Natocit Horu (To Turn the Mountain) - Lea Petrikova

Exeter’s role in surrealist art movement celebrated in new exhibition

Exeter’s key role in the surrealist art movement was celebrated through a new exhibition as the world’s key experts in the genre came to the city.

The influential exhibition in the city, The Enchanted Domain, in 1967, helped to revive surrealism in Britain. It was part of the Exeter Festival of Modern Arts, organised by bookseller John Lyle.

Fifty years later academics from around the world gathered at the University of Exeter this week to discuss the movement and unveil new research as part of Surrealisms 2019, a conference of the International Society for the Study of Surrealism (ISSS).

University of Exeter academic Dr Felicity Gee, who organised the conference, said: “The surrealist movement continues to inspire today’s artists, and has had an impact around the world, in literature, film, performance, philosophy and popular culture as well as art.”

The Enchanted Domain was held across the then Exeter City Gallery and Exe Gallery and included performances, lectures and film-shows, which were attended by, among others, Robert Benayoun, George Melly, Conroy Maddox, Patrick Hughes, E.L.T. Mesens, and Roland Penrose. The aim was to show the surrealist movement hadn’t ended with the death of its leader Andre Breton in 1966.

Influential surrealist poet Ted Joans was even inspired by Gerald the Giraffe, now at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, during his visit to Exeter and featured him in his work.

Surreal art aims to explore the unconscious and dreams, with artists hoping to unlock ideas and images from their minds, or depict dream worlds. It influenced cultural life across the world in the period between the first and second world wars.

As part of the conference a free exhibition of digital surreal art, which includes new works, was held at the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Laboratory. Digital art on show included “You Can’t Repeat Loops and Knots” by Chloé Chatard and Pedro Torres, “Magpie’s Wing” by David Greenslade, “The Dream Key” by Darren Thomas, “Story of the Eye”, by Neil Coombs and “Polednice” by Michaela Morning.

Also on display were digital images of British Surrealism from relatively unknown south west painter Joye Higgs, a documentary featuring influential surrealist artist Patrick Hughes, and the original catalogue for the Enchanted Domain exhibition. 

Date: 3 September 2019

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