I much later in 2000. Perhaps the artists

I am comparing the Drawing ‘Keep Your Head’ by Edward Burra
and ‘Lidonob’ by Paul Noble. These drawings both aim to influence and critique
society by engaging with elements of Surrealist art. I have chosen these
drawings as neither artist identifies strictly as a Surrealist yet both
drawings display characteristics of the art produced as part of the movement. ‘Keep your Head’ uses collage and
graphite pencil to depict a scene of violence and luxury, the lines being
smooth, controlled and solid. Whilst Paul Noble uses only the graphite pencil
but controls it very differently to Burra, creating a drawing which is far more
tonal and three dimensional. His drawing includes no characters but depicts a
manmade and deserted town.


Through my comparison I aim to determine why the artists
choose to conjure up fictional drawings with a darkened and sinister tone and
what relevance this has to Surrealism. Although the works were created almost a century apart, they possess
similarities most notably through the influence of the Surrealist art movement.

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Burra’s drawing was created in 1930, prior to the height of Surrealism, and
Noble’s much later in 2000. Perhaps the artists choose the style of Surrealism
as it’s successful in creating a dark mood and works to examine society’s
values. I will secondly examine how the artists depictions are very different
however both create a sense of unease through defamiliarization. Lastly, I will
discuss the influence of contemporary modern art in moving away from drawings
which depicted an exact objective reality, Noble and Burra aim to draw in a
style that reveals their subjective reality, thus not only commenting on what
they see but also providing an insight into their minds.



The influence of the Surrealist art movement is evident in
both drawings, the artists use this style to aid them in creating a work that
comments on the world. Edward Burra had a negative outlook on life and created
within himself a ‘rage at the way the world runs’ (Melly, 1985). Burra never exclusively defined
himself as a Surrealist, he briefly came to the British version of the movement
in 1936 as he agreed with the way Surrealists believed art should be expressive
(Causey 1982). Long time friend of Burra, George Melly explains that he was
‘affected by Surrealism by a means to extend the boundaries of his already
feverish imagination, but was only briefly associated with the group.’ (Melly,
1985). However the movement was not yet in full force, he was working post Fauvism and Cubism, at a
time when drawing was seen no longer as a means to an end but as an end in
itself. Burra used the ‘expressive’ medium of drawing to depict his anger and
to display human failings. His
dark imagination is what draws the sinister depiction of a grimacing head being
fed to a dog like creature in the drawing. The title ‘Keep Your Head’ infers
that the head has been removed by the central figure off their own accord,
whilst their head has been replaced by what the artist explains are the
mechanics of a Rolls Royce. The use of collage here and throughout the drawing
in varying colours puts the mechanics at the forefront of the drawing making
them appear bold and thus emphasising the message that the human head has been
replaced by machinery. Mathew Gale, writer of the Tate catalogue entry for this
drawing in 1998 argues that Burra’s use of collage works to create ‘stronger
Juxtapositions'(Gale, 1998). This infers that Burra was aiming to convey a
message through his drawing. This message being that these characters have lost
their humanity and it has been replaced by something modern and unthinking.

However, Burra writes in a letter to Barbara Key-Seymer, an artist and close
friend, that he just ‘doesn’t bother to paint’ he ‘sticks things on instead’
this suggests his work is unconsidered and reiterates Burra’s apathy and
negativity suggested by Melly. Just as Burra shows us his apathy in this
drawing, Surrealism is also a movement which focuses on the artists
psychoanalysis, their process shows their state of mind. This implies that
Burra in his depictions was not only trying to make a commentary on the
‘voracious appetites in the south of France’ (Gale, 1998) but instead was
reading into his own mind and subconscious. Any piece of art which puts
subjectivity before reality is argued to be Surrealist and since this is
evident in the drawing it is not unlikely that actually he was not critiquing
society, he was instead looking within himself. However, with the insight
gained from close friends of Burra such as Andrew Causey it is known that
Burra, in his earlier years, often created work that was satirical thus
reinforcing the idea that perhaps Burra draws in the style of the Surrealists
as a satire of his society but cannot be named exclusively as a Surrealist as
to satirise was not the purpose of this movement, it was to look within oneself.

