Rediscovered Stories: The Power to Transcend Logic is in the Hand of the Surrealist

by Jeanette Ronson

Edith Rimmington (1902-1988), an obscure painter, poet, and photographer, projects her commitment to the Surrealist movement of the early twentieth century in her painting “The Decoy” (1948).  A decoy’s purpose is to lure a victim into a trap. Here, we have a human hand infused with nature. Which is the victim? What is the lure? Where is the trap? In this piece, Rimmington expresses the troubling relationship between man and nature through the depiction of several butterflies in various life stages intertwined with an écorché, a cadaver-like, anatomically exposed human hand. Chrysalides hang like blood droplets off the fingers while caterpillars crawl out of the exposed skin. Surrealists were often concerned about civilization’s impact on the natural world, and Rimmington’s work often portrayed disquieting themes of nature and death.

Andre Breton is recognized as the founder of Surrealism, a literary and artistic form that challenged conventions and authoritarian institutions. Surrealism, as a movement, began in the 1920s and harnessed the most momentum into the 1940s, though its impact continues to surface. Influenced by Freud’s work with the subconscious, the surrealists attempted to show that our ability to perceive reality was often suppressed by powerful external forces. To free one’s mind one had to overcome logic, obedience to authority, and all other forms of repression. In Rimmington’s painting, the hand is freed of its skin, and change and metamorphosis explode from what lies beneath the skin.

After studying at the Brighton School of Art in Leicester, UK, Rimmington moved to London and joined the London Surrealist Group in 1937. As a female artist and a Surrealist during the mid-twentieth century, Rimmington’s paintings, poetry, and prose remained mostly unrecognized during her lifetime. The National Gallery of Scotland now holds her work. London’s 2009 British Surrealism Exhibition included her work. Two of her poems may be found in Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, by Penelope Rosemont.