Song of the Day: Visual Artists in Music (Day Six). “Helen Lundeberg, Illusory Landscape”.

The term Post-Surrealism coined in the 1930’s and was an American spin on the European Surrealist movement of the 20th century.  In the 1930’s, American artists were in search of a style which would differentiate them from the dream based Surrealism of Europe, that of the creation of images beyond control, emerging from the brain and moved by the hand, and the earlier movements of Romanticism and Modernism.  Post-Surrealism differed vastly from Surrealism as it involved a conscious rather than unconscious use of materials and the clarification of rational ideas.  Post-Surrealism maintained a distinctive identity reflective of its place of origin.  The epicentre of Post-Surrealism, the new form of “Americana Dream” was Los Angeles, California, the architecture and lavish cityscape of which would provide ample inspiration for creators of art.  The movement soon spread to other cities such as New York, San Francisco and Dallas.  The artists who started the movement and first exhibited their work under the term of Post-Surrealism in 1934 were Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson.  The term Post-Surrealism meant that for the first time, artists were able to separate themselves through their own name.  Artistic activity in California during this period was a process of reciprocity and encounter between artists from a number of regions and countries and soon, a Surrealism group was even established, boasting luminaries of the art world such as Philip Guston, Reuben Kadish, Harold Lehmen, Knud Merrild and Grace Clements.

Lorser Feitelson was educated in New York and moved to Southern California in 1927.  Feitelson was greatly influenced by trips he had taken to Paris in the early 1920s, where Surrealism was in its early stages and neoclassicism, the revival of a classical style or treatment in art, was also apparent.  Neoclassicism greatly inspired both Feitelson and Lundeberg and later, their Post-Surrealism movement.  Feitelson met Lundeberg when he procured a teaching position at the Stickney Memorial Art School in Pasedena.  Following this meeting, the pair formulated ideas that would crystalise into what they termed ‘subjective classicism’, ‘new classicism’ or ‘Post-Surrealism’.  In order to create their art, Lundeberg and Feitelson used the neoclassicism Feitelson had acquired in Paris in conjunction with the metaphysical elements apparent in the work of artists such as de Chirico.  The work of both Lundeberg and Feitelson therefore addresses these influences in their theatricality, the strange encounters between objects and the clarity with which fragments of reality are represented.

Helen Lundeberg, the subject of the Sonic Youth song of the same name, from their 2006 album Rather Ripped, was born n Chicago but raised in Pasadena.  The manifesto of the Post-Surrealist movement was Lundeberg’s handiwork.  Lundeberg was inspired by the poetic contemplation of the subject matter which would bring a higher understanding of metaphysical ideas and a deeper experience of the world to viewers of her work.  Throughout her career, Lundeberg’s work became increasingly more evocative and mystical.  The work of Lundeberg is nearly always imbued with the idea of the opening of one space into another and the juxtaposition of the internal and the cosmic.  Ideas explored in Lundeberg’s work include the eternal cycle of life and death and the relationship between love and death.  One of Lundeberg’s most noted works is Double Portrait of the Artist in Time (1935) in which, as she often did, she used her own image into the quiet interior space.  Of the painting, the artist said:

“For the portrait of myself as a child, I used a photograph which I still have, and though the props are a little different in the painting from the photograph, the pose is pretty much exact.  I also used the clock to show it was a quarter past two which corresponds to the child’s age.  And instead of presenting myself as an adult before a painting of myself as a child, in Double Portrait of the Artist in Time, I reversed this possibility where the child casts a shadow which is that of an adult who appears in the portrait on the wall”.

– “Helen Lundeberg: An American Independent”,

Art International, 15th September 1971.

Later in her career, Lundeberg became more interested in geometric abstraction and Hard Edge painting and less interested in the representational quality that was prevalent in her early work, exploring imagery associated with landscapes, interiors, still life and planetary forms.  In the 1980s, Lundeberg created a series of paintings dealing in landscapes and architectural elements.  Her last known painting was Two Mountains, completed shortly before her death in 1999.  Although always grounded in reality, Lundeberg created works with a mysterious quality which existed somewhere between abstraction and figuration.  Her works are often described as lyrical and formal, relying on precise compositions utilising restricted palettes, employing the Post-Surrealism idea of ‘mood entity’.  ‘Mood entity’ was concerned with evoking states of mind, mood and emotion with each piece of work having its own individual feel.  During the latter stages of her career, Lundeberg was one of the most prolific artists working in Southern California.

Sonic Youth’s Helen Lundeberg tells of Lundeberg’s career in the art field and her personal vision through paint, “Helen Lundeberg, Illusory landscape, Five decades in paint … Four expressions of elegance”.  The second verse of the song is constructed of references to a number of Lundeberg’s paintings.  For example, “Blue river” refers to Seen From A Height (1988); “open door” to Open Door (1964); “Landscape of white and orange” to Linear Torso (1969); “Daybreak by the sea” to Untitled (Daybreak or Landscape) (1962); “A narrow view” to Interior With Painting (1960); “sloping horizon” to Untitled (Land Patterns) (1960); “A marina” to Islands (1986); “the poet’s road” to The Poet’s Road (1961); “Sundial” to Sundial (1943); “cimerrian landscape” to Poetic Justice (1945); “A quiet place” to Landscape (1948); “moon” to Moonscape (1966); “sea” to Sea (1970); “Mist” to Spring (1950); “desert road” to Desert Road (1960); “tree in the marsh” to Moonlit Tree (1949); “Biological fantasies” to Plant and Animal Analogies (1934 – 1935); “Ocean view” to Ocean (1979); Water Map (Untitled) (1963); “Ambiguity” to A Double Portrait of the Artist in Time (1935); and finally, “estuary” to Interior With Painting (1982).