top of page

'Art History' on the wrong side

Stephen Hornsby-Smith

The European Art continent of the 1920s/30s, was overwhelmingly antagonistic to the rise of fascism, but became an unlikely reference point and even inspiration for it! Surrealism in particular put out the fire of Fascism with gasoline. A horrendous distortion of fantasy and the unconscious mind that was meant to liberate actually was perverted and cruelly appropriated as both 'degenerate art' for Nazi's to condemn and as a means to manipulate and misappropriate the concept of the scapegoat further unhinged by popularistic bigotries. We too live in an era of radicalization by disciples of psychosis so we can comprehend how evil anti-semitism is and how appalling fanatics are when peaceful Islam can so easily be criminalized by those claiming to be its devotees. Like reason and logic based Germany in1933, fanatics have ripped clear and rejected humanity by inducing and enforcing ultimate brainwashing of millions.

But never before had the world ever experienced a mature people of such wisdom and learning be reduced to the desperate Germanic people lunging at and all too ready to unite under the cloak of fake heroism and racial hysteria. This scar of unprecedented violence and blind hatred would reach out for the Fuhrer's messianic wickedness to personify and rival Stalin - never before have two brutes been able to dictate global destruction on such a scale. 50 million people would be their fatal victims, where this bastardization of two 'medieval absolute Monarchs' under 20th century total war machines terrifying a de-civilianisation by mechanised duped and brainwashed forces to dispute mutual hatred and mutual ideological egotism. The Committee of Public Safety in 18th century revolutionary France was chicken feed in contrast. National breakdown became globalized, and subliminal racial ignorance became a daily diet.But this ultimate sublimation of narcissistic novelty engulfed a world to a threat of global totalitarian peril could not have been achieved without the break through of 'Jewish communists' like those who had tried to value and explore the hitherto hidden world of the subconscious, like the Surrealists. It is no surprise that the post-war New York Art scene backed Abstract Expressionism to marginalize those unfortunate permanent exiles, (the Surrealist's) because of the unpredictable volatile potential to distort and divide. It now appears as though Europe has had to wait until 1989 to finally respond to extinguish Hitler's continental and global curse and legacy with the falling of the Berlin Wall, marking the start of the end of the 'Cold War', which hasn't , even today hasn't been fully exorcised from parts of Eastern Europe. But are the Surrealist's no longer in the dock too?

Perhaps the germ of an idea of 'mass brainwashing' did emanate from the Surrealist investigation of the collective unconscious' and its emphasis on Freudian psycho-analysis, but it was no act of betrayal it was a wholly unhappy accident that the Surrealist's would have been traumatized by. The 'will' to enter the ritualistic world of mystery and unpredictability resolved by aesthetic realisations of unchartered terrain artistically and polititically, was offering the need to voyueristically observe without 'bourgeois' sentimentality and with little compassion for human suffering, trauma and psychological breakdown. Furthermore, both the calculative exploitation and reckless abandonment to extremes were unappologetically pursued including the sexualization of the female form disregarded their egalitarian message.The very few female artists permitted to participate in this Surrealist very male-orientated Art experiment were still seen as outsiders rather than victims of inequality.The Left could be anti-Stalin and anti-Nazi but were still capable of cold and heartless hypocrisy, especially when the very demographic that the Surrealists thought would be the beneficiaries of its experiments were almost totally excluded and victimized.But how Hitler thrived with such internal divisions of the 'Left'! To him he wanted to throttle compassion and cultural inclusivity at the birth of his industry of bigotry. It was the 'Surrealist Movement' that he mutated and devoured by his theatrical displays of anti-modernism, starting in 'public burnings of modern works', claiming to be reclaiming 'modesty and decency' and encouraged and restored by discipline; but that road lead to Aushwitz. In short, the 1920s and 1930s took away the barriers to invade the mind, and Hitler took advantage and plundered it for his brand of racial and biological pseudo science to manufacture a genetic master race, which he would then indoctrinate both the slaves and the elite (the victims and victors) to espouse it ,compounded by a Third Reich of a thousand years to legitimize it. Under mass manipulation and a propaganda race desperately trying to catch-up with its hysteria and rhetoric, it was run by the delusional Goebols; Hitler didn't just isolate psychotics and psychopaths, he gave them an army of followers.

