You can interpret art in any way you want. That is the greatness of art. Over time there have emerged artists who bring a new vision to old content. While there have also been those whose content itself has been brand new. Paul-Émile Borduas belongs to the second category. In 1938, an introduction to surrealism art turned his artistic career around. But soon, he developed his own version of surrealism, which he produced ‘automatically’. In doing so, he introduced the automatism art movement with warriors.
The word automatism originates from psychology. In psychology, it means an unconscious movement of the body. Unlike something done consciously, this nature of action directly communicates with the mind. As such, it had been used by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to understand a person’s mental state.
French poet and writer André Robert Breton translated this theory from psychology to literature. In 1924 he initiated the surrealist movement in which he defined surrealism specifically in the lines of automatism. He termed surrealism as purely a psychic automatism. This means writing automatically without being controlled by social, moral, logical, or artistic concerns. Following this, Breton produced many automatic writings, which were rapid, immediate, and unrestrained.
Likewise, Paul-Émile Borduas produced automatist works which were immediate. The artist did not have any preconceived idea when he started out such works. When they got completed, he gave each painting a suitable title. An example of this is Joust in the Apache Rainbow (fig. 1). He kept this work with him all throughout his life. The painting shows how a painter can create something entirely new even though he relies on pre-established norms.
Borduas is not interested only in the juxtaposition of objects. He also evokes a specific meaning through the work. Borduas spontaneously applies paint in the middle foreground through which he suggests a joust. A joust occurred when knights fought each other on horsebacks. Through this, Borduas refers to the Apaches. The Apaches were the first Native tribe of North America to ride on horseback while going to fight. The semicircular arrangement of feathers in the middle of the canvas refers to the Apaches. Borduas is the only surrealist painter who presented feathers in many of his works. Surrealists otherwise preferred biomorphic curvy shaped objects, for instance, Joan Miró’s The Hare (fig. 2).
Borduas presented the feathers as motifs symbolizing reconciliation. Due to this philosophical essence, his works introduced brand new content within the pre-established contours of the automatism art movement.