Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Animated Thoughts: Surrealism and Afternoon Tea at the FIA

So I've been keeping my eye on events at the Flint Institute of Arts. No matter how much I enjoy an afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the FIA is a little closer and while both the collection and the building are smaller, there are still very interesting things to see and do.

Case in point: this past month, they had two exhibits that were of particular interest to me. The first was "Beyond Dreams: Surrealism and Its Manifestations", an exhibition of surrealism in art. The second was "the Art of Refreshment", examples of cutlery and ceramics in food service.

Surrealism for me is one of those on-again/off-again interests. Dali always seemed pretty odd to me, but in a darkly good way--especially the short film Destino that he worked on at Disney. Man Ray's work was always visually thought provoking. And I spent a fair amount of time looking at the work of René Magritte as I was forming ideas for the visual style of my MFA thesis film. I ended up going in a different direction for my thesis, but I remember making a 3d animation using Electro-GIG 3D-GO with a distinct Magritte feel to it. The reference to Magritte is still there in my notes from March 21st, 1995. The animation was of a guy built out of simple primitive shapes that was running across a blue cloudy plane suspended in space against a blue cloudy backdrop. The "primitives" guy was also textured with the same blue sky and cloud pattern. I remember sitting there trying to finish it before the deadline with fellow animation grad Leah Bosworth sitting beside me and pointing out controls on the interface that would've taken me hours to figure it out had I been working on my own.

I've also come to enjoy watching abstract animated films--mainly as a result of instruction by Marla Schweppe and through the films and instruction of Stephanie Maxwell and Skip Battaglia. So whenever I see an exhibit like "Beyond Dreams", I like to review those old lessons from my time at R.I.T. as I appreciate the artwork.

One of the things that I thought was most useful was that the curators had put up a 'Glossary of Surrealism' listing that defined several terms which were applicable to this art movement. Just a little something extra there to educate some and refresh the memories of others. It was appreciated.

As I walked around the exhibit, unlike last year's fantasy art exhibit, I had no real goal other than to look at whatever caught my eye. "Metronome" was one of those images that I just found enjoyable. There was nothing profound about it, it was just visually appealing, especially with it's use of light and shadow.

Metronome, 1990
by Scott Fraser

This one, "Moving Skip Rope" by Harold Edgerton was of particular interest given that I'm an animator--and I really wish that I had been able to get a better picture, the lighting and the glass just worked against me. "Moving Skip Rope" is a photograph taken using a stroboscope flash which produced an image that was reminiscent of Muybridge's motion studies. The resulting artwork below is a dye transfer print.

Moving Skip Rope, 1952
Harold Edgerton

Then there was "Personnage" by Man Ray. This was another one of those that appealed to me as an animator. It reminded me of those early 1980's CGI animations where all the characters were made out of basic primitives (or the assignment that I produced back in '95).

Personnage, 1975
Man Ray, 1890-1976

Afterwards, I sauntered across the hall to view the "Art of Refreshment" exhibit. There was a lot of beautiful glasswork in this exhibit but also some ceramics and some metal, ivory, stone, and silkwork.

There really weren't any moments that provoked epiphanies in this exhibit, I just found it enjoyable. You could see that there was a lot of thought and skill put into making these mundane objects remarkable.

Some of the ones that really caught my eye were the following.

So, while my trips to Flint may not be the events like what I experience in Detroit--a day of appreciating art along with a nice meal, followed by some drawing in the galleries--but what the FIA does have over the DIA is this luxurious library of artbooks with chairs and sofas that you can lounge in while reading. I'm reluctant to share photos of it because it's one of those 'best kept secrets'. I closed out my trip by spending an hour paging through books filled with historical pictures of Chinese and Japanese brushwork. Lots of food for my imagination.

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