Subconscious Sensuality in the Collages of Karel Teige
16 februari 2022 
26 min. read

Subconscious Sensuality in the Collages of Karel Teige

This time, we're going to examine the art of another Czech avant-gardist from the circle of Toyen. Karel Teige was a prominent artist, writer, critic, and one of the founders of the Czech avant-garde association Devětsil ("Nine forces," also the name for the butterbur plant). In the 1920s, the picture poem was the most popular genre among the Devětsil members. Collages of Teige may be regarded as visual verses depicting dreamy metamorphoses of the human body in the natural and urban landscapes.

 karel teige Collage 355

Fig. 1. Collage 355, 1948 (magazinuni.cz)

 Karel Teige Collage 316

Fig. 2. Collage 316 (ce-review.org)

 Karel Teige art

Fig. 3. wordpress.com

The Collage and The Myth

Manipulation with body parts is the leading practice of avant-garde movement. It's performed in paintings, poems, movies, and collages. We can easily find analogs of Teige's dreamy constructions in pictures of Magritte and Dali. The ideological ambiguity of avant-garde art manifested itself in these weird yet captivating visual metaphors. Like the god Janus looking in opposite directions, avant-gardists claimed themselves as heralds of the future and modernity with their curiosity for skyscrapers and airplanes, at the same time, praising ancient instincts and irrational forces. Karel Teige preferred collages over paintings as they were connected with the modern art of photography. Yet the content of these collages apparently tends to be mythological. The body parts with urban landscapes in the background can't but remind us of ancient narratives about suffering gods like Osiris or Dionysus, who were torn to pieces by their enemies. Teige mainly uses the images of the female body, so his works create a story about the maternal side of nature. The adherence to the figure of the woman is a crucial feature of surrealist art. While for Teige's collaborator Štyrský the woman is a source of erotic pleasure, for Teige himself, the woman is the name for everything that surrounds humankind (or, at least, surrounds Teige). A principal feature of collages, the connection of things that can't be connected naturally, is also a characteristic of pagan gods and their infinite metamorphoses. Thus, Teige's collages demonstrate us transitions of the eternal feminine.

 Karel Teige photography

Fig. 4. wordpress.com

 Karel Teige photographer

Fig. 5. wordpress.com

 o Toyen whom I love Karel Teige

Fig. 6. To Toyen whom I love

 Left: Teige; right: Magritte, Intermission

Fig. 7. Left: Teige; right: Magritte, Intermission, 1928 (wikiart.org)

Karel Teige Eve. Collage 47

Fig. 8. Eve. Collage 47

Karel Teige Collage 41

Fig. 9.  Collage 41 (blogspot.com)

Leda and The Swan

Examining Teige's collages, we can find peculiar variations of traditional myths widely presented in art. Collage 41 (fig. 9) depicts a thing looking like triskeles (an ancient 'three-legged' motif) that consists of two female legs and the head of the swan. The image may also be a metaphor likening a female dancer to a swan. In this case, the Swan Lake ballet is one more possible association.

 Left: Teige, Collage 39 (blogspot.com); right: Dürer Melencolia

Fig. 10. Left: Teige, Collage 39 (blogspot.com); right: Dürer Melencolia, 1514 (wikipedia.org)

Melencolia I

Modernists and contemporary artists consider culture as a field for a game. Their works are built on references to various oeuvres that became classic. Teige's images are no exception. His Collage 39 (fig. 10) refers to the famous enigmatic engraving Melencolia I by Dürer. Teige places Dürer's plate with the title above the sea as in the original image. While Dürer's work is devoted to the melancholic temperament that was thought to be a characteristic of artists, the melancholy of Teige seems to have a sensual meaning. In the Renaissance period, melancholy was considered to be ruled by Saturn, who was a patron of carpenters and masons (an angel is surrounded by carpenter's tools). In Teige's collage, the ruling planet/deity is not Saturn but Venus due to the domination of marine elements. The sphere in front of Dürer's angel is turned into a pearl behind the female figure. The head of the woman is replaced with a conch shell. The shell is generally considered a symbol of the vulva and Venus. The pose of the female and the way she puts her arm around the head allows suggesting that, in the original image, she lies horizontally. Her right hand is apparently placed on her genitals. Thus, the melancholy of Karel Teige can be interpreted as the depiction of the woman's loneliness. If we understand the pearl behind her as a symbol of virginity, then the image means her irresistible desire to lose it.

 Left: Teige (wordpress.com); right: Jabberwocky as illustrated by John Tenniel

Fig. 11. Left: Teige (wordpress.com); right: Jabberwocky as illustrated by John Tenniel, 1871 (Through the Looking Glass, Carroll)

 Left: Teige (wordpress.com); center: Hans Bellmer; right: mannequin from Silent Hill 2

Fig. 12. Left: Teige (wordpress.com); center: Hans Bellmer; right: mannequin from Silent Hill 2 (silenthill.fandom.com)

 Collage 48 Karel Teige

Fig. 13. Collage 48 (blogspot.com)

 Karel Teige collage

Fig. 14. blogspot.com

 Karel Teige collage art

Fig. 15. wordpress.com

 Karel Teige avant garde

Fig. 16. wordpress.com

 karel teige le corbusier

Fig. 17. wordpress.com

 karel teige Czech modernist avant-garde artist

Fig. 18. pinterest.com

 karel teige Czech modernist avant-garde

Fig. 19. wordpress.com

 karel teige hans bellmer

Fig. 20. wordpress.com

 karel teige surrealism

Fig. 21. blogspot.com

 Karel Teige nude

Fig. 22. blogspot.com

 collage Karel Teige

Fig. 23. wordpress.com

 collage art Karel Teige

Fig. 24. wordpress.com

 avant garde Karel Teige

Fig. 25. blogspot.com

 surrealism Karel Teige

Fig. 26. blogspot.com

 1949 Karel Teige

Fig. 27. 1949 (blogspot.com)

 czech artist Karel Teige

Fig. 28. wordpress.com

 Karel Teige nudes

Fig. 29. wordpress.com

 Karel Teige Czech artist

Fig. 30. wordpress.com

 Karel Teige artist writer

Fig. 31. pinterest.com

Sources: grecobello8id.wordpress.com

Click HERE for an article on Hans Bellmer and his dark surreal dollhouse...!!

Please let us know your thoughts about the above art (or artist) in the comment box below….!!

About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
JB
By

JB

on 16 Feb 2022

Nice collection of images. I would have preferred to see them side-by-side with Jindřich Štyrský's collages, but this is a very interesting addition to the SG. Are there other Czech artists working with similar themes other than Toyen? Thank you Darya!

Darya
By

Darya

on 17 Feb 2022

Thanks for your comment! Štyrský's feature is the usage of porn shoots for his collages, while Teige didn't focus on showing copulation in his images, so I don't know to be honest what a side-by-side comparison can reveal. Anyway, we have an article on Štyrský here. Apart from Toyen, there are other members of "Devětsil," such as František Muzika, that can be of interest.

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