Regular readers may have noticed the informed comments of Paul Rumsey, so I thought it was time for a proper introduction.
I discovered the work of Paul Rumsey in December 2005, when I was researching The Waking dream: Fantasy and the surreal in graphic art, 1450-1900 (1975).
I’ve always been an obsessive Googler and searching for certain terms from “The Waking Dream,” I stumbled upon an essay by Rumsey in which he cited the The Waking Dream as an early inspiration and also quoted 20th century names partly already familiar to me:
- “In the twentieth century this type of imagery has permeated culture, and is found everywhere, in diverse art forms including: the satiric installations of Kienholz, the drawings of A. Paul Weber, the cartoons of Robert Crumb, the animated films of Jan Svankmajer, photographs by Witkin, plays by Beckett, science fiction by Ballard, fantastic literature like Meyrink’s The Golem, Jean Ray’s Malpertuis, the art and writings of Bruno Schulz and Leonora Carrington, films by David Lynch, Cronenberg and Gilliam; all are part of a spreading network of connections, the branching tentacles of the grotesque.”
This quote – as well as the preceding passages – were so dense with names of artists I admired that I decided to investigate further and to find out what it was that gave me a certain frisson in these artists which I found lacking in others admired by established art criticism; a frisson that could be summarized as fantastic, as in fantastic art.
Paul Rumsey’s work fits squarely into this fantastic art tradition: buildings growing on people’s heads, humans who have their faces on their bellies, horrifying animals , human-animal hybrids , polymorphous objects shaped out of breasts  and imaginary structures  are some of the themes to be found in his work.
Rumsey’s work calls for a revisionist approach to art history. An art history which starts with Bosch rather than Da Vinci (born just two years later), with Odilon Redon rather than Monet (born in the same year) and which prefers Kubin over Picasso (born four years apart).
If you are interested in this kind of art history, here is a list of books that give an extensive overview of the field:
- Das Unheimliche (1919) / The Uncanny – Sigmund Freud
- La carne, la morte, e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (Italy, 1930) / Romantic Agony – Mario Praz
- Le Moyen Age fantastique (Paris, 1955) Jurgis Baltrusaitis
- The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957) – Wolfgang Kayser
- Arts fantastiques (Paris, 1960) – Claude Roy
- L’Art et la littérature fantastiques (1960) – Louis Vax
- L’Art fantastique (1961) – Marcel Brion
- Au coeur du fantastique (Paris, 1965) – Roger Caillois
- Dreamers of Decadence: Symbolist Painters of the 1890s (1969) – Philippe Jullian
- Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970) / The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre – Tzvetan Todorov
- 200 Jahre Phantastische Malerei (Berlin, 1973) – Wieland Schmied
- Zauber Der Medusa: Europaische Manierismen (1987) by Werner Hofmann
- The Occult in Art (1990) – Owen S. Rachleff
- Les peintres du fantastique (1996) – André Barret