(March 13, 1902; Germany - February 23, 1975; France)
German artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Surrealist photographer.
Hans Bellmer's art, often in the form of dolls he called language images, served as a form of personal therapy, in which he objectified abusive relationships, explored his fantasies, and projected the essence of his desire for women and objects. He lived through the repression of artists in Nazi Germany, which became another trauma informing his art. After the war, he became well known for his explicit and sometimes pornographic illustrations. He created images that reflected what he felt was a disturbing, and disturbed world. His work has been hailed by some as representing the limits of human sexuality, while others have found his work to simply objectify the female body as a captive of the male sexual gaze.
Putting Breton and Tzara's ideas into practice, Bellmer posed his dolls with various parts missing, or in odd combinations, or as seemingly random juxtapositions in order to shock the viewer into making new connections between things, and to reveal how love obsessively alters the object of one's desire.
Bellmer spent his adult life working through childhood trauma. He and his brother lived in fear of their stern father, who showed the boys little affection. He believed he was denied a normal childhood, as natural childish play was forbidden under his father's "cold shadow." Later in life, driven by an obsessive hatred of his father, he wasted no opportunity in interviews and poems such as Der Vater (The Father, 1936) to reiterate the evil spell his father had cast over his life, once noting his "father issues" would have made him a perfect case study for Sigmund Freud. Bellmer saw his behaviour as a response to his father, and categorized it as "rebellion, defence, attack". His early interest in cross-dressing reflected a curiosity about being a woman, an early sexual interest in girls, and an opportunity to lash out at his father. Biographer Sue Taylor reports that he deliberately sent his father into a seizure by powdering his face and wearing lipstick.
- "The body resembles a sentence that seems to invite us to dismantle it into its component letters, so that its true meanings may be revealed ever anew through an endless stream of anagrams."
- "If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal."
- "It was worth all my obsessive efforts when, amid the smell of glue and wet plaster, the essence of all that is impressive would take shape and become a real object to be possessed."
- "I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl's body like a sort of plastic anagram."
- "Do pretty things while simultaneously scattering the salt of deformation with a hint of vengeance."
- "One must not stop short of the interior, of stripping away coy girlish thoughts so that their foundations become visible?"
- "A man in love with a woman and himself ... is in a peculiar hermaphroditic interconnection between the male and female principles in which the female predominates."
- "A totally new unity of form, meaning and feeling: language-images that cannot simply be thought up or written up ... They constitute new, multifaceted objects, resembling polyplanes made of mirrors."
- "I am glad to be considered part of the surrealist movement although I have less concern than some surrealists with the unconscious because my works are always carefully thought out and controlled."
- "And didn't the doll, which lived solely through the thoughts projected onto it, and which despite its unlimited pliancy could be maddeningly stand-offish, didn't the very creation of its dollishness contain the desire and intensity sought in it by the imagination?"
Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). Up until 1926, he worked as a draftsman for his own advertising company.