(Philadelphia, 1890 - Paris, 1978
Emmanuel Radnistsky, better know as Man Ray, was born in Philadelphia in 1890 in a russian jewish family. In 1897, his family settled in New York and Man Ray, barely aged of seven years old, starts to paint and draw. His father wanted him to become architect but Man Ray stopped his studies and started doing various jobs: apprentice in an engraving studio, drawer in an advertising agency or graphic designer. Starting from 1910, Man Ray takes drawing classes. He goes out and discovers New York artistic life. He frequents theatres and operas, goes to exhibitions and discovers art galleries of the Fifth Avenue, especially the gallery of Alfred Stieglitz, who was the greatest promoter of modern creation in New York and exhibited artists as Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso since 1910.
In 1913, Man Ray assists to the Armory Show and sees creations of cubist inspirations. He starts painting creations influenced by cubism, including the portrait of Alfred Stieglitz in which we can see his first cubist approaches and researches. But the artist mainly painted landscapes, in which geometrical constructions are “cézannienne” and the chromatic richness of his works is largely influenced by Matisse. This same year, Man Ray reunites around him artists and poets and forms an entire artistic avant-garde community. He meets especially the Belgian poetess Adon Lacroix (pseudonym of Donna Lecoeur), who became his wife. Starting from 1914, Man Ray decides to not paint life paintings anymore. His work Man Ray has for unique pattern a date – 1914 – and a name – Man Ray. The non-figurative elements are more and more present in his works. The artist paints geometrical surfaces, applying vivid – coloured tint areas. Man Ray also testes the aerography technique that consists of spraying painting on support with a pistol. Using this technique, Man Ray makes his first steps toward Dada movement. Dada movement wants, by using divers technique, to be out of academic art. As Dada movement encourages it, Man Ray is largely guided by his fantasy. His sense of humour is for him the best way to access freedom, and being emancipated form artistic conventions.
While his artworks progress towards abstraction, concrete emerges in some of his paintings with integration of real objects. Man Ray doesn’t divert object as Marcel Duchamp, he just emancipates them of their everyday life, and creates a new existence. The best word to characterise his creation is “Intuition”. Man Ray proves that the most simple and usual object – as a flatiron – could become oneiric if we have his eye, as shows his famous creation The Witness of 1971.
In 1915, he exhibits for the first time his paintings and drawings during a solo show in New York. In 1916, he frequents artistic meetings with Marcel Duchamp and Picabia, organised by the poet and modern art collector Walter Arensberg. At this period, Man Ray, Duchamp and Arensberg created the Independents Artists Society.
During the 1920’s, Man Ray revolutionizes photography developing photogram technique he calls “rayography”. This register technique became classical is a way to make photography without camera. The “rayography”, developed by accident at random of photo development, gives to photo a ghost-like aspect. The three-dimensional effects of objects shadows report an unknown reality.
In 1921, Man Ray arrives in Paris and frequents Dadaist group of André Breton, Soupault, Ernst, Eluard and Tzara. Man Ray moves in Montparnasse and meets Alice Prin, most known under the same Kiki de Montparnasse, who becomes his partner, his muse and his principal model. We can see her in his famous work Ingres Violin of 1924.
In 1922, his photographic production becomes more and more important and Man Ray paints portraits of numerous personalities as Meret Oppenheim and Dora Maar, just as his artistic friends Duchamp, Tzara, Artaud, Ernst and Breton. Man Ray also realizes fashion photography for the couturier Paul Poiret and later for Vogue. In 1923, Man Ray realized his first movie, Return to Reason. In 1922, in order to earn his life, Man Ray feels obliged to dedicate his creation to photography, and give up painting for a while. He and Duchamp experiment more and more the photography, and the cinematography. The two artists found the Anonymous Society Inc., a king of contemporary art museum open to public.
In 1924, he is present at the formation of Surrealist Group in Paris. Man Ray participates to group manifestations and events, to collective’s exhibitions and frequents artists such as André Breton and Paul Eluard, great figures of Surrealism. He collaborates to the Surrealist review Surrealist Revolution. In 1925 he participates at the first surrealist exhibition in Paris at the gallery Pierre with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miro and Picasso.
In 1931, Man Ray exposes a photographic negative for the second time by mistake: this is the beginning of his Solarisations. He deals with this result in depth and creates a new photographic technic. His pictures, mostly feminine nudes, become surrounded by a luminous and poetical halo. This solarisation responds to surrealist demand of fusion between imaginary and real. Between oneirism and eroticism, theses solarisations satisfy his desire to “photograph dreams”. With his solarisations, Man Ray enters further in Surrealism. He participates to many collectives exhibitions, including in London (International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 and Surrealist Paintings, Drawings and Objects) and in Paris (Exhibition Surrealist Objects in 1936 and International Surrealism Exhibition at the Beaux-Arts Academy), and also at the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism organized at Modern Art Museum in New York. In 1937, the gallery Jeanne Bucher organized a solo show.
In 1940, during Military Occupation in Paris, Man Ray goes back to the United-States and settled in Hollywood. During 1940’s he organises many individuals exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. In 1946, Man Ray participates at the exhibition Modern Art’s Pioneer in America organised by the Whitney Museum in New York.
In 1951, Man Ray came back in Paris. From 1953 to 1960, an entire series of personal exhibitions are dedicated to him in Los Angeles, Paris and New York. From 1957 to 1960, Man Ray participates to many exhibitions in tribute to Dada and Surrealism in Paris, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf.
In 1961, at the age of 71 years old, Man Ray receives his first reward: a Golden Medal for Photography in the Venice Biennale. In 1966, his first retrospective is organised in Los Angeles at County Museum of Art. During 1970’s, numerous retrospectives and solo shows are dedicated to him around the world, from United-States to Japan, including Italia and France. Two years before he died, Man Ray came back to Venice Biennale in 1976 and show no less than 176 photographs.
As independent artist, Man Ray never was far away from aesthetic pressure and artistic ideologies. He never stopped to contribute to improve movements he was interested for, as Dada and Surrealism, with technic such as Rayography and Solarisation. Man Ray is the personification of the avant-garde artist’s: inventiveness, audacity, imaginary and art questioning. Intuitive by using objects, unpredictable by technic or rayography, Man Ray is the witness of an entire artistic period. If Surrealism withstands time and is this much present in our mind, this is thanks to his pictures that immortalized surrealist artists of this time, and created surrealist photography.