“Surrealism is not a school of poetry but a movement of liberation,” said poet Octavio Paz. “A way of rediscovering the language of innocence, a renewal of the primordial pact, poetry is the basic text, the foundation of the human order. Surrealism is revolutionary because it is a return to the beginning of all beginnings.”
In the Residences de Estudiantes in Madrid, poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel, lived together through the late 1920s and early 1930s, forming the new Spanish Surrealist avant-garde. They became known as “La Generacion del 27,” alongside other notable Spanish poets of the decade, including Jorge Guillen, Pedro Salinas, and Vicente Aleixandre. Rebelling against the conservative Romanticism present in Spain, and inspired by the Cubist work of Picasso, this small group of painters, poets, and playwrights began experimenting with and collaborating on Surrealist techniques.
The best known images of the movement are the famous Dalí paintings Persistence of Memory (1931), Lugubrious Game (1929), Surrealist Objects, Gauges of Instantaneous Memory (1932) and the razor-sliced eye and cloud-sliced moon at the beginning of the 1929 Buñuel and Dalí film Un Chien Andalou, all produced in the late twenties and early thirties during the flourishing of their friendships with Lorca. The commissioned film, L’Âge d’Or, another Buñuel and Dalí collaboration, followed in 1930. The film, like Un Chien Andalou, focused on editing disturbing and violent images to echo one another, and gave Buñuel a forum for his distaste for and fascination with sex and the female anatomy. At the same time, he openly criticized Lorca’s homosexuality, despite their close friendship.
Earlier, in 1927, Dalí and Lorca collaborated on a theatrical production, Mariana Pineda, a historical drama; Dalí constructed the scenery, Lorca wrote the script, and its popularity helped the two artists gain recognition with the Spanish people. Lorca also produced three of his most beloved volumes of verse during this time: Canciones (1927) Romancero Gitano (“The Gypsy Ballads”) (1928) and El poema del Cante Jondo (1932).
The influences of Surrealism can be seen in this selection from Lorca’s poem “City That Does Not Sleep,” written in 1929 after he visited New York:
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting,
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.
Lorca was drawing influences from outside Surrealism in the 1920s as well. Having long been interested in theater and music, it was during this period that Lorca became interested in Spanish folk music and the “deep songs,” especially cante jundo, the flamenco music that had originally come to Spain from the Roma people. These songs gave his lyrical work a formal and rhythmic newness not present in the poetry of the time, and he gained a reputation as an Andalusian poet. When Lorca visited New York he discovered African American spirituals, which seemed to him to be the American counterpoint of the Spanish music he was studying.
In the mid- to late 1930s, Dalí and Lorca became estranged; in 1936, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Lorca traveled to his hometown of Granada, in southern Spain. He was murdered by fascist troops, becoming a martyr for his generation of artists, and symbolizing a change in the artistic landscape.