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Abstract Surrealisme & Cobra

Surrealism is one of the most important art movements of the 20th century. As the name suggests, the movement aims to show another reality than the one visible to the naked eye. The Surrealist artists were fascinated by the interest in the inner workings of the human psyche that flourished in the wake of Sigmund Freud's theories of the unconscious mind and of dream interpretation. Surrealism was born in Paris in the early 1920s and soon became an international phenomenon.
 
In Denmark Surrealism was introduced with the first exhibition put on by the artists' association ‘Linien’ in 1934. Among its members were Ejler Bille and Henry Heerup, and a couple of years later Sonja Ferlov joined the group. The artists of Linien wanted to give expression to dreams. Their goal was to liberate the powers of the unconscious mind and, moreover, to break with the conventional and rational norms of society.
 
One way of gaining access to the unconscious mind was automatic drawing, a kind of free-flowing technique whose aim was to prevent the conscious mind from dictating the look of the finished drawing. Such drawings usually bring to mind haphazard doodles. In practice the method alternated between spontaneity and deliberate artistic choices. For Ejler Bille, who employed an abstract surrealist style, this approach became a life-long project. In his early paintings the drawing can be seen clearly behind the composition. Later he painted directly on the canvas, using spontaneous brush strokes to create the motif. In the long term the work method became a defining feature of Cobra painting. Cobra – formed by the initials in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam – was an association of artists from Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands established after Second World War.
 
The Cobra artists' preoccupation with children's forms of expression, for instance, also grew out of the surrealists' interest in authenticity. The child's mind was regarded as a stage in the mental development of man, as yet uninfluenced by the expectations of the surrounding world. They also found inspiration in the innocence that is characteristic of naïve art.
 
Henry Heerup's art, showing many similarities with children's art and naïve art, comes across as playful and pure. His trash sculptures, too, bear a resemblance to Surrealism. Henry Heerup's astonishing juxtapositions of all sorts of found objects recall the way the Surrealists combined unrelated objects in compositions which thus achieved a dream-like quality.
 
Another common field of interest of the surrealist artists was the inspiration taken from the forms of expression of non-Western cultures and their entirely different way of interpreting the world. Here the primordial forces and original forms that the Europeans believed to have left behind were still present.
 
Like Ejler Bille and Sonja Ferlov the sculptor Erik Thommesen was inspired by non-Western cultures, and in particular by the simple and expressive idiom used by these cultures. For Ejler Bille this imagery provided an everlasting source of vivid ornamentation, and for a period of time the mask was the motif around which expressions of spontaneity unfolded. Sonja Ferlov was the only one to become seriously interested in the inherent mystical content of these non-Western artworks. Later on she gained intimate knowledge of their religious and ritual subject matter and created her own reinterpretations thereof. Ejler Bille, Henry Heerup, Sonja Ferlov and Erik Thommesen were all part of the Cobra movement.