Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Descendants of Automatism

February 23, 2018

While automatism was pioneered in writing by French surrealists such as André Breton and Philippe Soupault in the early half of the twentieth century, it wasn’t until fellow French artist André Masson began experimenting with automatic drawings that automatism impacted the visual arts. Inspired by ideas expressed in Breton’s infamous 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, Masson’s spontaneously-generated works were often the result of working in a kind of half-awake, half-dream state, which Breton had identified as “dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” With no predetermined subject matter or precise composition in mind, Masson would allow his hand to wander, as if guided by an external force, to produce an abstract swarm of lines, which would eventually give way to hints of wildly fragmented, but vaguely tangible images suggestive of figures, objects, or ideas that nonetheless remained fluid enough to sustain free association.

Hans Hartung, Untitled, 1960
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Since Masson, many visual artists have used automatism as a springboard for generating works. LAMA is delighted to have three important works no doubt inspired by automatic drawing included in our February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction. Hans Hartung’s (1904 – 1989) pastel-on-paper Untitled (1960) is an excellent example of this German-French artist’s oeuvre, which is known for its deeply gestural, abstract style that is closely aligned with the work of other important post-war, Art Informel artists, such as Jean Dubuffet, Karel Appel, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. While paintings such as his Untitled (1960) have a spontaneous, calligraphic quality about them, they also have an aspect of formality to them, with their elegant, rhythmical lines and seemingly calculated swathes of monochromatic color.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Cy Twombly, Note II, 1967
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

In a similar vein, American artist Cy Twombly’s (1928 – 2011) etching Note II (1967) nods to the spontaneous mining of the subconscious, which underpins automatism. With its deeply expressive, graffiti-like gestures, scribbles, drips, and scratches, this work is classic Twombly through and through. A Twombly work is an elegantly orchestrated, lyrical composition, chock-full of fluid starts and stops, erasures, and replacements, which all lend a manuscript-like quality to his works. Like the automatic drawings of Masson, Twombly’s “scribble” works are graphic representations of deeply personal subjects, but they are also palpable records of process. As Twombly himself once noted, each line he made in his work was at its core “the actual experience” of its creation. “It does not illustrate,” he continued, “It is the sensation of its own realization.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Christian Rosa, Untitled, 2014
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Twombly’s sentiment concerning work and process could have been just as easily uttered by Brazilian artist Christian Rosa (b. 1982). “I never choose painting, it chooses me,” says Rosa, who lives and works in Vienna and Los Angeles. The young artist’s mixed-media-on-canvas works, such as his 2014 Untitled, feature rigorously pared-down compositions reminiscent of the otherworldly, surrealist paintings of Spanish artist Joan Miró. Rosa infuses his raw, unprimed canvases with gloriously enigmatic, geometric shapes, furious scribbles, bold blotches of color, and abstracted, floating lines that have a sort of uncanny nonchalance about them, in spite of their fantastical quality. In step with other artists who have utilized varying degrees of automatism in their work, Rosa is most interested in practice, or what he calls “the dark side: failing, getting back on your feet, and confronting problems in the best way so people be like, WTF, this shit looks awesome.”

Lot Information:

Lot 15
Hans Hartung
Pastel on paper
Signed and dated in graphite lower left edge of sheet
Sheet (vis.): 24.625″ x 18.625″; Frame: 38″ x 32″

Estimate: $15,000-20,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 125
Cy Twombly
Note II
Published and printed by Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip
Etching on Auvergne handmade paper
Unique trial proof aside from the edition of 14
Initialed in graphite lower right edge of sheet; edition lower left; retains ULAE blind stamp lower left
Together with copy of invoice from Margo Leavin Gallery dated April 25, 2000
Image: 8.75″ x 10.75″; Sheet: 25.5″ x 20″; Frame: 29″ x 24.125″
Provenance:  Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Encino, California (acquired directly from the above, 2000)
Literature: Cy Twombly: The Printed Graphic Work, 1953-1984. H. Bastian. 1984. #7.

Estimate: $60,000 – 90,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 133
Christian Rosa
Oil, charcoal, oil stick, and graphite on canvas
Signed and dated on canvas overlap verso
78.75″ x 78.75″

Estimate: $20,000-30,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

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