liberating the line: painting the bestial floor

Was the use of automatism to pry into abstraction and the subconscious essential to Abstract Expressionism? It can be asserted that it was significant in unlocking the mystery and meaning of the abstract plane; a gateway into the world of De Kooning and Pollock where the discovery of automatism led to a subconscious and spontaneous flow of gestural line. After Pollock practiced automatism it transformed his painting as he moved away from the Indian based iconography and then De Kooning adopted it with dramatic effect.

---Following the shake-up of surrealist alliances in general consequent on Breton's publication in 1930 of his Second Manifeste du Surréalisme, André Masson and his close friend Georges Bataille, -(as well as Delteil, Limbour, Artaud and Vitrac)- had been rigorously excluded from the movement and its activities. I had not failed to observe that probably the closest affinity between Hayter's work and that of the original surrealists was that to be discerned between Hayter and André Masson. Like Hayter, Masson's outstanding trait was the formidable dynamic vitality of his calligraphic line, evident in the automatic drawings reproduced in early numbers of La Révolution Surréaliste, and typically in the later series of Massacre to be found in Minotaure. He may be said to have had a lifelong obsession with what Yeats referred to as "the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor"; and a similar obsession is not absent from a number of Hayter's works of various periods, excepting perhaps those of his final years. According to the surrealist painter and critic Edouard Jaguer, Hayter's "superb Paysage Anthropophage of 1937 remains one of the most forceful canvases of the pre-war period of surrealism"; though he regards S.W.H.'s later abstraction as having lost something of its original organic character in confining itself to a less aggressive geometry.--- Read More: image:

It was a belief in the liberating power of impulse and the unconscious. Not to draw lines , but to release them as it were into the wild, liberated, left to their sort in uncharted waters to find a natural form, a kind of golden mean within abstraction occurring naturally in nature direct from the artists hand, the flow leading to mythical images that could be consciously shaped. It was called, after Paul Klee, “hunting and exploration” by linear and splattering maneuver where subliminally suggested representative forms would meld with non specifiable forms theoretically created by chance and influenced by gestural rhythm, again back to the African mask, and primeval first movements. Could the orgasm be faked?:

The male Surrealists passionately desired woman’s ability to bear children, which is why they desired woman. Indeed. I would argue that much of Surrealism is an attempt to appropriate woman’s power to give birth by every treacherous means possible. Much Surrealist imagery can be understood as the product of a false pregnancy—a strangely aborted product from a female point of view. —Donald Kuspit

Pollock. There Were Seven in Eight. 1945.---Much has been written about Hayter’s impact on many of the Abstract Expressionists artists who came to the print shop ( following the Surrealists who had regrouped in New York at Studio 17) to work in a relaxed, informal and experimental atmosphere. These included Motherwell, De Kooning, Rothko, Baziotes, Gottlieb, and especially Jackson Pollock. I was surprised to find a very similar exercise plate in automatism was created by Pollock in 1944 - 45 and had absorbed many of Hayter’s ideas. This was to have a significant impact on Pollock’s transformation and the creation of his drip paintings using spontaeous automatist gesture.--- Read More:

Stanley William Hayter – had a big impact on the American Abstract Expressionists. Originally he had set up his print shop Studio 17 in Paris where a lot of the avant-garde artists there came to print. He fled France because of the invading German army during World War II. He had been producing pamphlets in his print shop on how to blow up German tanks.

He was extremely anti-Nazi and Hitler had placed a bounty on his head. Hayter was a pretty tough individual. When he fled France he experienced a month long trip across the Atlantic on a boat that was dodging submarines. He finally arrived in New York City around 1940 where he set up his Studio 17 print shop anew. This was an important meeting place where all the expatriated European artists would come to do art and interact. Printmaking is fortunately an art of praxis – artists have to come together to use the same press and equipment. Technical necessities bring printmakers together; with that comes an experimental chemistry of exchange. …

---He went on to become the founder of the seminal printmaking studio Atelier 17 in Paris, where he worked with many contemporary artists there to encourage their exploration of printmaking as a medium. Artists such as Miró, Picasso and Kandinsky collaborated on creating print editions. --- Read More:

…The American Abstract Expressionists knew all these famous artists like Andre Masson and Max Ernst who came to do work at Studio 17: the artists they had read about were suddenly here in the USA. Many came to Studio 17 to have contact with members of the European avant-garde who they revered. From what I understand Hayter had artists do preliminary exercises on test printing plates: exercises in automatism. This was the exercise he had me do in 1984 when he was my teacher and it was the same one that Jackson Pollock had done in 1944 – 45. It is very interesting to see the transformation of Pollock’s work compared to what he had done previously. He was painting abstract work based on American Indian symbols and iconography; these had some movement but were not completely open and gestural. After he did the experimental plates with Hayter the subconscious gestural element started coming out and began his launch into the drip paintings.Read More:

---Hayter during his years in New York (that is to say, during the 1940s). It has been argued that this period marked the moment of his greatest influence, not only among printmakers, but in the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in America. Hayter advocated both the theory and practice of ‘automatism,’ wherein an artist is encouraged to empty his or her mind a

llow the unconscious to direct their work, a critical tool that helped to fuse a Surrealist technique with the expressive power of abstraction. Indeed, in whatever media Hayter works, and no matter how abstract the imagery becomes, there is always a semblance of a subject, an imagery defined almost exclusively by line.---Read More:



by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

OW as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

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