Innovative new art space, Elephant West
launched its Surrealism Season this November with a series of playful photographic portraits of some of the most iconic surrealists of the 20th century, rendered entirely in Play-Doh by artist Eleanor Macnair.
Inspired by a series of self-portraits of André Breton, the father of Surrealism, and his circle taken in photomatons or photo booths in Paris in the 1920s, Macnair has rendered nine of these early 20th century selfies in her own disposable material of choice, Play-Doh.
Working from images found on the internet, the original photographs are reinterpreted in lurid colour, and thrown back into the digital realmand now, blown up to giant size and plastered on the walls of Elephant West.
Macnairs reimagined, technicolor portraits of André Breton, Salvador Dali, Suzanne Muzard, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Yves Tanguy, Jacques-André Boiffard and Marie-Berthe Aurenche are on display in the size of the original photomatons, as a traditional print art work, and a selection blown-up large-scale to fill the gallery walls.
Alongside the portraits, playing on the motif of the eye in Surrealism and as part of Elephant Wests Surrealism Season, the walls of Elephant West come alive with gigantic eyes, collaged together from Macnairs earlier series of work.
Macnair began rendering photographs in Play-Doh on a whim in August 2013 following a photo pub quiz run by artists MacDonaldStrand in Brighton, where one of the rounds was to make a reproduction of a famous photograph using the modelling material. As an experiment, she then began posting the remade photographs onto a blog, linking to the original image.
Eleanor Macnair comments, I started using off-the-shelf Play-Doh as it was accessible and cheap, and so the financial risks of the project were minimal. Im interested in how we judge art and who is it for? Making a disposable art project on my living room table with amateur materials felt like a playful way of raising this question. I didnt visit an art gallery myself until my early 20s so its important to me that this project is accessible to people who may not have otherwise encountered the images, whilst appealing to an art/photography audience by playing with themes around re-appropriation. When Elephant West approached me about their Surrealism season, it seemed a natural fit to remake these photomaton portraits. Photobooth portraits are thought of as disposable and I liked the playfulness of these big, unreachable art world figures shown as ordinary people messing around in a photobooth 90 years ago.
Elephant has been a fan of Macnairs work for some time, connecting with the artists playful approach as well the works ability to reach beyond traditional gallery audiences. Robert Shore, Creative Director of Elephant, observes, We love Eleanors work. Elephant celebrates life through art, and what better way could there be to do that than with pots of Play-Doh and some old Surrealist snaps, not to mention thousands of eyes staring out from the walls and carpeting the floor? Its such clever, fun, life-enhancing work, and were immensely proud to be hosting Eleanors first major show. I cant wait for the Play-Doh workshop-discos, either.
Eleanor Macnair runs from the 22 November 2019 to 5 January 2020.