A pencil sketch of various feline and bovine creatures

Conversations with Benjamin Péret: Exquisite Corpse Drawing

In the 1946 sketch Exquisite Corpse, Gunther Gerzso explores a series of French words: une (article “a”), mettre (verb “to put”), parfois (adverb “sometimes”), vache (noun “cow”), et (conjunction “and”). The words do not constitute a coherent sentence but somehow these dream-like fragments belong together as the artist creates vignettes of words in the shape of surrealist bestiary figures. A strong influence of Pre-Columbian sculpture, archeology and African masks can be noted as the artist was deeply interested in the topics that were rooted in his Mexican background. The drawings are made up of body parts, bones, teeth and tribal masks, echoing Gerzso’s earlier painting El Descuartizado, 1944. Like Surrealist artists Roberto Matta and André Breton, Gerzso was interested in exploring the theme of human aggression during World War II. Diana Dupont describes the painting as “a cataclysm in which everything has been torn asunder. Dismembered human or animal fragments comprise a free-flowing composition in which soft entrails melt into hard, bonelike forms, blurring distinctions between different types of organic matter.” *

Surrealists often took part in Exquisite Corpse (Cadavre exquis) games; a method by which a number of words or images is collectively assembled by different artists. Although this drawing is executed by Gerzso, the artist writes on the top right corner of the sheet “Conversaciones con Benjamin PERET” confirming their collaboration on the study. In 1944, Gerzso met Benjamin Péret, Surrealist poet and political activist, who moved to Mexico from France. In the 1940s, a number of European artists and writers, including Wolfang Paalen, Alice Rahon, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo moved to Mexico to escape the horrors of World War II. With his European heritage and extensive shared interest with the Surrealists, Gerzso naturally became part of the group. His friendship with Benjamin Péret greatly influenced Gerzso and his early painting period.

*Diana C. Dupont, Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2003, p. 95

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