Hans BELLMER |
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Germany 1902 - 1975
German; born Kattowicz, 1902 - died Paris 1975.
Bellmer studied under George Grosz in Berlin and by the early thirties had adopted his surrealist style depicting bizarre images involving young female nudes. Denounced by the Nazis as a degenerate, he fled to Paris in 1935 and became a member of the Surrealist group there (Arp, Ernst, Duchamp, Man Ray).
He made his famous poupées (dolls), articulated female figurines, which defined his work from others. They were photographed by himself and Man Ray and he employed his superb draughtsmanship in depicting them in paintings, drawings, etchings and engravings.
Draughtsman, painter, constructor of dolls, etcher, lithographer and writer. He is essentially the poet of an obsessional erotic and fetishist magic.
Bellmer is also one of the most peculiar etchers. The erotic undertones of his work scandalised many but made him a favourite of the Surrealists
Born in Upper Silesia.
Early influence of Klinger, Beardsley. and Toulouse—Lautrec.
Hans Bellmer devoted his life to rebellion against his father, against authority and propriety. Following a number of arrests in his native Polish/German mining town for 'inciting workers to Socialist rebellion' and 'undermining the moral supports of the State',
Bellmer was sent by his father to Engineering school in Berlin, but quit after a year and eked out a living as a freelance book-cover designer and graphic artist for advertising. Becomes friends with George Grosz, John Heartfield,Otto Dix and Rudolf Schlichter, whose style he copied extensively on the covers of various sensational novels. He also befriended doll-maker and set and costume designer Lotte Prinzel, who had helped Oskar Kokoschka build a life-size doll companion in 1919.
Studies typography in Berlin; supervises book illustrations. Spends winter in Paris; influence of Seurat and Pascin.
Makes several trips to the Mediterranean, specifically Italy and Tunis.When his father joined a Nazi Party growing in power and control, Hans renounced "all work which could be in any way useful to the State." His young wife Margarete ill with tuberculosis, Bellmer became infatuated with his fifteen year old cousin Ursula. Two years later he took his wife, brother and young cousin to see a production of Offenbach's 'Tales of Hoffmann', which included 'The Sandman'. Fascinated with the story of the doll Olympia, Bellmer decided to make himself a doll to act out his fantasies.
Trip to Colmar where he "discovers" Grunewald and is attracted to his representations of grief and despair. He particularly admires Grunewald’s ability to use the entire body as the sole means of emotional interpretation.
During this year, Belimer also made many visits to the Cabinet des Dessins at the Kaiser—Friedrich Museum, Berlin, where he explored the treasures of Germanic art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He became interested in the art of the Reformation and Inquisition where themes of torture and murder abounded. Although freed from the religious context of the latter, Bellmer’s work still speaks of the ideas of suff— rance and ecstasy that were so much a part of this period.
Funded secretly by his mother, and with the help of Lotte Prinzel and his brother Fritz (who quit his job as an engineer to work on the project), Bellmer creates his first Doll, a dismembered female mannequin whose separate parts could be made to move and contort into erotic or painful postures. It was made of wooden broom handles, metal rods, nuts and bolts, with one hand and two feet carved out of wood. The head and torso were of flax over a wooden frame, covered in plaster, shaped and painted. This "anagram of the sexual elements of a girl's body" had in place of a womb a panorama of six images "of bad taste representing the thoughts and dreams of a young girl", viewable through the navel and activated by pressing the left nipple. Bellmer documented the Doll's construction with photographs, ten of which and a short text were published at Bellmer's own expense as 'Die Puppe' in 1934. Bellmer saw the doll as a final triumph over the adolescents with "wide eyes" who had shunned his attention. The latter photographs in 'Die Puppe' showed the Doll, in whole or in parts, arranged so as to embody some of Bellmer's fantasies. Photo number nine "with its carefully positioned jumble of torso, head and limb plus wig . . . a hint of underclothing set against the background of a striped mattress creates the most astonishingly powerful and disturbing image of the series", says Peter Webb.
Bellmer's cousin Ursula took photos of the Doll with her to Paris , and showed them to Breton and Eluard, who proclaimed it to be "the first and only surrealist object with a universal, provocative power."
The photos were published in 'Minotaure' no.6 in December, and in February of 1935 Bellmer came to Paris to meet the Surrealists in person and to organize the translation of 'Die Puppe' and its publication in France.
Bellmer joins the Surrealists. His adoption by the Surrealists marked the end of what he felt to be his "moral isolation" and his entry into a modern movement with the satisfaction of finding himself understood and defended. Dissatisfied with the immobility of the first Doll, Bellmer was already at work on perfecting his creation. Hunting through museums in Berlin with Lotte Prinzel, they had found a Dürer-era wooden artist's mannequin which used ball joints for maximum mobility, including a 'stomach sphere' separating the torso and hips. Upon his return to Berlin, and again with the help of his brother Fritz, work began on the second Doll. Re-using the child's face of the first Doll, and some of its limbs, Bellmer created a new, grotesquely eroticised body, centred around the bulbous stomach sphere and its prominent navel. Over one hundred photographs of the new doll were taken in varying guises, all were sexually provocative poses of barely concealed violence and violation. The Surrealist object", says Webb, "subverts the utilitarian purposes of a thing to achieve a certain wish fulfillment".
Arrives in Paris from Berlin; forms friendship with Paul Eluard, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst; is also in contact with Arp, Breton, Duchamp,and Man Ray. In Bellmer's Dolls, their shock value explicitly aimed at Nazism as the ultimate embodiment of the Law-of-the-Father, can also be seen the battle of the castration complex, fetishism and the uncanny. By shifting Surrealism's transgressions into the realm of the perverse Bellmer, along with Bataille, Dali, Masson and others, highlighted a contradiction inherent in Breton's earlier programme of anti-authoritarian rebellion. Still not satisfied with the manipulative possibilities of the Doll, Bellmer went on to make 'The Machinegunneress in a State of Grace' (1937)- a sculpture of female body parts and metal rods, inviting comparison with the Surrealists' favourite image of the sexually predatory woman, the praying mantis- and to produce increasingly bizarre and explicit drawings of his fantasies.
He lived in France from 1938 until his death in 1975
Begins work on his text, L Anatomie de l' Image but not published until 1957, Bellmer attempts to map the "physical unconscious" he believes links body and mind, self and other. The whole body, he asserts, is a site of shifting desires, displacement and transference, but ultimately felt he could only accomplish the visualization of his desires on paper, in amorphous, transparent images of coupling bodies. This is his conception of androgyny.
Hal Foster, in his work Convulsive Beauty, clearly shows Surrealism's link to Freud's 'uncanny', to the return of the repressed, the compulsion to repeat and the drive ...
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