Tattoo Boulevard


To understand the work of Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky), you first need to understand the person behind the art. Ray was not your average artist ( if there can be such a thing as an average artist), but was instead a bold and unique mystery. His work is, to an extent, a reflection of his personality; stark, often cold and enigmatic. For most of his career he refused to comment on his life, his history and his family. His life was a detachment, an abstract, and his work was equally detached. Although famed more for his photography than anything else, Ray always considered himself to be a painter, expressing it once as:

I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.” (Quote published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)

In style, Ray was (loosely) from the Dada and Surrealist schools, which could be described as acting as a precursor for Postmodernism. In this regard, he was truly a visionary – a vision that he could not see born in The United States, as he felt unable to articulate the Dadaist ethos whilst in New York, thus choosing to work in France instead.

His work (and the Dada movement in general) has been described as ‘Anti-Art’ due to its stripped back and barren expression. Ray adopted strange and unusual methods for producing photography, paintings and other works of art.

Looking at his work, you could say that Ray was a man who was determined to destroy art, with work clearly trying to provoke a response. His efforts to this end often included taking pre made objects, on one occasion a sowing machine, and altering it slightly to present it as art (the sowing machine was wrapped in cloth and tied with a bow). His work was clearly designed to tear down any preconceptions of what constituted art.

But Ray was not an artist who saw his work as ‘advancing’ any cause or movement. He did not view art as a process or an evolution, but as simple discovery of something that already existed in some form. He articulated this best himself:

“There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.” (Quote from Rays 1948 essay “To Be Continued, Unnoticed”.)

To Ray, art was not about creating something new or unique (that was not mans place), but rather to reproduce the work of the true artist. He saw his work, not as pushing boundaries or artistic frontiers but as simply producing art in a different way. Of course, this meant ‘educating’ his audience to his way of thinking.

The work of Man Ray is as stark as it is bold. It is often cold and isolated in its expression. As you become accustomed to his work, the question begins to dawn on you – is the artistic work of Man Ray an expression of Man Ray, or is Man Ray an expression of the art?

Posted in Uncategorized by tattoo on November 19th, 2010 at 2:41 am.

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