether it was their fantasies or exploring their psyche, we wouldn’t know. But what we know is that their dream illustrations became a creative outlet — a channel to showcase their wildest and weirdest imaginations.
A creative tool to show unexpected meanings and a window to one’s secret, inner self.
Fantastical or real-life characters levitating over the air, erotic portrayals and a number of other elements intertwined, apparently illogically.
1. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening by Salvador Dalí (1944)
To me, this painting resembles a visual translation of Chuck Palahniuk’s fantasy novel — Survivor.
Dali’s wife Gala sleeps naked on a flat rock that seems to be floating above the sea.
The growling tigers symbolize phallic power. They try to pounce on Gala. One of the tigers comes out of a yelloweye rockfish that burst out of a pomegranate. Another one tries to attack Gala with a rifle and bayonet pricking her arm; awakening her from a peaceful dream.
The pomegranate holds a special significance in Christianity and Judaism symbolizing sanctity, fertility and abundance. The seeds are said to number 613 — one for each of the Bible’s 613 commandments.
The smaller pomegranate floats between two drops of water. It casts a shadow of heart on the rock. Above it flies a bee, an insect that traditionally symbolizes the Virgin.
The crystalized elephant resembles the Elephant and Obelisk by Lorenzo Bernini.
2. The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau (1897)
The dreams by surrealists do not conform to the boundaries of rationality.
Henri Rousseau, a self-taught artist was fascinated by wandering gypsies, the Romany people in France as bohemians.
In this composition, he depicts a full moon night in an arid landscape. It looks like a desert, but there’s a river behind her. A tired wandering dark-skinned gypsy sleeps with her mandolin player and drinking vase beside her.
A large lion sniffs near the woman’s shoulder and stares at her with his stony eyes. The lion licks the sleeping woman’s face.
Is the lion a part of the woman’s dream as she sleeps? Or, maybe the woman is in the lion’s dream!
3. Key to dreams by René Magritte (1930)
First things first — I confess that paintings of Magritte and Rothko are still esoteric to me. Even when I try to deep dive, I float above the surface.
The first thing that struck my mind when I see Key to Dreams is obvious — the words and pictures don’t match up — well except for the valise (a small traveling bag or suitcase).
Magritte misnames all the objects except one thus causing confusion, a key tool to force us to reinterpret the world around us.
He deliberately makes familiar things look unfamiliar.
It is interesting to note that linguistic grammar is used as a way to structure our response to the grammar of images.
This style is similar to her so-called “pipe painting”. Magritte put below the pipe “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” meaning “this is not a pipe”. Contradictory isn’t it? But what he is saying is actually true. The painting itself is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. It makes you think a little, doesn’t it?
However, as John Berger says in his Ways of Seeing, there is ‘always a gap between words and seeing’.
In summary, Rene Magritte described his act of painting as, “the art of putting colors side by side in such a way that their real aspect is effaced, so that familiar objects — the sky, people, trees, mountains, furniture, the stars, solid structures, graffiti — become united in a single poetically disciplined image. The poetry of this image Key to Dreams dispenses with any symbolic significance, old or new.
4. The Dream (Le Rêve) by Pablo Picasso (1932)
Picasso had plenty of intimate relationships in his lifetime. However, his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter is a notable one.
When Picasso was 50, Thérèse was 22.
Moreso, Picasso took all the liberty to paint Thérèse in the most bizarre ways. He distorted her images and rearranged them into abstract fantasies.
The Dream shows a disfigured sleeping Marie-Thérèse where half of her head appears to be a penis whereas her hands form a vagina.
5. The Blue Landscape (Paysage Bleu) by Marc Chagall (1949)
This is the painting I’d like to dream of except for a minor tweak; removing the blue melancholic background but keeping the love and embrace intact.
Marc Chagall stopped painting when his wife and muse Bella Rosenfeld died. But as resilient as he was, he painted The Blue Landscape to immortalize her through his work.
The bird looks at a bright silvery fish, which seems to represent the moon.
In a letter to a Paris paper, after the city got freedom from the Nazis, Chagall wrote —
My enemy forced me to take the road of exile. On that tragic road, I lost my wife, the companion of my life, the woman who was my inspiration.
Which is your favorite dream painting? Do let me know in the comments.