Max Ernst (1891, Brühl, Germany - 1976, Paris, France) was a very prolific painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. Max Ernst was a provocateur, a shocking and innovative artist who mined his unconscious for dreamlike imagery that mocked social conventions. A soldier in World War I, Ernst emerged deeply traumatized and highly critical of western culture. These charged sentiments directly fed into his vision of the modern world as irrational, an idea that becamethe basis of his artwork. Ernst's artistic vision, along with his humor and verve come through strongly in his Dada and Surrealists works; Ernst was a pioneer of both movements. Spending the majority of his life in France, during WWII Ernst was categorized as an "enemy alien"; the United States government affixed the same label when Ernst arrived as a refugee. In later life, in addition to his prolific outpouring of paintings, sculpture, and works-on-paper, Ernst devoted much of his time to playing and studying chess which he revered as an art form. His work with the unconscious, his social commentary, and broad experimentation in both subject and technique remain influential.
Ernst attacked the conventions and traditions of art, all the while possessing a thorough knowledge of European art history. He questioned the sanctity of art by creating non-representational works without clear narratives, by making sport of religious icons, and by formulating new means of creating artworks to express the modern condition. He was profoundly interested in the art of the mentally ill as a means to access primal emotion and unfettered creativity. Ernst was one of the first artists to apply Sigmund Freud's dream theories investigate his deep psyche in order to explore the source of his own creativity. While turning inwards unto himself, Ernst was also tapping into the universal unconscious with its common dream imagery. Interested in locating the origin of his own creativity, Ernst attempted to freely paint from his inner psyche and in an attempt to reach a pre-verbal state of being. Doing so unleashed his primal emotions and revealed his personal traumas, which then became the subject of his collages and paintings. This desire to paint from the sub-conscious, also known as automatic painting was central to his Surrealist works and would later influence the Abstract Expressionists.
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