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26 June, 2013
Georgio de Chirico
It's unfortunate that some artists have become so identified with a particular style or art movement that when we think of that movement, only that one artist comes to mind. An example of this might be Surrealism. Immediately, Dali snaps into our consciousness to such a degree that we quite often, off the top of our head, can't even think of another single artist involved in Surrealism. Of course Salvador Dali became Surrealism itself, pursuing it, developing it, expounding upon it, promoting it to the point he has overshadowed every other Surrealist who ever lived and worked. But Dali did not invent Surrealism, he wasn't even the first surrealist painter. Not even close in fact. Considering his first Surrealist painting, The Persistence of Memory, wasn't painted until 1931, some seven years after the poet, Andre Breton's, Surrealist Manifesto. Yet one artist was painting Surrealist paintings even before there was a Surrealist movement. His name was Georgio de Chirico.

De Chirico was born in 1888 in Greece, but of Italian parentage. He spent his childhood amongst classical Greek ruins, the harsh sun, the broad paved squares of small Greek towns, and the sometimes bleak, rocky landscape of the hills. His teen years were spent in Italy where his father was a railroad engineer. And his art training occurred in Germany amongst the radical art movements just before WW I. Drawing from all these inputs, de Chirico's early works employed these elements along with a generous topping of Freudian psychology and the philosophical writings of German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche. Later, studying in Paris he dismissed Impressionism as superficial and was equally unimpressed with the Cubists and Fauves, whose work was very much in fashion at the time.

He termed his work "Metaphysical," meaning beyond the real world, coincidentally, not far from a synonym for surreal. His work is always bleak. The colours are strong, harsh, highly contrasting, the simplified towers and illogical piazzas in his paintings, deserted, stark, and frightening, not unlike an after-the-apocalypse nightmare. Typical of this is his Nostalgia of the Infinite, painted about 1912, or his 1917 painting, The Great Metaphysician. His towers, statues, trains, and arched arcades bear no relation to history, nature, or reality. His edges are hard, his shadows long and dismal, his content often not far from abstraction. From Nietzche he painted a world just beneath that in which we live, where the subconscious rules, which often seems more real. Though, we know his work was admired by the Surrealists, it's hard to say how much influence his stark "other reality" had upon the birth of their movement in the mind of Breton. But we don't need to know this to see that he was a surrealist before there were Surrealists.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
27 December 1998

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