Toyen's raised fist
About the exhibition "Toyen. L'écart absolu" until 24 July at the Musée d'art moderne in Paris.
It is a great pleasure to meet Toyen in the new issue of L'Oeil on the occasion of the exhibition devoted to her by the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. And if we already know this artist who has elevated insubordination and freedom to the rank of fine art, what an immense joy to find her again! As far back as we go in the biography of the woman whose real name was Marie Cerminova, born in Prague in 1902, we find this vital desire to emancipate herself from all authority. The young girl was only 16 years old when she moved into a Prague flat on her own to pursue her passion for drawing while getting a taste for anarchy and communism, even if it meant becoming the ugly duckling of the family. The photographic portrait taken a year later of this young woman with a determined chin and a look in her eyes, who did not even deign to stare at the camera, is as shocking as it is edifying. At the time, she was "learning her trade" at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs, in the studio of Emanuel Dite. But she knew that she had found her place and that from then on she would live only in poetry.
Painting, travelling, dreaming, observing, fighting, exhibiting, publishing... Marie Cerminova's work and life will forever be inseparable. She had not yet signed Toyen when she met those who were to become her accomplices in 1922 in Croatia. With the Czech painters Jindrich Styrsky and Jiri Jelinek she formed an inseparable trio and the following year joined the avant-garde group Devetsil, founded in Prague in 1920. With her cap on her short hair and a cigarette in her mouth, Marie did not go unnoticed at the time. By signing her first still lifes with a pseudonym chosen as a tribute to the "free and equal citizens of the French Revolution", she became Toyen for the rest of her life. Her paintings were soon spotted. In 1924, in the midst of post-cubism, Hans Richter spoke of a "masterpiece by Miss Toyen", and the Viscount of Noailles bought her "Port" in 1925.
The artist was a nomad. France, Yugoslavia, Italy... She never ceases to multiply her sources of inspiration and does not risk being confined to a box, whether it be cubist, geometric, erotic or surrealist. She tries her hand at sand, stencils... and the poetic dreaminess is always there and imposes itself. What interests Toyen is the struggle. It is the added value of life too, so she sketches it in all its forms in her little notebooks, giving birth to works of art that very quickly stand out by exhibiting themselves alongside those of Delaunay, Mondrian, Léger, Brancusi or Larionov. With Styrsky, she launched the foundations of "artificialism" and settled in Paris in the golden triangle of the Bullier ball, the Médrano circus and the Jardin des Plantes. Her unbridled imagination soon took hold of the walls of Parisian contemporary art galleries. One thinks of Paul Klee, Max Ernst, for whom she will soon pose.
Her world floats more and more in a disturbing strangeness. It is not surprising that the first surrealist exhibition in Prague, where she founded the Czechoslovakian phalanx with Styrsky and the poet Nezval in 1934, exhibited 24 of her paintings! With her sovereign poetry, Toyen was inducted everywhere. She is part of all the signatures, all the petitions. She did not hesitate to dismiss Nezval from the Surrealist group in 1938 when the poet was still blinded by Soviet actions, to hide the Jewish poet Heisler in her bathroom during the war. And until her death in 1980, painfully surviving Styrsky, Breton, she will always choose dreamlike metaphors to recount the disaster and the horror. And she will fight.