While You Were Out
The Robing of the Bride by Max Ernst
While You Were Out (2001) after The Robing of the Bride by Max Ernst
Ernst's Robing of the Bride was related to Leonora Carrington's portraits of him, through their shared use of red robes and alchemical symbolism. Inspired by the decalcomania paintings he had created during his internment as a POW, Ernst created a large central female figure wearing a brilliant red robe that separates to reveal her body, resembling the nudes of Lucas Cranach. The head of this creature resembles an owl, while a third mysterious eye peers outward and to the right, revealing a second person hidden beside, or merged with, the larger bird. It is possible to see this as a composite fusion of a large male owl fused to his female partner, whose red feathered head turns in profile to reveal her single eye. Like the Greek goddess Pallas Athena the female owl wears a small pendant formed of a golden face.
Other figures in the painting include a nude woman with an elaborate headdress, whom the central figure pushes away, and a shorter figure to the left with the head of a swan and cloak of green feathers, carrying a broken spear. Crying at the lower right is a bizarre green hermaphrodite whose winged arm is similar to that of the childlike creature found on the façade of the St Martin d'Ardeche house, (Ernst's former home) In the background is a smaller painting containing another red-robed Androgyne.The small hermaphrodite combines genitals of both sexes, and it's pregnant belly, as well as the colourful metamorphosis of its wing from green to red, suggests the imminent transformation of Primal Matter and the birth of the red Philosopher's Stone. The central figure is an androgynous combination of the Queen's nude female body and the King's red robe, topped by a double-headed figure composed of a full-face male owl and a female owl in profile. Ernst's Robing of the Bride thus suggests the "chemical wedding" of Sulphur and Mercury, the reddening phase of the rubedo, the sexual conjunction of the King and Queen. Their union produces the Philosopher's Stone, an androgynous substance capable of it's own multiplication- hence the duplicate painting in the background. (M.E.Warlick).
The title of my work "While You Were Out" alludes to the absence of the figure with the head dress and specifically to the notion of re-entering, interrupting or returning to a particular succession of events at an inopportune moment. The direct contact of the owl's eyes with the viewer attempts to reflect the startled gaze of the intruder. The work is composed from eight different photographs combined (in an alchemical manner) with fragments taken from the original image. A key aspect is that although the mirror suggests a reflection of the scene it represents a different moment and alludes to the "frozen moment" of photography as well as to our inability to take in a split scene such as this, in one instant.The process is one of seamless photomontage - one I believe Ernst would have approved of, as he took particular delight in the fusion of disparate elements into seamless collage.