Exquisite Corpse with Sophie Daly

Artist Sophie Daly presents this fun and imagination-sparking art technique and an insight into Surrealism, part of our series of online workshops exploring important techniques in the history of contemporary art, supported by Halifax Foundation NI.

‘Exquisite Corpse’ is an art game in which each person takes turns writing or drawing part of an image – usually a character of some kind – on a sheet of paper, then folds it to hide their drawing. Then they pass it on to the next person who does another part of the drawing – but without looking at the first part! We are going to use this technique to make some wacky and wonderful monsters.

This method was very popular among the Surrealists – a famous group of artists from the 1920s onwards – such as Salvador Dalí, Meret Oppenheim and Andre Breton. Surrealism was an important cultural movement which developed in Europe partly as a reaction to the terrible impact of the violence and chaos of World War I. It was deeply influenced by the Dada art movement too, in which artists pushed against logic, reason and order because they believed those were all values of the capitalist society was unfair and oppressive to so many people, and had been partly to blame for the war. Instead, Dada artists wanted to express nonsense, anarchy and surprise, and protest against things that were boring and conventional.

Surrealists were also very influenced by new theories and explorations of how the human mind works, especially ideas about what dreams can tell us, and using art and writing to link to our unconscious minds. They created strange objects and bizarre paintings and drawings of weird landscapes, odd creatures and impossible things. They didn’t believe that art needed to make sense!

Andre Breton wrote that one aim of Surrealism was to ‘resolve’ the gap between dreams and reality. He wanted art to be part of a revolution!

Exquisite Corpse was one technique that he and other Surrealist artists used to experiment, play and collaborate with each other. It is still used today, by artists such as the Chapman Brothers. For this reason, this activity requires 2 or more participants!

What you need: ruler, pen/pencil, book, paper – simple!

  1. Split the page into four sections by eye, it doesn’t need to be exact. If it is hard to guess, look where the halfway point seems to appear, and then do half of that visual measurement.
  2. Get to drawing! Pass the sheet to the first player who will draw the head, and don’t let any other players see the sheet. When they are done, cover their section with a book but allow a tiny bit of the edge of the drawing to jut out.
  3. Place the ruler another quarter way down the sheet. The next player will start drawing the chest by connecting his lines to the ones they see jutting out. Again, place the book further down to block off the second section of the drawing. You can open it to spread it wider.
  4. Pass it back to the first player – OR to a third player. They will repeat the exact same process, lowering the ruler by another quarter, and drawing the hips.
  5. Cover the drawing, pass it back to the second player or to the fourth player, and repeat the process for the feet and legs.
  6. Vóila! There you have your fully formed Exquisite Corpse. Excellent job!

Thanks to Halifax Foundation NI for their support. As well as these online workshops, we have free GTG Gallery Explorer packs for every visitor under 16 to the Gallery!

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