Surrealism was a movement that developed in Europe between World War I and II and started primarily in literature and visual arts. Along with Abstract Expressionism, it is cited as one of the most influential art movements of the twentieth century.
Surrealist artists rejected rationalism and literary realism and instead focused on channeling the unconscious mind to unleash the imagination. The method that Salvador Dali called the ‘Paranoiac-Critical Method’ can be given as an example.
The famous surrealist artists took everything a step further and aimed to awaken the unconscious mind by creating art that pretty much made no sense. This found its place in both visual arts and literature. Artists heavily relied on the element of surprise to achieve the ultimate goal of turning dreams into reality.
Surrealism has attracted the attention of many great artists in various fields, including filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Photographer Man Ray also, many famous painters, including Salvador Dali and René Magritte, are among the pioneers of this movement.
Here are the ’10 Famous Surrealist Artists You Should Know.’
10 Surrealist Artists You Need To Know.
1- André Breton
French writer and poet Andre Breton (1896-1966), who was involved in the Dada movement but later led the group that called itself ‘Surrealist’, founded and led the Surrealist movement in 1924. For this reason, Andre Breton is also known as the ‘Father of Surrealism’.
In his Surrealist Manifesto (Manifeste du surréalisme), he introduced the concept of intuitive art and automatism, describing the movement as ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’. His theory was that it suppressed the conscious mind of the artist and greatly automated the creation process.
Along with his work as the leader of the movement, he has also written multiple Surrealist books that have become iconic works. One of them is ‘Nadja’ which starts with the question ‘Who am I?’. He was also a prominent critic and wrote a number of theoretical works on the visual arts, cementing his reputation as one of history’s most famous surrealist artists.
His influence on the movement was so great that many art experts consider his death in 1966 to be the end of Surrealism.
René Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian Surrealist artist who created some of the best-recognizable works of art in history.
One of the most remarkable facts about Magritte is that although he was recognized as an Impressionist artist early in his career, he later moved to Paris and became friends with André Breton that his style completely changed and he became one of the leading members of the Surrealist art movement.
Unlike other Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, who created distorted and dream-like representations of real forms mixed with abstract shapes, Magritte preferred to evoke strangeness and ambiguity in realistic depictions.
He is known for his thought-provoking depictions of ordinary objects to influence the viewer’s perception of reality. Its objects are often mundane in singularity but surreal in context or their relationship to each other.
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Featuring everyday objects placed in unusual contexts and juxtaposed, his art challenges the assumptions of human perception and forces the viewer to reconsider things usually taken for granted.
Apart from being the most famous Surrealist artist after Dali, Rene Magritte also influenced pop, minimalist, and conceptual art.
One of his best-known works is a painting of a pipe with the inscription ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ on it. (The Treachery of Images) (This is not a pipe)
The main idea that Rene Magritte wants to examine in this painting and force the viewer to reflect on it is that the painting showing a pipe image, however realistically drawn and colored, is not really a pipe.
The image is only a representation of reality and is not a reality; In other words, it is not really a pipe that can be filled with tobacco, lit and smoked.
3- Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is a Mexican artist who painted numerous portraits and self-portraits, as well as paintings related to her native country of Mexico.
She gained recognition as she developed her own style which merged reality and fantasy, hence she is considered to be one of the most famous surrealist artists. Her style has also been described as ‘Magical Realism.’
When you look at Frida (Frieda) Kahlo’s artworks, you can see that she is rich in detailed and personal iconography, and reflects her suffering in a different style, in a magical way.
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4- Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) is considered both an important figure of the Surrealist movement and an artist with an extraordinary individuality.
Considering that renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo declared that she was not a Surrealist, Leonora Carrington is perhaps the most famous female Surrealist artist.
Leonora was born in England but has spent most of her life in Mexico. She had a romantic relationship with Max Ernst, one of the leading Surrealist artists; and her first work in the genre was a portrait of Ernst as a tribute to their relationship.
Just like other surrealist artists, she was concerned with the unconscious mind and dream images. But unlike other surrealists, Carrington was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud.
She is instead famous for her haunting, autobiographical paintings that incorporate images of sorcery, metamorphosis, alchemy, and the occult. Her art is also known for expressing female sexuality in a markedly different way from female surrealists.
Her art is characterized by dreamy and fantastical compositions of fantastic creatures. In creating otherworldly environments, she also used a highly personal symbolism that she chose not to explain.
In exploring the idea of sexual identity, she rejected the stereotypes of surrealism that portrayed women as objects of desire. Depicting fantastic beasts and having themes of metamorphosis, identity, and magic as recurring, she blends various cultural influences such as Celtic literature, Renaissance painting, Central American folk art, medieval alchemy, and Jungian psychology.
Leonora Carrington, who died in 2011 at the age of 94, was among the last surviving participants of the Surrealist movement.
5- Max Ernst
Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a pioneer of Surrealism as well as the Dada movement, from which Surrealism evolved.
A provocateur, an astonishing and innovative artist, Max Ernst mined his unconscious for dreamlike surrealism imagery that mocked social conventions. Seeing the modern world as irrational, he made this idea the basis of his art.
Among Ernst’s most prominent contributions is the invention of the surrealist techniques of frottage and grattage.