Weaponizing trauma and being the recipient of its social class inferiority complex, he used his enemies liberation to persecute them. Labour camps became death camps for many Surrealist Artists. But we must move the process of 'degenerate' Art to today for today; Hitler's denunciation of it compels us to do the opposite, any thing he rejected is to be embraced.This monument of how Hitler hated and feared us can only recommend its unique modernist insight must be reclaimed. Fanaticism- your time is up! Never shall we let 160 years of the school and tradition of Modernist Art be so invaded and rejected by Nazi pressing of 'aesthetic 'hyper-space', blindly marginalizing and confiscating all the pleasures and freedoms of progress.It is time to value what we have and what we can do to improve the plight of humanity on the move.

Art must always heal itself and any reconstruction must be by re-invigoration, and Painting must contribute. Modernist Painting wasn't isn't easy to comprehend,but you have to overcome the struggle to react rather than respond. World Wars and the Cold war failed to appreciate that human struggle is pre-eminent rather than social class and racial-hatred struggle. It is a truism to say that we struggle in even basic terms to think therefore we are, rather than what we could regress to.This mortal coil offers few easy choices with hemisphere's of the heart mind and soul attritionally attacking each other. Surely then we can understand the discipline of a delimited finite space of a canvas cut-off from being a part of a conventional production line of the rest of life and society being able to only focus on heightening our sensibilities and meeting our human desires to test boundaries; why police the limits of life when you can be your own frontiersman hidden ,or not, in the interior of a continent of new possibilities? This continent of Painting is forever jettisoning the vague intellectual and aesthetic fog that has permeated the world outside the canvas, because it yearns for the struggle of languages, voices and colour within. Painting had not run-out of focus from the mid-19th century onwards to the blurr of abstract expressionism by 1950 is, I believe the popular perception. There are a plethora of variables that made Painting an error or an obstruction or an inconvenience - all are manufactured or contrived to meet a fashionable demographic, which should lead us to question why we are so adhering to it? Surrealist prints still adorn teenagers' bedrooms but they function as far more symbolic than nascent Art interest: they serve as a precedent for us to follow. How? Surrealism proved by the 1920s and 30s that abstraction wasn't the final nail in the coffin of Painting by Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian. Today there are still Art critics who won't accept that just as Abstraction failed to kill off the medium of Painting before The Surrealist Manifesto of 1924, so it has failed to 'finish' Painting today! Surrealism veered away from the two pillars of the Anti-Painting brigade, abstraction and the Representational (approx. from the Renaissance to mid 19th century) , so it was different and unique but not shackled by the Formalistic police. So we can glean that it is not the Painters or sculptors of modernism that was derivative but the Art 'authorities', the cognecenti, the civil servants of Art. That is their tired craft, their Art, one of repetitious self-importance, governed by rules that stigmatize those who are different and to an extent, original. So are the 'administrators' the only party to block new possibilities? Whoever it is let them waste somebody elses time in endless internecine formalistic boundary mud-slinging. Bitter sweet is truth and human alchemy.Indeed the gift of life is the human struggle and perhaps our inevitable mortal clock demands that we pass our knowledge on! So struggle is everything that is human that is personified by the struggle to open modernist Painting today. This tradition and a bone fide 'school of Art of struggle' universally demands that the weight of change offers a human experience that we can all share immaterial to whether you're a big-shot or not. Would we rather disguise Art as a platitude or shibboleth over-stuffed with form, concept and technology?

Or does struggle criss-cross all boundaries and resonate universally? Even at the Apex of western Christian culture resides the Christ- God Jesus' struggle on the cross agonizing in despair, crying-out to his father to comfort him in his moment of tortured doubt?How else did Jesus reveal his own personal struggle to understand his divinity on the cross but by sharing the part of him that was human weakness? This is God saying it's is ok to be human, and to be human is to struggle, and to struggle is to affirm, and through affirmation of human struggle humanity gets closer to the truth of the human condition. Or,like Jesus, we are invited to share our struggle for the spiritual riches that heal us and give us consolation. In an ever expanding universe that rewards us with the courage to acknowledge paradoxically our individual insignificance and our very personal journey through it, we can never hope to explain or comprehend the enormity of life without recognizing our limitations or dependency on them. This is exactly why Modernist Art has evolved such antennae to aspire to open the human struggle crucially with the contradiction of the physical frontiers of the canvas that serve as barriers and perspective to full comprehension of life. where we are 'half-blind, half-ignorant, half-arrogant', but still capable of learning how to both 'fracture and repair our fractured lives'.

A Painting is only complete when it only proffers some of these secrets that even the Painter might not have intended or consciously been aware of; to me that is the very definition of the Paintings that I would like to paint and be associated with.

bottom of page