Dorothea Tanning – Tate Modern, London

I had seen only one piece by Tanning (as well as a few illustrations) before visiting this exhibition so just about every work was a new experience. Those I had seen prepared me for a treat. The early paintings are powerful examples of the figurative wing of surrealism – Freudian explorations of the subconscious – unsettling, thought-provoking – confounding reason and the established laws of reality. Birthday from 1942 is a prime example. A woman (probably a self portrait) stands in the foreground, her exotic blouse opened to reveal her breasts. A drape hangs from her waist along with some sort of vegetal encumbrance which looks as though it might be a form of seaweed, but on closer inspection seems to partly consist of tiny humanoid figures. Close by a winged creature of indeterminate provenance crouches on the bare boards of the room. The rest of the composition is taken up with a cacophony of open doors, a common motif throughout her life stemming in part from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – a key text for the Surrealists.  Read More

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