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Exquisite Corpses and Angels of Anarchy: the Surrealists and their Art

Lecture on Monday 5th September 2022 at 1:45PM

Lecturer: Justine Hopkins

Surrealism is constantly challenging; its works demand attention even as they resist definition and analysis. It is concerned with metamorphosis and flux; with things that change into other things and shift what appeared to be their essential natures to reveal other possibilities. The aim of the Surrealists was always to make their audience look at things as if for the first time: to reconsider everything from another angle and to realise, with a mingled sense of frustration and liberation that there are no “right” answers.

This lecture offers some pointers along the way to anyone who has been intrigued, mystified or disturbed by this movement, whose watchword was never let a holy disquiet be lacking. Surrealism, not a style, not a school, as it was described by one practitioner, is most easily explored through its works, not only the paintings of the movement’s acknowledged masters – Dali and Magritte, Miró, Ernst and Tanguy, but also by those less well-known but no less original and fascinating.

Surrealism had a notable female presence, often overlooked: the work of Dorothea Tanning and Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington and Kay Sage challenged and inspired their male associates; meanwhile England developed her own idiosyncratic version of the Surrealist phenomenon in striking works by Paul Nash and Tristram Hillier among others.

Liberty is the possibility to be, and not the obligation to be, declared Magritte. The ultimate art with attitude, ever changing, ever questioning, ever inviting us into a world stranger and more marvellous than we could imagine by ourselves, the appeal of Surrealism is irresistible, its capacity to enchant, amaze and affront unending, even today. In this lecture we meet the men, and the women, who made it so.

Justine Hopkins studied History of Art at the Courtauld Institute. She has lectured regularly for Tate Britain, Tate Modern, V&A, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, as well as to Oxbridge and Bristol Universities, Christie's Fine Art, the Art Fund, and groups such as the Bradford on Avon Arts Association, Friends of Covent Garden and U3A. Publications include, amongst others, The Art of John Martin (2001), Michael Ayrton: A Biography (1994) and articles for Apollo Magazine and Modern Painters. She has also broadcast on Flowers in Art for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

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