Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The tide is high

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée IV

Cinemagoers of a certain age will remember the short film La Marée (The Tide), which was incorporated as the first of Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales, released in 1977 when Borowczyk was still an arthouse darling. It tells the story of a young man who uses the hypnotic rhythm of the incoming tide to seduce his cousin. The film was based on a novella by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, a writer associated both with the nouveau roman and with Surrealism. Like so many French writers, Mandiargues had many artist friends (and was married to an artist, Bona de Mandiargues). Among these friends was the American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning, who in 1970 created a suite of etchings with colour aquatint inspired by La Marée.

90 copies of a limited edition of the Tanning version of La Marée were published by Éditions Georges Visat, with the etchings printed on Arches. In addition, 90 suites of the etchings were printed on Japon nacré, hand-signed and justified by Dorothea Tanning.

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée V

I’ve been lucky enough to acquire one of these suites of Dorothea Tanning etchings, and they seem to me to rank among her finest work. She doesn’t try to illustrate the text in a direct way. Instead she responds to it, with a matching blend of eroticism, tension, and longing. Many of the images are almost abstract. Figures of a young man and a young woman merge with rocks and waves. And of course what a photograph can’t show is the sheer physicality of the prints themselves.

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée VII

I’ve only got one other Dorothea Tanning print, a lithograph related to her series En chair et en or, which was a 1973 suite of etchings with aquatint, in which distorted orgiastic forms further explore the surrealistic recesses of sexuality. These are very powerful works, but I prefer the more tender, even romantic, quality of her etchings for La Marée.

Dorothea Tanning, Untitled (En chair et en or)

Dorothea Tanning was Max Ernst’s third wife (after Marie-Berthe Aurenche and Peggy Guggenheim). Tanning has been rather wittily called “the oldest living Surrealist widow”; she was born in 1910, so she is fast approaching her centenary.

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