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André Masson (1896 - 1987)

(Man Ray, Portrait of André Masson, c. 1930)
The painter and graphic artist sculptor, illustrator, designer and writer André Masson was born in Balagny, a village on Ile de France although he spent most of his youth in Brussels where he where he worked as pattern-drawer in an embroidery studio and studied part-time at the Académie des Beaux-Arts
In 1912 André Masson went to Paris where was admitted to the Paul Baudoin studio at the Ecole National Superieure des Beaux-Arts. He served in the French army from 1914-1919 but was severely injured and spent several months in an army hospital.

In 1922, following three years living in Aix-en-Provence in the South of France, Masson returned to Paris where he met Gris and Derain, and later Miró and Breton. His first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Simon, Paris, was in 1923 showing paintings of forests, card players and still life.

In 1925 the first Surrealist exhibition took place in the Pierre gallery which included some of Masson's works, but in protest against Breton's authoritarian claim to leadership of the movement, Masson left the group five years later. However, Surrealism had given him access to the irrational and the psychological roots of art. With the help of 'écriture automatique', an automatic script, which is derived from the subconscious, Masson tried to explore the depths of the irrational and the psychological roots of art. Hence Masson followed this method and went on to develop his famous sand pictures made of glue and different coloured sands. His focus on lines and the free description of shapes in his graphic works reflect his study of Eastern calligraphy. In his swinging lines, drawn in a trance-like state or ecstatically agitated script, Masson often captured wild and cruel visions. Most of the time an orderly Cubist structure can still be found behind the spontaneity and the passionate emotions of the pictures.

From 1942, when Masson fled to the USA before the Nazi occupation of France, he painted fragmented figures and figures of terror and up until the sixties he remained pre-occupied with these motifs. In 1945 Masson returned to Paris and broke with Surrealism once and for all.

Masson's versatile œuvre also includes illustrations of books and stage designs. In 1966 he produced a ceiling painting for the Parisian Théatre Odéon and despite the fact that, particularly in the USA, he is celebrated as the inspiration of Abstract Expressionism, Masson's work remained object-related throughout. Masson's desire was turn his own vision into reality and "not to photograph the event of the day".


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