Man Ray Minotaur
"I am a painter of the future." -- Man Ray
Born in Brussels in 1894 and raised by his mother after being orphaned as an infant when he fell from a window while playing with her jewelry box, Man Ray (1881-1954) is considered one of the most influential artists of modern times. His early career focused on illustration work but it wasn't until 1922 that the artist began to experiment with new mediums such as photography and portraiture. In 1924, he exhibited photographs at the first Surrealist show held in Paris and two years later debuted a series of portraits titled "Nudes". The following year saw the publication of his book Le Monocle de l'oeil which included black and white reproductions of 100 images created during the 1930s. During this period, Man Ray also contributed essays to several publications including Art International, Arts Magazine, Photo Form, Camera Work, Modern Screen, Vogue, Liberty and others. One of Man Rays greatest contributions came in 1937 when he worked closely with Salvador Dali to create paintings based upon surreal dream imagery. This collaboration resulted in works like Portrait of Joelle, Erotic Study No 1, The Sacrament Of Flagellation, Black Sun, Crucifixion, La Mort Subite, Christus Consurgens II, etc.
In 1938, Man Ray moved to New York where he continued painting, exhibiting, teaching and writing about art. He married Dorothea Tanning in 1944 and they remained together until their divorce in 1948. Afterward, Man Ray traveled extensively around Europe and Africa working primarily on canvas although he did make some prints between 1954 and 1956. It is said that Man Ray never painted more than 300 oil canvases throughout his lifetime.
The Museum of Modern Art owns approximately 40 pieces by Man Ray ranging from small watercolors to large murals, etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and serigraphs. These include drawings, pastels, gouache, charcoal, graphite pencil, pen & ink, linoleum cutouts, engravings, screen printing, phototypes, silkscreen, lithography, monotype, drypoint, aquatint, gouache, serigraph, etching, lithograph, woodcut, serigraph, dry point, silk screened, monoprint, stencil, photoengraved, mezzotint, mordant, cyanotypes, embossing, trompe l'oeils, mosaics, stained glass, enamel, vitreous china, ceramics, tapestry, needlepoint, woven cloth, oils, watercolor, tempera, pastel, airbrush, collages, reliefs, metal plates, gilded bronze statuette and sculptures. Some of these were made specifically for museums or collectors.
Man Ray Minotaur Image At Sotheby's
One piece that has been particularly popular over the last decade is a full length portrait of a nude man wearing only boots, socks and boxer shorts called Minotaur. You can see the original Minotaur hanging in the MoMA's main lobby.
Man Ray's Gelatin Silver Prints
For my next Man Ray article let's take a closer look at some of his gelatin silver prints. As mentioned earlier, Man Ray didn't produce many images using traditional processes. Instead, he experimented with various techniques to achieve unique effects. While experimenting with photographic materials, Man Ray discovered that certain chemicals could help him get softer skin tones. This led to his discovery of bichromate film developed with hydroquinone and mercury salts. From there, Man Ray's experimentation gave birth to what would become known as Process Photography. When developing negatives, Man Ray used a mixture of sodium thiosulfate, potassium ferricyanide and distilled water. He also added ammonium sulfide to bleach away any remaining traces of developer left in the final product. This process became known as the Cibachrome method. Another technique involved adding iron acetate to develop exposed areas of the negative resulting in a deep brown tonality. Known as the Velvia method, this latter technique eventually evolved into the famous Kodak TMAX 400T Film.
While Man Ray initially tried to avoid publishing any work containing nudity, he soon realized that his nude subjects had great visual appeal and published several photo books featuring nudes. Later, he decided to concentrate solely on photographing women rather than men and he ended up creating what he referred to as 'nude studies'. In 1935, he photographed models reclining against pillows and drapery or lying across beds. Many of these images featured extremely sensual poses along with provocative props such as feathers, fruits and vegetables, flowers and even food items like bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, eggs, pears, tomatoes, lobsters, cheeses, cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream cones, chocolate bars, etc.
Man Ray's Inspired : By Design
Although Man Ray rarely touched the canvas himself, he often helped design sets and costumes for dancers. And once again, it seems that his designs were always geared toward enhancing the female form. Take for example the costume worn by Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1950). Her dress consisted of a tight fitting bodice that extended down below her hips and split open at the sides to reveal her breasts and legs! She wore matching pantaloons and high heels. If that weren't enough she tossed on another outfit consisting of a long loose gown that looked similar to something straight out of Arabian Nights. Not surprisingly, the sultry starlet caused quite a stir wherever she went.
Another actress whom Man Ray assisted was Jean Harlow. Like Marlene Dietrich, he designed numerous outfits for her both on and off camera. Amongst her wardrobe were dresses, blouses, skirts, jackets and pants. However, Man Ray's favorite outfit belonged to none other than Mae West. According to legend, he actually borrowed it from the studio wardrobe department. He apparently loved everything about this outrageous woman--her looks, attitude and humor. In fact, he even named a character after her in 1952 comedy Kiss Me Deadly.
Man Ray Minotaur