Thursday, March 18, 2010

Artist of the Week: Man Ray

Man Ray
“I do not photograph nature. I photograph my visions.”
–Man Ray

"Legendary Photography, painter, and maker of objects and films, Man Ray was on the most versatile and inventive artists of this century. Born in Philadelphia in 1890, he knew the worlds of Greenwich Village in the avant garde era following the 1913 Armory show; Paris in the 1920's and 1930's, where he played a key role in the Dada and Surrealist movements; The Hollywood of the 1940s, where he joined others chased by war from their homes in Europe; and finally, Paris again until his death in 1976. "
(everything you ever wanted to know about him and a complete image archive)


The Gift

"Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask 'how', while others of a more curious nature will ask 'why'. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information." – Man Ray 
...a wild, impetuous, amoral woman at a time when, beyond bohemian circles, women were often still expected to be seen and not heard. "All I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red," Kiki once said. "And I will always find somebody to offer me that."   read more: Kiki: The Queen of Bohemia

 Noire et Blanche

(the model is Kiki) 

Man Ray began work in several mediums: sculpture, film, painting and photography were just some of his many passions. His earliest works were fairly static, inspired mostly by cubism and expressionism. It was only when Marcel Duchamp befriended him that he began to add movement to his works; his focus changed to Surrealism and Dadaism. Together the two founded the Society of Independent Artists in 1916, and published a single issue of New York Dada.

Kiki de Montparnasse in a variante of "Violons d'Ingres"

In 1921 he coined the term “rayograph” for a cameraless process using objects to block light and embed their image on light sensitive paper. In his homage to a revered master, “Le violon d’Ingres”(“Ingres’ Violin,” 1924), Ray combined a rayographic technique with a regular photograph, overlaying the curving f-holes from a violin onto a photograph of the naked back of his model and mistress, Kiki.


Man Ray tried to create a Surrealist vision of the female form, and utilized solarization, cropping, over development (various photographic techniques) to create a surreal effect in his photographs.


Lee Miller's Neck

Dora Maar

French photographer, poet and painter best know for being a lover and muse of Pablo Picasso

Having broken with his wife, Man Ray left New York for Paris in 1921—marking a continuous stream of tempestuous and often doomed romances. Through Duchamp, Man Ray met some of the most exciting artists and thinkers in Paris. Though he didn’t speak a word of French at first, he was welcomed into this group and became its unofficial photographer. Among the many models from this period were Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertude Stein, James Joyce, and the famous performer, Kiki of Montparnasse. For six years Kiki was Ray’s constant model, muse and lover

Pablo Picasso


 Gertrude Stein
(Of "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" fame. I still scratch my head over how Stein ever became known as a writer, but that's just me.)

Henri Matisse

 Jean Cocteau


 After Lunch



Le Cadeau (The Gift)
is an early readymade by Man Ray (with the assistance of Erik Satie), consisting of an iron with fourteen nails glued to its sole, made in 1921 in Paris.
Much like Oppenheim’s Object, Gift is a conjunction of two alien objects. One represents domesticity and possibly femininity; the other represents carpentry and hence masculinity. The sheer failure of Gift as something practical makes the object a poor gift -- ironic naming on Ray’s part.



  1. I love Noire et Blanche, though at the same time I find it a bit disturbing - it's the human head that looks disembodied while the wooden one is upright. He certainly had a gift though, what a talent.

  2. This is simply a fantastic post. So much to absorb and think about. What fascinates me is the creativity of these artists. I'd never heard of Man Ray. I will admit, I have never been to a first class art museum. One such visit is on our agenda for an upcoming trip to Chicago in a month or two.

    Thanks for the hard work putting this together.


  3. Robin: that is an astute observation about the heads. About the photograph being a bit disturbing I more or less always have this to say: that's okay! How many times do we see disturbing images in great movies or read them in great passages from books, right? Maybe people are more disturbed because a painting or photo or sculpture is usually more in your face - it's not a bit of something but the whole of it. So at times I wonder if that's why people seem more disturbed by art than by other forms of creativity? Just a thought. And thank you for provoking it! It's good to get your comment, Robin.

