Demons And Death Make For A Trippy, Surreal Exhibition At Dulwich Picture Gallery

British Surrealism, Dulwich Picture Gallery ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 21 months ago

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Demons And Death Make For A Trippy, Surreal Exhibition At Dulwich Picture Gallery British Surrealism, Dulwich Picture Gallery 3
The sisters from Macbeth are par for the course in this show. Painted by Henry Fuseli. Courtesy RSC Theatre Collection

A bird-man in a diving suit, a gangly-limbed monkey with a mane and a demonic creature sat atop a sleeping woman. All nightmarish visions, and all part of the British Surrealism exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The curators of this quirky show have clearly had a lot of fun with the topic. The entrance is the most inventive I've seen, a chair suspended upside down near the ceiling, creating the feeling of entering through a mirror image. It's about to get a lot trippier, too.

One of my favourites in the show is this moonlit 'ribbon figure' by Marion Adnams. Photo: Manchester Art Gallery / Bridgeman Images

Among the images inside, a woman made of ribbons dances in the moonlight, and a giant blue bird represents the Blitz as it flies overhead while people cower horrified on the ground. Even a typical reclining bronze figure by Henry Moore looks as if it's being pulled apart.

Surrealism wasn't just a type of art,but a movement itself, and this exhibition looks at the Brits who were part of it. It's surprising to learn that Francis Bacon was rejected for not being surreal enough — that's a tough crowd when Bacon's grotesque figures aren't cutting it.

Watch out for the monkey in Leonora Carrington's painting. © Estate of Leonora Carrington / ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019, UEA 27. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia. Photographer: James Austin

Surrealism also took inspiration from the second world war — after all what's more disturbing than the horrendous loss of life caused by war? This horror is captured in a work depicting Death standing next to a pair of boots, where all that's left are bones protruding, the rest of the soldier having been blown apart.

For every painting of hairy spiders feasting on the flesh of some rotting animal, there's an abstract work that fails to capture the imagination. The show is let down by too many mediocre works which fail to live up to their outlandish and twisted neighbours. There's plenty of bad dreams in here, but it's not the full blown nightmare I was after.

British Surrealism is on at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 17 May 2020. Tickets are £16.50 for adults.

Last Updated 25 February 2020