Max Ernst was fascinated with microscopic images, which were first broadly distributed in the early twentieth century. For The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses (1921), he created an overpainting on the ambitious scale of traditional oil painting by using a commercially available teaching chart. Ernst inverted the found poster, which contains magnified views of brewer’s yeast cells, and selectively painted in a black background. He then painted gears and bands, as well as humanizing details including eyes, noses, limbs, and whiskers to create a virtual circus of tightrope walkers, clowns and cyclists. The inscription lands amusing sexual connotations to the hairs, orifices and protrusions of these microorgasms.
Max Ernst painted the first state of Woman, Old Man and Flower in 1923, the year after he moved from Cologne to Paris to join the nascent Surrealist group. He subsequently modified elements of this picture. Most astonishingly, he added the mysterious, partially transparent, partially modeled, fan-topped figure in the foreground — presumably the flower referenced in the painting’s title. Even before leaving Germany, Ernst had been thinking about translating the collage and overpainting strategies of his small Dada works on paper into oil on canvas. The results achieved included radical leaps in scale, intensified colors, and what he described to fellow Dadaist Tristan Tzara as “a much insaner effect.”
Photographed as part of the Exhibit, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, Up Through January 1st, 2018 at the Museum of Modern Art.