Man Ray

Man Ray (1890 – 1976) was the only American to have played a significant role in the development of both the Dada and Surrealist movements (“Man Ray”). In 1913, he became influenced by the works in the avant-garde Armory show in New York City. During this time, his paintings displayed his interest in Modernism through his use of flat shapes and the patterns they created, rather than realistic renderings of subject matters. He befriended Marcel Duchamp in 1915, and switched his focus to Surrealism and Dadaism, as his once static works began to include more movement. Both Ray and Duchamp made many attempts to promote Dada in New York City (“Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.”). It wasn’t until a trip to Paris in 1921, that he began to experiment with photograms (“Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) | MoMA.”).

Photograms are pictures created by placing objects on photo sensitive paper which are then exposed to light. In his photograms, Man Ray uses shadows to create images, which emphasized the influence of light and shadow rather than the objects and image itself (“Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.”).  By turning everyday objects into visionary, abstract images, he challenges viewers to discover their meaning (“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.”).

“Gun with Alphabet Stencils” (1924)

An example of one of his works is a photogram titled “Gun with Alphabet Stencils”(1924). In this picture, Man Ray has placed the alphabet stencils around the revolver like scattered bullets. By having the stencils scatter about randomly, this defies the viewer’s expectations and rational interpretation, as the letters refuse to assemble themselves into recognizable words. The other objects are used to balance the composition while having no literal meaning. (“Untitled Rayograph (Gun with Alphabet Stencils) (Getty Museum).”

“London Transport Keeps London Going”(1939)

London Underground bull’s eye

As for his work in commercial art, Man Ray primarily worked with photographs, some of which was featured in Vogue, Bazaar and Vanity Fair. In 1939, he was commissioned by Frank Pick to create a poster for the London Underground. “London Transport Keeps London Going”(1939) plays on the Underground’s most recognizable trademark, the bull’s eye. He takes its basic shape and likens it to a planet floating in outer space (Eskilson, 149-152).

He is known for being a pioneer in photography during the surrealist movement. His biggest contribution to the art world would be photograms, or ‘rayographs’ (which he decided to name after himself). Although he was not the inventor of photograms, which he believed to be, he was the first to use these ‘camera-less’ pictures in a way that revealed a new way of seeing, by using everyday objects to create enigmatic and dreamlike worlds and images (“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.”).



Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.

Leigh, Brandi. “Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.” Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive. N.p., 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Untitled Rayograph (Gun with Alphabet Stencils) (Getty Museum).” The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.


Salvador Dali

Dali was a Spanish artist and surrealist icon, known for his paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, writing, and film. With this comprehensive repertoire of artistic skills and a love for Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, Dali ployed various techniques to access his subconscious mind to use as a creative tool. One method that he used was his paranoid-critical method, a term coined by other surrealists that describes the practice of uncovering surprising dream-like images from deep within one’s mind. By diving into the realms of his hidden psyche, he materialized bizarre scenes into art forms. He began his artistic journey learning Cubist skills and would begin to encompass many other styles of art like the those of the Renaissance and avant-garde movements as his craft improved (2). His most famous works fall under the surrealist category, however, of illogical scenes with realistic photographic precision.

Dali’s first surreal painting, Honey is Sweeter than Blood, was made in 1927 at the age of twenty-three. This painting marks his transition away from Cubism and more towards the visions of the subconscious mind. It was made between “Dali’s first visits to Paris when he became increasingly influenced by artists who would found the Surrealist movement” (1). The main subject of the painting is a nude woman without a head who sits amongst soft blue and grey clouds. A small fairytale-like creature is placed at the top corner of the painting, and has no proper relation to the center figure. A few impossibly-grown tree branches are incorporated into the scene as well. There is one light source that drapes highlights over the figure, the colors blended to create an incredibly realistic body. The arrangement of matter in the painting creates a non-sensical story that has no evident meaning but to represent the worlds of the subliminal mind- one with “decadence, death, and immortality.” (1).

After his first venture into the surrealist techniques, Dali soon mastered this art form and his most prominent works were completed between 1930 and 1955. He has been acknowledged as a big inspiration for many artists worldwide, and continues to be revered by people of all professions for his unique perspective of the mind’s subconscious.





Andre Breton

Andre breton was a French writer, poet, anarchist and anti-fascist. He is best known as one of the founder’s of Surrealism. He started his career of studying medicine and psychiatry. Then, during World War I he worked in a neurological ward in Nantes, where he met Jacques Vaché, whose anti-social attitude and disgust for established artistic tradition considerably influenced Breton and his future works. André Breton was one of the original member’s of the Dada group who later went on to start and lead the Surrealist movement in 1924.

That same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto, which he used to defined the “nature” of Surrealism and the mode of expressing its view of reality. He defines surrealism as “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Breton’s connections to the dadaist moment are shown in his claims that surrealism has no aesthetic concentration.  The core focus of the dada movement was the rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works that concentrated on anti-war politics. He also used a great deal of absurdist humor, further demonstrating the influence of the Dada movement which preceded it. The Manifesto also confirmed the existence of this brand new art movement and revealed its members. Breton also discusses his initial encounter with the surreal in a famous description of a hypnagogic state he experienced in which a strange phrase inexplicably appeared in his mind: “There is a man cut in two by the window”. This phrase echoes Breton’s understanding of Surrealism as the juxtaposition of “two distant realities” united to create a new one. The text concludes by asserting that Surrealist activity follows no set plan or conventional pattern, and that Surrealists are ultimately nonconformists.

