Dark Gods

Max Ernst, ‘The Dark Gods’, 1957

Despite being my favourite artist, Max Ernst hasn’t been a major presence on this blog to date (although he has made appearances here and here), and for some time I’ve been thinking that I ought to rectify that. On a recent excursion to Birling Gap I came across this piece of flint:

… which immediately put me in mind of Ernst’s painting The Dark Gods.

The figures in this painting have none of the baroque qualities of, for example, H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, which might be a comparison (godforms embodying deep, primal forces). Ernst’s dark gods depend on simple geometric shapes, almost childlike circles and triangles, to give them life. In this, though, they are ultimately more compelling than the ornate, fantastical beings common to so much ‘fantasy art’. The projection of simple lines and forms onto the formless swirlings of Mystery surely describes the actual creation of the first gods, long ago in our species’ psychic prehistory: attempts to impose some simple structure on the existential darkness into which our ancestors stared as they first developed the double-edged human qualities of self-awareness and consciousness. In addition, if we interpret the figure in the foreground as some kind of priest or shaman, and the face that floats above him as the god he invokes, worships, creates– then it is notable that the god is created in the image of the man who dreams him- another important insight embedded in this deceptively simple painting. There’s a large, hi-res version of this painting here (click on the individual paintings to enlarge them).

Now that Ernst has made his presence felt on the Shoreline, I thought I’d also share an image I’ve been saving for an Ernst-related post, one of a series of collages he produced as illustrations for Leonora Carrington’s The House of Fear. This is more obviously Shoreline-related – and, perhaps, has a more Lovecraftian mien:

You can see more of Ernst’s House of Fear collages at the excellent Tigerloaf blog.