André Masson

Art on This Day
André Masson. Ibdès de Aragon, 1935, Oil Paint on Canvas.
André Masson began his study of art at the age of eleven at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, under the guidance of Constant Montald, and later he studied in Paris. He fought for France during World War I and was seriously injured.
Masson’s early works display an interest in Cubism. He later became associated with Surrealism, and he was one of the most enthusiastic employers of automatic drawing, making a number of automatic works in pen and ink. Masson began automatic drawings with no preconceived subject or composition in mind. Like a medium channeling a spirit, he let his pen travel rapidly across the paper without conscious control. He soon found hints of images—fragmented bodies and objects—emerging from the abstract, lacelike web of pen marks. At times Masson elaborated on these with conscious changes or additions, but he left the traces of the rapidly drawn ink mostly intact.
Whilst experimenting with these altered states of consciousness Masson worked with artists such as Antonin ArtaudMichel LeirisJoan MiróGeorges BatailleJean Dubuffet, and Georges Malkine, who were neighbors of his studio in Paris.

André Masson. Automatic Drawing (1924). Ink on paper, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Using techniques such as throwing sand and glue onto a canvas and making oil paintings based around the shapes that formed. By the end of the 1920s, however, he was finding automatic drawing rather restricting, and he left the surrealist movement and turned instead to a more structured style, often producing works with a violent or erotic theme, and making a number of paintings in reaction to the Spanish Civil War. This association with the surrealists a once more occurred at the end of the 1930s.
Under the German occupation of France during World War II, his work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate. With the assistance of Varian Fry in Marseille, Masson escaped the Nazi regime on a ship to the French island of Martinique from where he went on to the United States. Upon arrival in New York City, U.S. customs officials inspecting Masson's luggage found a cache of his erotic drawings. Living in New Preston, Connecticut his work became an important influence on American abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock. Following the war, he returned to France and settled in Aix-en-Provence where he painted a number of landscapes.
Masson drew the cover of the first issue of Georges Bataille's review, Acéphale, in 1936, and participated in all its issues until 1939. Masson died in Paris on 28 October 1987.