paintings, collages, aerographs
  • Man Ray had already been painting for seven years by the summer of 1915, when he opened his first exhibition at the Daniel Gallery in New York, but it was only then that his work took on a personal dimension.
  • Man Ray’s artistic vocation was precocious. Gifted in both drawing and industrial illustration, he attracted the attention of his professors, who encouraged him to follow this path. He took classes at the Ferrer Center, where he met Samuel Halpert. In the beginning, his scholarly exercises were based on live models, but soon influenced by Cézanne and the analytical cubism of Picasso and Braque, he concentrated on large-scale, colorful compositions. In early 1915, Man Ray decided to leave painting from life behind: "I changed my style completely, reducing figures to flat dislocated forms [...] I carefully choose subjects that in themselves had no aesthetic interest. All idea of composition as I had been concerned with previously through my earlier training, was abandoned and replaced with an idea of unity and cohesion, accompanied by a dynamic quality as in a growing plant." [Man Ray, Autoportrait ([1963], 1964) 59-60].
  • His background as an industrial designer prompted the painter to favor geometric forms. Arrangement of Forms I presented an extremely geometrized, but recognizable, still life. Man Ray returned to this theme two years later, separating himself from representation (Arrangement of Forms II). The mechanical elements, namely two gear wheels, were still visible, but their contours remained indeterminate.
  • Inspired by a rope dancer whom Man Ray saw in a vaudeville show, the composition and design of The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with her Shadow (1916) featured cut paper. On different colored paper, Man Ray sketched various acrobatic positions. He then cut the paper and arranged the different forms in a series, suggesting movement by passing from one color to another. Unsatisfied with the result, Man Ray realized that the bits of paper littering the floor composed an abstract design that could be interpreted as the shadows of the dancer: "I had fun moving around the bits of paper, then I imagined my canvas as I had to paint it. I scratched the original forms of the dancer and set to work in applying big, pure stains of color to the blank canvas that had surrounded my original design. I didn’t even try to establish a color harmony; it was red on blue, purple on yellow, green on orange, with the largest possible contrast. I had painted the colors with precision but also with generosity, all my color stock is there. When this was done, I wrote the legend, 'The rope dancer accompanies herself with her shadows.' [Man Ray, Autoportrait ([1963], 1964) 70-71].
  • This experiment with cut-up colored paper inspired the conception of a series of ten collages, Revolving Doors (1916-1917), each collage initially conceived as a preparatory study for a larger canvas: "I traced the forms on papers of every color before putting them on the canvas. I obeyed certain logic: the primary [p. 67] and secondary colors had to overlap. Then I carefully cut the paper and glued it on white cardboard.
    The result was rather satisfying and I didn’t feel the immediate need to transform my collages into paintings. I wanted to present them as they were in my next exhibition and I wrote a long and disjointed text to go along with them. The compositions bore elegant titles: The Meeting, Legend, Decanter, Shadows, Orchestra, Concrete Mixer, Mime, Dragonfly, Jeune Fille and Long Distance. I baptized the ensemble 'Revolving Doors' because the collages were mounted on a stand with hinges, so that you could spin them and look at them one after the other" [Man Ray, Autoportrait ([1963], 1964) 72).
  • In 1917, Man Ray experimented with a procedure that used an air pistol to shoot gouache or ink at an object placed on a canvas or sheet of paper to obtain its silhouette, the negative print: "The inspiration came to me in my office, where I had installed a gun mechanism, loaded with compressed air, and other instruments that helped me to cover large surfaces with paint much faster and more efficiently than with a paintbrush" (cited by Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray, 60 ans de liberté (Paris 1971) 18]. Thus the easel, the paintbrushes, and other traditional painting supplies disappeared.
    The objects represented were those that he found around him. In Droller (First Object Aerated, 1919), Man Ray’s first aerographic work, one perceives an English key and, without a doubt, a piece of wood. The silhouette of the sculpture By Itself II appears very distinctly in an aerographic painting, Untitled, created in 1919. Suicide (1917), The Birdcage, Admiration of the Orchestrelle for the Cinematograph (1919), and Seguidilla (1919), works indifferently abstract or representative, create spaces that foreshadow the 'Rayographic' procedures discovered in 1922: "I was painting canvases without ever touching the surface! It was very exciting. A purely cerebral act, in a way." [Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray, 60 ans de liberté (Paris 1971) 19).
    Nathalie Ernoult, 'Man Ray / Paintings, Collages, Aerographs', translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 652. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 65-66 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].
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