"For sometime now I had been going to the University of Buffalo libraries, especially the Harriman Library for art books on Surrealism. I was first introduced to Surrealism by Rick Koch at age 13. I started oil painting at maybe 11 or so years old and had been painting landscapes, especially seascapes, up until then. When I first saw the Surrealist images of René Magritte, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro in art books Rick and his friend Fran had borrowed from the libraries, there was no turning back. I'd found the magic world that matched my dream life. My father was not pleased."
"One evening after walking to Norton Hall, the student union of the University of Buffalo, I picked up a copy of the student newspaper and read that the famed Surrealist and writer, Marcel Jean, was scheduled to deliver a lecture on the History of Surrealism at one of the halls at the University later that week. The following day on our walk to the bus stop, I was 14 or so at the time, I told Rick about the lecture and presentation. He agreed to attend with me that night.""The presentation was perhaps at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Marcel Jean was introduced by a member of the French faculty of the Modern Languages Department of the University. The crowd applauded loudly. There he was, an authentic, bald Surrealist, speaking with a thick but quite understandable French accent. My elementary school had us study French from the third grade, so hearing the accent hardly scrambled the ears. After several slides, he begins his analysis of Dali: 'The famous painting, The Persistence of a Memory' seems to be a visual play on the expression most frequently heard when one visits the doctor's office, 'Montre ta langue' (Stick out your tongue.) When one sees the watches (montres) painted as soft tongues (langues), one immediately understands the pun.' "I'd thought the analysis a bit literal but fun just the same. It was now getting close to 9 p.m., and as we were walking back home, about an hour walk, I thought it best we leave though the lecture was not over. However, I was not going to leave without an opportunity to speak to M. Jean. I walked up to the presenting professor and asked, "How can I meet M. Jean? I must talk to him." He answered, "Come back tomorrow at 4 p.m.; there's going to be a reception at Capan Hall. You can talk to him then." Voilà. As easy as that." "The following afternoon, we were more than ready. I'd decided to bring one of my Surrealist oils. Rick and I even took pictures of ourselves before getting dropped off at the Hall by Rick's mom. We walk up to the hall like crowned-at-birth, little emperors. Up the old, dank stairwells to the very door. We knock, we enter. We are greeted by a young French woman and Marcel Jean is called from a back room. In he enters, cigarette in hand. What a moment. He starts to talk: 'Surrealism is like this ashtray on the table. Put an umbrella next to it, maybe a naked woman, and there you have Surrealism. It's all automatic imagery. Yes, I remember when Yves Tanguy first came out of the French Merchant Marine. We were friends. He told me he wanted to meet Breton, so I set up a meeting between Tanguy and André Breton. He was very nervous and somewhat shy by nature. Before the meeting, Tanguy did a little (puts the end of his fingers to his nose and inhales loudly, miming the inhalation of a powdered snuff of sorts) of 'zis - it gave him the courage, you know! And then - ah - Breton - not all times with him were good. There were some arguments. I was friends with Oscar Dominguez as well. We'd invented Decalomania together, and would spend days developing images using this very Surrealist technique. Here - here is my card. Write me sometime. Let me know how your painting is coming. It would be nice to hear from you. I have to go now - this is a reception. They paid for my coming here and so forth, so I must be polite. It was nice to meet you and your friend Rick. Time to go!' It was the end of a dream. Rick and I got up, smiled, said thank you and left. It was cloud 10 all the way home. Marcel Jean and I had continued a correspondence for two to three years after that meeting. In the first letter I'd sent him, I included a piece of birch bark1 I'd peeled from a birch tree in Northern Ontario, Canada that summer. I was using it to paint on after some treatment with spray shellac to seal it for oil painting. The birch bark seemed so much like paper, so I felt it a natural for painting. He comments on this bark in the letter at right. In a second letter, he also very kindly wishes me luck with a scholarship that I was invited by Mr. Norman Hirschl of Hirschl & Adler Gallery in New York to apply for - Skowhegan School of Painting. I'd met Mrs. Barbara Hirschl at a bus stop on 5th Ave. after a buying spree at Wittenborn art books store. We talked for several blocks on the bus and in the end says, 'You have to meet my husband. He'd love to meet you. Here's the gallery address.' Of course I never pursued the scholarship invitation. I was young - now just less than 16 years old - and attending art schools out of state was just not part of the family scheme. As an aside, Mr. Hirschl added, 'I know Barbara has a cousin in Buffalo - he's connected with an orchestra there.' The cousin turned out to be the prolific American conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas. Marcel Jean was also kind enough to invite me to his one-man-show at Gimpel-Weitzenhoffer Gallery on Madison Ave., a show to which I was asked to bring our Cadavre Exquis (Exquisite Corpses)." "Marcel Jean's life was so incredibly rich and full of amazing, history-in-the-making moments. In addition to being part of most all the important Surrealist exhibitions in the 1930's and 1940's, he was also instrumental in saving the lives of many Jews fleeing Nazi overrun Hungary. He had accepted work there as a fabric designer. He was not independently wealthy. Once he and his wife settled into the new apartment and job, World War II starts without invitation. In time, Marcel Jean developed an uncanny skill at forging documents of all sorts and became an underground connection for persons seeking exit papers. The skills honed through automatic drawing came in handy for saving more than several lives. Marcel Jean continued to draw, paint and dream until his last days. For a more complete picture of the Surrealist's life, read "Au galop dans le vent" published by Art Vif with Éditions Jean-Pierre de Monza, 1991, France. Out of respect for Marcel Jean and his life's efforts and dreams, please click on the several PDF®* files below for copies of exhibition catalogues and miscellania either sent me by M. Jean or of direct relation to. Exhibition Catalogue for the Gimpel-Weitzenhoffer, Ltd. one-man-show, New York, New York 1971.
Invitation and small catalogue from Galerie Suzanne Visat, Paris, France,
along with miscellania
The History of Surrealist Painting by Marcel Jean (English version)
Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memoirs; introduction and edited by Marcel Jean, Viking Press, New York, 1972
Footnote 1. Other artists having used birch bark for sometime include the great Canadian First Nations' artists, Norval Morrisseau, and Roy Thomas ; both gentlemen are from the Ojibway tribe. Anthony Zarbo did not discover either Norval Morrisseau or Roy Thomas until his drives up to Duluth and Grand Marais, Minnesota in the late 1990's.
Note: To open a PDF® file, simply click on the hyperlink, and it will open to the documents. Click on either "open" to simply open or "save" and save it to your desktop or other destination. Once open, you may size and rotate the images as your wish. Please understand that these documents are scans of private property and are meant only to inform. Any effort to profit from the attached files runs counter to intention. All printed material is copyrighted.
la peinture surréaliste
par Marcel Jean