The artist with the frottage technique; takes a pastel, pencil, or other drawing tool and makes a rubbing over an uneven surface. The drawing can be left as is or used as the basis for further refinement.
Grattage involves laying a prepared canvas with a layer of oil paint on a textured object and then scraping off the paint to create an interesting and unexpected surface.
As a versatile and prolific surrealism artist, he explored mediums of painting, sculpture, and works-on-paper.
René Magritte, Salvador Dali, and Max Ernst are among the artists who kept the golden age of surrealism alive.
6- Yves Tanguy
Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) was a French Surrealist artist who was born the son of a retired navy commander and initially also made a career in the army.
After completing his military service in 1922, he started painting in 1924, influenced by the members of the surrealist group in Paris.
His work is one of the best-recognizable in Surrealism. His works consist of large landscapes with a limited number of colors and were a source of inspiration for many surrealist painters in the 1930s.
He used a highly personal symbolism that reflected his interest in childhood memory, dreams, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes. For this reason, it has a unique and immediately recognizable non-representational style of surrealism.
Because of his love of nature, Yves Tanguy painted abstract landscapes full of biomorphic shapes and painted them in somber tones.
Yves Tanguy can be said to have captured the unconscious more vividly than any artist before him, and his artistic style had a profound impact on several young Surrealist painters such as Roberto Matta and Wolfgang Paalen.
Tanguy initially lived the Bohemian lifestyle and enjoyed it. When he met fellow artist Kay Sage he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1948.
7- Man Ray
As a very versatile and prolific artist, Man Ray (1890-1976) worked in fields as diverse as photography, painting, sculpture, film, prints, and poetry, and was influenced by Cubism, Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism.
He considered himself to be a painter above all but is best known for his photography.
He is especially famous for his cameraless photographs, which he called ‘Rayographs’.
It is a picture produced with photographic materials such as rayograph, photogram, photosensitive paper, but without a camera. Man Ray is the 20th century’s foremost pioneer of photograms, which he refers to as ‘rayographs’.
Man Ray made his ‘rayographs’ without a camera by directly placing photosensitive paper and exposing objects such as fasteners, wire coils, and other circular forms used here.
Man Ray had photographed everyday objects before, but these unique, visionary images immediately put the photographer on par with the avant-garde painters of the day. Alternating between the abstract and the representational, the radiographs revealed a new way of seeing that pleased the Dadaist poets who defended his work and showed the way to the dreamy visions of the Surrealist writers and painters who followed him.
Andre Breton described him as a pre-surrealist and referred to his natural affinity for style and surrealist undertones in his work before the movement was even established.
His works were featured in the first surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925. In addition to paintings and photographs, he has directed several influential surrealist short films. Although never officially affiliated with Surrealism, Man Ray contributed significantly to the movement.
Operating in the gap between art and life, his photography relied on a variety of techniques that blurred the line between dream and reality. Trying to create a Surrealist vision of the female form, he utilized solarization, cropping, and over development to create Surrealism photography.
8- Luis Bunuel
Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) pioneered Surrealist cinema. He became the movement’s most famous filmmaker, successfully achieving the movement’s goals of getting rid of linear, logical narratives.
Bunuel has succeeded in capturing the inconsistent narratives of dreams and dispelling comforting human assumptions about existence and reality. By depicting disjointed visual narratives of human dreams in action, he has succeeded in capturing perfectly everything that characterizes the dreaming state.
By breaking down comforting assumptions about existence and reality, he succeeded in awakening their most basic and hidden fears in the art of surrealism. His films are known for successfully criticizing simple social or religious solutions to problems of human existence.
Luis Buñuel’s debut, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), has been called ‘the most famous short film ever made’ and six of his films were included in a 2012 critics’ poll by Sight & Sound magazine. It is among the top 250 movies of all time.
Click here to watch Luis Buñuel’s first film, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog).
9- Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo (1908-1963) was born Maria de Los Remedios Alicia Rodrigo Vary Uranga in a small town in Catalonia, northeast of Spain. She began painting her first paintings at the age of 23, developing her surrealist style after visiting Paris in the 1930s and studying the subject in Madrid.
She had to flee Europe due to World War II and, together with other European artists, had to move to Mexico, where her style developed further, without worrying about the war.
Her art has been heavily influenced by religion and the elevation of women, quite unique among his surrealist colleagues.
10- Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali (1904-1989) is the world’s most famous surrealist painter. Dali was born in Figueres, Catalonia. Although he was heavily influenced by Renaissance masters and famous Expressionist artists from an early age, he developed his own style that became highly recognizable for its bizarre imagery and irrational elements.
His most famous work called The Persistence of Memory (1931) became one of the defining paintings of the art movement. He lived briefly in France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and moved to the United States for 8 years in 1940.
Even though his artwork is world-famous, his eccentric behavior throughout his career often received a lot of attention as well.
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Dali pioneered what he called the ‘Paranoiac-Critical Method’ designed to help him access his subconscious.
Although he is most renowned for his striking and bizarre Surrealist paintings, Dali was also involved in film, sculpture, and photography. He wrote the script for Luis Bunuel’s famous film An Andalusian Dog; and created two of the most famous objects of the movement: Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa.
Despite being officially expelled from the surrealist group in 1934 for his reactionary political views, Salvador Dali became one of the most influential surrealist artists and perhaps the most famous painter of the twentieth century after Pablo Picasso.