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Wolfgang Paalen

(1905)


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(1905/7–59)

Austrian-born painter who became a Mexican citizen in 1945. He was born in Vienna, and after studying in France, Germany, and Italy, he lived in Paris from the late 1920s until 1939, when he emigrated to Mexico at the invitation of Frida Kahlo. Paalen had a varied career in avant-garde circles (in the early 1930s, for example, he painted cool abstractions and was a member of Abstraction-Création), but he is best remembered for his involvement with Surrealism, which lasted from 1936 to 1941. His most characteristic pictures depict phantasmagoric clawed creatures that he called ‘Saturnine Princes’. He also experimented with automatism and is credited with inventing the technique of fumage, which exploited the effects produced by candle soot on paper. In 1940 he helped to organize an international Surrealist exhibition in Mexico City. However, the following year he abandoned Surrealism and concentrated on his ‘Dynaton’ movement, aimed at uniting aspects of pre-Columbian art (which he studied and collected) and modern science. He put forward his ideas in the review Dyn (six issues, 1942–4), his writings for which (in English) were collected in his book Form and Sense, published in New York in 1945. His collaborator in the Dynaton movement was another former Surrealist, the British-born (later American) painter Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003). Together they arranged a Dynaton exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1951. Later in the 1950s Paalen developed a violent abstract style. He committed suicide, following a scandal about dealing in stolen artefacts.

Subjects: art.


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