There were plenty of specific techniques that the original surrealist artists used to create much of their work, and there have been countless developments of said techniques since. While the use of specific constructs may seem ironic in a surrealist sense, it does support the claim that surrealism can have some construction of logic to it. After all, the rejection of one form of logic, merely leads to the creation of another, no matter how chaotic it may seem. The process of rejecting ‘convention’ is one of assembly as well as deconstruction.
This is why i’d like to talk a little about said techniques, with specific reference to a design company based in California who, after recently discovering, I admire greatly. This collaborative art initiative is JA/BC, formed from visual artists Jimmy Aproberts and Brian Christopher – who began this journey in 2006 after working together previously. They have several collaborative projects on the go, and although one wouldn’t necessarily define them as ‘surrealist’ I think it’s certainly not out of the the question to describe much of their work surreal, in a stylistic sense at least. The most obvious link between JA/BC and the surrealists is one of their projects, named ‘The Exquisite Corpse’. This is also the name for a surrealist exercise put forward by Breton in 1925, shortly before publishing ‘Le Champs Magnetique’ alongside Phillippe Soupualt. Here’s their site if you want to check them out.
This will probably seem familiar to a lot of you, but the exquisite corpse exercise basically involves a number of artists collaborating together by each adding words or images to a piece with with or without knowledge of what has come before it. In the most basic sense this could be that game you played as a kid where you fold a piece of paper into three and each draw different heads, torsos and legs to see what happens. In another sense, Breton would use this in a literary sense, where different writers would each create a section of work each in one big joint effort. JA/BC however have take this even further, to create huge artistic montages based on the same technique, each of them adding bits and pieces to create monumentally intriguing piece of collaborative art. Mostly these pieces take the form of long panels, which separate the different sections of the piece out without disturbing the overall flow, something I think is very hard to do. In fact it reminds of me of certain graphic novel styles, where the panels take all different shapes and forms on top of a larger, pre-existing picture which acts as a backdrop.
Let’s start with ‘Round 1′ 2006. The backdrop, as mentioned, is long and divided into twelve panels of differing size. Neither artist knows what the other will do, and as such the resulting piece demonstrates perfectly the ability to create a unified whole from disparate constructs. Both considering the piece as a whole, and as twelve individual composites, the style is fractured. Even within each artists pictures the shapes seem like a collage, woven together in such detail that you can’t see the dividing spaces and yet the feeling of disparity still lingers. There are tress mirroring each other, reaching above and below the Earth, there are human forms with x-ray images on parts of their body or elongated limbs flowing to some unseen motion. There are ambiguous shapes, some look like crimson feathers while others look like eyes strapped onto peacock tails. The result sweeps you away in two sense, as you examine each panel and as you see the piece as one whole – the amber backdrop remaining consistent throughout.
Lets take another example, ‘Round 5’ in 2011 seems immediately similar, the panelled images of humanoid distortion, shapes, colours and patterns that seem to remind each viewer of a different thing. However we begin to see a development here, as now we begin to see certain more definite images, as if components resembling a structure are beginning to form. Though smudged and distorted, we can clearly make out an elderly man and what looks like text in another language, reminiscent of Southern and Eastern Asian script. It seems stupid to say, but the addition of the colour blue changes the piece a lot from the first, conveying visceral connotations of the colours which the art so relies upon. Naturally these connotations will be different for everyone, for me it conveyed the sense of a city, of some sense of urban exploration. Yet as with the first one, further study reveals more figures, hooded and black hiding between the chunks of shaded and trans-formative colour. There’s a girl in blue hanging off what looks like telephone wires, near exhaust fumes. To be honest the more I think about it, the more that this appears to have a more urban view that the first, which in comparison seemed fairly reliant on natural patterns and shapes. It’s an interesting development over time and potentially one up for interpretation.
This seems especially apparent as we move onto their most recent piece in the series, ‘Round 6’ in 2014. Immediately the shapes and colours seem different, they appear softer and more graphic, sharply defined, aesthetic angles moving to some sort of unheard rhythm. The blue is more prominent hear and the twirling shapes at the centre of the piece rely more on blobs and circles, again conveying some subtle appearance of logic or structure. This is also alongside the appearance of yet more scripture, except this time it appears more western in origin. And yet as we move away from the centre , to either side of the piece, we see a return of the amber backdrop and the more chaotic lines and shapes resembling leaves, a woman’s long hair, purple feathers. I suppose this highlights the importance of how each person views the image as to how you interpret it. For me I started in the centre and worked outwards whereas someone else may go from left to right. The ability the pieces have to create these different perceptive methods increases the later the piece, or i felt so at least.
The idea of the exquisite corpse may seem trivial or whimsical, but I think it provides an interesting backdrop to instil a certain unified disparity in ones work. Much like how automatic writing can help an author create images beyond the confines of their regulated, conscious mind – so too can this technique establish elements or components within work that you simply wouldn’t have thought of – perhaps championing the advantages of collaborative work in visual art more than anything. Essentially JA/BC do a really great job with this series, and you should check out their site on the link I provided earlier to see the other projects they’ve done together. I was genuinely impressed by the sweepingly immersive nature of it and would recommend to anyone as an example of modern, collaborative art.