Unfortunately, "Alchemy" has become one of those buzzwords that poseurs throw around when they want to sound like they're edgy and profound. As a concept it's become defanged all too often, stripped of its inherent insanity.
Alchemical philosophy offers many symbolic parallels to surrealist thought...Ernst played a significant role because of the knowledge of Freudian theory that he brought to the surrealist group early in its development, and because of his contributions to the sexualized nature of surrealist art. Throughout his career, Ernst fused male and female imagery into cohesive hybrids, similar to that most pervasive symbol of perfection, the alchemical Androgyne. Analyzing these aspects of his work reveals the pervasive alchemical symbolism it contains...
The construction of Max Ernst as the magician of the surrealist movement began early in his career.
By the 1930s, André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, René Crevel, and Hans Arp all described Ernst as possessing magical powers of transformation. In (his autobiographical writings), Ernst clarified his indebtedness to hermetic traditions, citing alchemy as a model for his working processes and claiming Cologne's occult past as his artistic heritage.
Chemical Nuptials, 1947
His first hermetic images appeared during the Cologne Dada period...his interests in psychology, alchemy, and other occult phenomena paralleled similar explorations among the early surrealists. Their search for psychic automatism, visits to clairvoyants, group séances, and walking tours of the alchemical haunts of Paris are described as a backdrop for the evolution of Ernst's art throughout the 1920s and 1930s...In "Au delà de la peinture," he described alchemy as the perfect metaphor for his working processes."
Throughout medieval times, a major current of thought distinct from official religion existed, culminating in the works of the alchemists and hermetics. Among such groups were to be found some of the early modern scientists and men remarkable for the strength of their independent thinking and for their adventurous life, such as Paracelsus. The nature of the beings who mysteriously appeared, dressed in shiny garments or covered with dark hair, and with whom communication was so hard to establish intrigued these men intensely.And again, as Robert Anton Wilson explained these kinds of contacts in depth in the first volume of Cosmic Trigger, quoting Timothy Leary:
Interstellar ESP may have been going on for all our history, Tim (Leary) went on, but we just haven't understood. Our nervous systems have translated their messages into terms we could understand. The "angels" who spoke to Dr. Dee, the Elizabethan scientist-magician, were extraterrestrials, but Dee couldn't comprehend them in those terms and considered them "messengers from God." The same is true of many other shamans and mystics.And as I added before:
Indeed, these contacts-- whether actual or aspirational --lie at the heart of Alchemical enterprise. All of the great masters were primarily concerned with contact with --and harnessing the power of-- "angels."
This Sedona era piece (Tribute to Yves Tanguy, 1955) pictures the red rock mesas, along with what looks for all the world like the Millennium Falcon, or at least its prototype. Take it or leave it. It's all the same to Ernst.
Then there's this little green man (Old Man River, 1953), who sits among the deserts where the Anasazi once roamed, with a curiously familiar elongated skull. Yet at the same time, that strange bubble around him is oddly reminiscent of the Star Child from 2001.
But Ernst's flirtations with High Strangeness- or any kind of strangeness for that matter-- didn't start in Sedona. There's this collage, from his classic 1929 collage-based graphic novel The Hundred Headless Woman. The numinous power of it is like a punch in the gut and more powerful than any photograph.
Or this ziggurat-shaped flying saucer. Remember all of this is almost 20 years before Kenneth Arnold and Roswell.
From the same book, we see a version of Ernst's alter ego, "Loplop, Bird Superior," looking for all the world like the Mothman. He's even drawn to the streetlights, like a moth.
From 1934's A Week of Kindness we see a kidnapping (read: abduction) committed by man with the head of an Easter Island Maoi pasted over him. Now that we're finding that some of the Maoi have entire bodies buried beneath the soil, the Ancient Aliens boys must be champing at the bit to get a camera crew down there.
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The Owlman story began when paranormal researcher Tony “Doc” Shiels was approached by a man, Don Melling, who had been visiting the area on holiday from Lancaster. Melling said that on April 17, 1976, his two daughters, 12-year-old June and her 9-year-old sister, Vicky, were walking through the woods near Mawnan church when they saw a large winged creature hovering above the church tower. The girls were frightened and immediately ran to tell their father. Shiels has suggested himself that surrealism may hold the key. Sixteen days before the first recorded sighting of the Owlman the surrealist artist Max Ernst died (April Fool's Day, 1976- CK). In 1937 Ernst had visited the area with friends (apparently including Carrington according to photographs from that time) and performed rituals to invoke the appearance of all sorts of mysterious creatures. One of these may have been Nightjarman, half bird, half human.