    Spado: wow. I have so much to say in response to your comment. I think I was in my 20's before my first visit to a world-class museum. And how a girl from an immigrant, working-class background go so energized by the art without an "art scene" to appreciate it, is one of the beautiful things about my life. More and more I value imagination. Had I grown up in a more affluent and better educated family, I may have had the opportunity to explore it much earlier, as my daughters have. Interestingly, only one of them really likes going to museums. But just as a side thought on that - both kids were exposed to a lot of things and they were able to choose what they wanted to pursue. I don't think I chose being an art lover - it kind of chose me. It is a REAL passion of mine. So when someone, a blog friend like you or a daughter or WP or Cunning Runt understand that passion...I don't's a form of real connection for me. It means a lot. A lot more than I'm able to explain with words.

    I can't wait to hear about your visit to Chicago and what museum you will visit. I have never been to Chicago, so I'm thrilled to have a chance to hear about your experience. Are the grandkids going too? I hope you write a post.

    It was great to hear from you on this post, Joe.

    Peace to you

  4. There was a time I was actively interested in Man Ray for the simple reason of being amazed at his imagination and productivity. It's been really interesting seeing his work again here in overview and you've chosen some very nice pieces to display. I love all of them but a particular favorite this time (perhaps because of the passage of time in my own life) is the metronome whose title is 'Object to be Destroyed. His rayographs were an amazing photographic accomplishment at the time whose subtleties are a little harder to appreciate now that everyone has access to Photoshop :-)

    I checked this morning and found the Art Institute of Chicago does have some examples of his work. I've been at O'Hare a number of times but it's still one of the great American cities I've yet to see. I hope you get to make the trip too.

  5. Wonderful post and interesting.
    I love the girl bending backwards with long flowing hair.

    Thanks for your visit and kind comments my friend.

  6. Ampther excellent choice or artist. Seeing Cocteau though makes me think I should get my finger out and visit the church off Leicester Square that contains some wonderful Cocteau murals

  7. Man Ray's work has always caught my interest - particularly in the pre-photoshop days, when this kind of surreal photography was had to achieve, and rare to encounter. There is a kind of cold detachment, I feel, which seems to fit my impressions of the time. It's in stark contrast to the passion of his various relationships. Perhpas deliberately? Or maybe there is great passion in the artwork, as well, but it sails past me?

    "Gift" always makes my skin crawl in a delightful way. I picture using it... awful result. I think it's one of the most tactile sculptures I know.

  8. Susan: we who are old enough to remember a time without the trickery of digital photography and enhancement, can really appreciate Ray's genius in this area. I always liked Man Ray's work but I've grown to like it more and more lately and especially since I put this post together and did a lot of reading and viewing of art I'd not seen before by him. And then there are Kiki and Lee Miller - fascinating in their own right - Lee Miller also being a very talented photographer.

    We should let Spadoman know to look for those works in Chicago when he visits.

    imac: no thanks needed, mac. You're brilliant with a camera and I truly enjoy visiting daily, even if I don't always leave a comment. Sometimes all I can say is redundant because your photos are always so good.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post on Ray.

    Jams: Cocteau murals? If you photograph them and post them, please give me a heads-up! Thanks for the visit.

    Steve: I see the detachment you mean in some of his works but Lee Miller's Neck is very passionate and emotionally evocative. In its own way, The Gift is also very emotional. What draws me the most is the compositions, cold or not. I think he was a master of putting disparate objects like the masks, together with human models and making both seem either human or inhuman. Perhaps that's where we find them detached and somewhat cold at times?

    I think it is Ray who was a fan of the Marquis de Sade - perhaps The Gift was influenced by de Sade's work?

  9. Have I mentioned lately that you amaze me?

    Thanks for being such a window on a world I know so little about!

  10. CR: sheeeeeeeeesh. ur makin' me blush. Thanks, pal. :-)

  11. That certainly brightened my day. I love, love, love the self portrait.


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