Sunday, 12 April 2015


Surrealism. Wow, okay. Pause for thought. As a ‘movement’, Surrealism has been with us for nearly a century now, arriving as part and parcel of  a cultural convulsion of the zeitgeist following World War One. It built on the absurdist quality of Dadaism, folding in the influence of contemporary psychological theories about the function of dreams and the workings of the unconscious mind. In a world recently shaken to its core by the sheer mad horror of four years of global strife, Surrealism, according to its manifesto, attempted to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality,” citing the importance of the dream world and a hypnagogic state in the creative process. 

As a consequence, visual artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, forged strange creations from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious an expression. Written texts featured absurdism, elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; the unrestricted flow of thoughts without rational control and exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. 

Are you still with me? Very good. Now…. look into my eyes. Let all your cares and worries slip away. You are getting sleepy…. “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…” (that’s Johnny Beatle from ‘Revolver’, don’t you know?) Go with the flow, just drift along, and tell me what it is you see…
…some fearful asymmetry heaving into view, pop-art for sailormen, a floating gallery of the waves? Hang on, it’s ‘Snowdrop’, the Mersey ferry! So what’s going on here?
Dazzleships is what. A decade before Surrealism surfaced, when Britain was at war with Germany and the sea was of great strategic importance, artists were drafted in to assist in the war effort by painting both merchant and navy vessels in an array of fantastic camouflage patterns designed to disguise the true nature and shape of the sea-faring vessels and thoroughly bemuse the enemy. At first these make-overs were monochromatic but colour was later deployed. 

Now, as part of the 100-year commemoration of the Great War, Dazzleships are making a comeback in Liverpool. There is one in dry dock (pictured above), the Liverpool Maritime Museum has a special exhibition about the Dazzleships and the afore-mentioned Mersey ferry has been treated to a glorious 21st century pop-art paint job designed by Sir Peter Blake. It took 3,000 man-hours to apply and will grace the river until the corrosive action of the sea requires it to be painted again in a couple of years’ time, so catch it while you can. 

Today’s poem began life at a poetry workshop in Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery during the week to coincide with an exhibition of Pop-Art Collage and is, as yet, unfinished and untitled…
eyes deceived,
senses not to be believed,
what is this charade,
this weirdness
at once both terrifying and beautiful
rising from the waves?

form is fractured
in a riot of colourful confusion,
outline scattered
into splintered themes;
this fantastical fabrication,
mesmerizing triumph
of shape disintegration,
moving cubist mirage,
all razzle-flecked and puzzle-decked,
is like some floating stage set
for a theatre of the absurd war. 

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)


Christo said...

Well done, Steve, and thanks for prompting thoughts about so influential a movement.

Matthew Pike said...

I saw Peter Blake's last week!

Buckets & Spades