Marcel Duchamp, a leading surrealist figure exclaimed that with his work he
‘wished to put painting once again at the service of the mind’ (Duchamp, 1912).

Implying that psychoanalysis is the key to Surrealism, not critique, as is the
purpose of ‘Keep your Head’. Burra therefore cannot be exclusively labelled as
a Surrealist.


In Paul
Noble’s ‘Lidonob’ the way in which the work can be identified within the
category of Surrealism is the way in which it defies the rational world, it is ‘a
utopia in a modern setting’ (Beech, 1998). Unlike Burra, Noble was drawing
after the height of the Surrealist movement and therefore it is more likely he
was influenced by some of the techniques used. Noble’s use of detailed shading
and straight lines to create a texture in the wall that looks natural yet
manmade creates an uncertainty in viewing the picture. Not sure if we are in a
built, highly urbanised setting or a natural one, it has been suggested that
the wall is actually a series of rock portrusions. The diving board and various
ladders surrounding the pool remind us of scaffolding and perhaps suggest that
this is not only a deserted town but one still under construction. The more we
look at the realistic drawing the more narrative we get. ‘Lidonob’ is part of a
collection of drawings named ‘Nobson Newtown’ which Noble created in order to
portray a fictional world that has been created by the residents. Noble’s
drawing appears Surrealist by warping reality however it is not a
psychoanalysis and does not serve the same purpose as most drawings labelled
‘Surrealist’. Instead Noble through ‘Lidonob’ is trying to prove his views on
giving power to the people, and attempts to exclaim how it doesn’t work. Both
Burra and Noble use surrealist elements in order to critique society however an
important part of Surrealism was the expressionism it gave in the artist
looking within his mind and at his state of mind. Only Burra’s drawing does
this, yet we can still successfully claim the works were both influenced by Surrealism
and both provide a discourse on society.


Despite their differences, most notably through the style of
each artists line, both drawings use defamiliarization as a technique and are
thus disturbing and unsettling, this is how they provide their discourse on
society. In Burra’s ‘Keep your Head’. The figures are defamiliarized by the use
of collage. Burra puts car mechanics on one character’s head, another has the
body of a dog, the removed head is made up of a collection of facial features
from different people and lastly the image of the woman which appears normal
and would typically be reassuring is covered by a mask. Interestingly this
facial covering of the woman could be seen as a reaction to the cultural ideal
that women should be modest in their appearance. Burra was very much ahead of
his time, and it could be said that whilst he spent time in Mediterranean
countries he developed an understanding for differing cultural opinions. Many
of Burra’s earlier drawings are suggested to be ‘representations of evil.’
(Rothenstein 1982), showing that Burra was an artist that wished to use his art
to express his dark humour. The use of clean, confident curved lines alongside
ruled straight lines shows a clear and simple image. This contrasts to much of
Burra’s later work, which is full of colour and excitement. Yet this drawing
was not a study for a later painting, it is a finished piece in itself and this
adds to the unsettling quality of the work, it seems somewhat empty. A view of
many art critics is that Burra was keen in depicting violence and showing human
failures (Melly 1982), he wants to satirise the characters within his drawing.

He creates this satire through defamiliarizing the characters by stylising them
and presenting them as unrealistic.


 In ‘Lidonob’ the
unease is created not through defamiliarzation but through desertation. The
drawing is busy in terms of structure yet there are no people at the Lido. The
use of detailed geometric shape in the pools structure reflects lifelessness.

Yet it could be argued that the ‘Lido’, much like Burra’s work, is also defamiliarized.