An early example of a Surrealist collage that fuses text and image was his Poeme. Breton wrote this poem the same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto. This poem has much more to offer than just a poetic expression, it reveals Breton’s increasing belief in journalism as a potent artistic form as the piece uses newspaper and magazine clipping materials as its source. The text is absurdist and constructs its own logic that would not make sense to a reader trying to understand it as traditional language, also influenced by Dada. This piece solidifies the idea of integrating text as an art form. With all the variations in fonts, size, and style he is able create a visual pattern through text, expanding it’s soul purpose, from primarily just readability, to a whole new form of visual communication.

Breton was a huge part of the Surrealist movement and his works had a lot of influence on future artists to come. He innovated ways in which text and image could be united through chance association to create new, poetic word-image combinations. His ideas about accessing the unconscious and using symbols for self-expression served as a fundamental conceptual building block for New York artists throughout the 1940s.Andre-Breton_POEME_c1924.jpg2e7bdd067b80546e3fb03ac1fdd8b33d.jpg

Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters was born in 1887 in Hanover, Germany. He was mainly associated with the Dada movement but he was also in the Constructivist and surrealist movements as well. Along with graphic design, he worked with paint, sculpture, poetry, collages and typography. In 1918, he was invited to exhibit his abstract paintings at Herwart Walden’s gallery in Berlin. There, he associated himself with the Berlin Dadaist but pretty soon was rejected by them and because of this, the term Merz was created.

“Merz” became an umbrella term for his dada-like art. It was kind of like his brand name for majority of his artworks, not only that, but he used it so often that he ended up referring to himself as “Kurt Merz Schwitters” or just “Merz.  He was known for using papers found on the street to make art. He then used that art to make political statements. His works mirror his environment and activities in his daily life because he would use almost anything to create his collages with, even receipts, newspapers, etc. His works juxtaposed Abstraction and realism, Art and life.

Below, is one of Schwitters’ collages called En Morn (1947). This piece was made to be a poster and cover page of Tate’s Brittan exhibition. The collage is made up of different types of papers, newspapers, and magazines. The focal point of this image is the picture of the girl on the right side of the cover. Below her is an upside down picture of a man. These two pieces are surrounded by cutouts that are laid on top of one another. At the very bottom are words that run across from one side of the image to the next which read, “These are the things we are fighting for.”


Schwitters’ collage style spread through Europe and even the United States. He will be known for “Merz” because it influenced the graphic design works the most. The Merz images are known to be his greatest contribution to 20th century art. He also thrived in making the official typeface of Hanover, Futura. His style of work later inspired the works of many successful Dadaist artists.


Work cited:

Webster, Gwenda. “Kurt Schwitters.” Kurt Schwitters. N.p. 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <;


René Magritte

René Magritte, often referred to as the most praised Belgian artist of the 20th Century, is also one of the most widely recognized Surrealist artists of the time period. The primary goal of surrealist artists was to channel the unconscious in their works, let go of rationalism, and unlock the power of imagination. This was no exception for Magritte, but what set him apart from other Surrealists, was his deadpan, illustrative approach that clearly portrayed the content of his paintings. This illustrative technique results in contradictions within his paintings; beautiful, simplistic imagery, that simultaneously elicit unsettling thoughts. There is a stark contrast between the seemingly ordinary, and the mysterious. Influences of psychoanalysis can also been seen throughout Magritte’s work; repetition was a key feature throughout his career, and regarded also as a sign of trauma according to Freudian thought.


Above we have the painting “Les Amants,” or “The Lovers” painted by Magritte in 1928, the first in a series of four variations. Here Magritte has portrayed a cinematic-style kiss between two lovers, but in a mysterious twist of the expected, has concealed the faces in cloth, hindering the viewer’s ability to peer in on the scene. Surrealists were often interested in the idea of disguises and masking what lies beneath the surface, it is quite evident that Magritte was no exception to this. It is speculated that this series of paintings was inspired by the death of Magritte’s mother, who drowned herself and was retrieved from the river with her nightgown draped over her face. Although Magritte denied this, the story is still pervasive. In my own personal interpretation of The Lovers, I see the series as a representative of past failed relationships, of the old photos we keep as a reminder of times spent with people who have since become distant memories. “The Lovers” are no longer in love, and that is why their faces have been covered as if they were corpses. 

René Magritte had significant influence on movements that followed his death in 1967, including both Pop Art and Conceptual Art. His emphasis on concept over one’s execution was particularly impactful, and he has been cited as key influences by artists  such as Andy Warhol and Martin Kippenberger. Magritte’s work is still influential readily on display around the world today.

Works Cited

Hamilton, Adrian. “Smoke and Mirrors: The Surreal Life and Work of René Magritte.” Independent. N.p., 9 June 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <>

“MoMA | René Magritte. The Lovers. Le Perreux-sur-Marne, 1928.” MoMALearning. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <>

“Rene Magritte Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <>