PARIS — Mind-blowing drugs are nothing new in French culture. Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir reported in The Prime of Life that Jean-Paul Sartre had a medically supervised mescaline injection in 1935, along with an unnamed intern.
Surreal. It’s one of those words like insane or awesome that’s taken a beating from aggressive misuse. I’ve heard the term applied to both a bus driver wearing a funny hat and the sight of the second plane hitting the tower. “It was so surreal,” that long e sung out like an animal’s cry of distress, is one of the more commonplace characterizations of any even vaguely untypical experience. The show currently at the Morgan Library and Museum, Drawing Surrealism, affords an opportunity to get reacquainted with the ideas and art behind the now overly familiar adjective.
The small selection of paintings and drawings currently at Edward Thorp Gallery serves as an introduction to Henri Michaux (1899 – 1984), one of the most original artists and writers of the 20th century. There are writers who made art — e.e. cummings, D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller come to mind — but none of them achieved what Michaux could accomplish in his modest-sized works in India ink, watercolor, oil and acrylic. And there are artists who wrote beautifully and brilliantly — Marsden Hartley and Ann Truitt — but none of them worked in as many distinct forms as Michaux, who wrote poetry, prose poems, travelogues, art criticism and unclassifiable essays.