Noble has taken a scene that should be comforting to us, a swimming pool that perhaps
even reminds us of childhood, and he has twisted it into a scene that looks
intimidating. Dave Beech’s writing on Noble’s ‘Nobson Newtown’ collection of
drawings argues that there is no town hall, no gallery, school, cinema, pubs or
clubs, or any cultural institution whatsoever. Thus showing that the fictional
residents who dreamt up this town sought no need for cultural institutions (Beech
1998). It goes against our humanity and therefore is surprisingly negative in
effect, creating a sense of defamiliarization with our own humanity. Noble was
drawing in 2000, from the end of the 20th century in Britain many
new-towns were built as a result of the destruction of the Second World War,
the people planning these towns often wanted to step up the aesthetic
appearance of the replacing towns, however Noble seems to be stating through
the drawing ‘Lidonob’ that the town planners have ignored the functional aspect
of planning, the town is in short, unusable. (Carmen, 2010). Therefore we can
see that ‘Lidonob’ is a detailed town plan drawn to create an eerie mood and
thus criticising the townplanners of the late 20th Century.


Perhaps most importantly what these images show is the use
of fictional drawing to tell a truth about reality. Throughout the 21st
century drawing was becoming far more about revealing a reality behind the
object you are depicting and not simply seeing it exactly as it appears. For
example, in Burra’s he does not draw an exact representation of life in the
south of France but instead draws it the way he subjectively see’s it. ‘He
would never make preliminary sketches but instead his imagination worked
alongside memory.’ (John Rothenstein 1982). This is evident in the way he
dehumanises the character eating the head by turning them into a dog, and also
draws the characters swathed in gowns and surrounded by pillars and furniture,
this is not necessarily how all the upper class would dress in France in the
early 1930’s yet it is how Burra has wished to convey them. The varying use of
pencil by each artist aids them in telling the truth they wish to. Burra’s
characters are stylised and almost cartoonish, this is true of his other later
paintings, for example one of his most famous; ‘Snack bar’. This stylised
drawing technique aids Burra in making the characters appear threatening
because they aren’t realistic, they are presented how Burra see’s them in his
own eyes. In addition all the action is happening central to the piece and
gives the work a claustrophobic feel and adds to the threatening effect.


Lidonob also uses fiction to provide discourse on his
reality. Potentially the largest contrast between the two drawings is that ‘Keep
your Head’ is on a much smaller scale to ‘Lidonob’. The purpose of Noble’s
drawing being so large is perhaps because he wanted his drawing to be not too
dissimilar from a town plan, in order to showcase the idea that ‘Nobson
Newtown’ is supposed to be a dreamt up town, a utopia. The fictional residents of ‘Nobson Newtown’ dislike
where they live and so wanted to create a better town, however the use of dark
line and shadows as well as the desertion of the town shows contrastingly a
much darker world than the one they had dreamed of. The residents of Noble’s
fictional town are ‘nonconformist’ thus showing how Noble wants to depict an
impossible world in which we don’t have to fit with what the elite minority decide.

As ‘Lidonob’ depicts a fictional swimming pool almost in the format of a
town plan, Noble uses ruled straight lines and very close details. In ‘Keep
your Head’ Burra draws a scene symbolising something with greater meaning, much
like Noble. Paul Klee in his book ‘Creative Credo, Theories of Modern Art’
claims that there are other ‘latent realities’ as opposed to their being one
way of viewing the world, seeing the universe as ‘an isolated case.’ (Klee, 1968).

If Burra had chosen to draw life in Southern France as he saw it and likewise,
Noble chose to draw a real life town plan we would no longer get a view on this
society that has been wrought to the artists own reality and opinions.



In conclusion, the drawings both use fictional depictions to
make a commentary on society. From this we also gain an insight into the minds
of the artists, which was common in Surrealist art. Burra uses violence and
defamiliarization, whilst Noble uses techniques such as detail, shading and
scale to create a somewhat haunting piece. The pieces both help reinforce the
argument that fiction within art can often be used to tell a truth about