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Surrealist exhibition to take place in ‘ugly-lovely’ city

16 Jun 2024 2 minute read
Dylan Thomas performing in Picasso’s surrealist play and an image from the exhibition by David Rees Davies from Bridgend

David Greenslade

To mark the 100th anniversary of the First Surrealist Manifesto, Swansea will host a three-week exhibition of contemporary Surrealist art at Volcano Theatre and Gallery, High Street this autumn.

The exhibition, titled Minotaur Ballet – Swansea Surreal, will feature mainly Welsh artists, most of them from Swansea, alongside guests from Australia, Ukraine, Romania, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ireland and other parts of the UK.

Surreal history

Swansea has an authentic and historic connection with the art movement known as Surrealism.  

Dylan Thomas described his native city as an ‘ugly-lovely town’ a place full of surreal contradictions.

Dylan was in the now famous New Burlington Galleries exhibition of 1936, where he strolled around offering Henry Moore, Salvador Dali, Andre Breton and others cups of “boiled string tea, weak or strong.”

The problem was Salvador Dali couldn’t accept as he was wearing a deep-sea diving suit at the time.

Dylan later performed as Stage Manager in Picasso’s surrealist play Desire Caught by the Tail.

Artist, Ceri Richards (Dunvant) and academic, J H Mathews are two other Swansea names especially connected with Surrealism.

J H Matthews emigrated to the USA, taught in New York and was a commentator on French Surrealism. 

Matthews was described in America as “the chief scholarly explicator of surrealism” of his day – not bad for a lad from Morriston.

In 1986 Swansea was host to the Contrariwise exhibition of Surrealist Art, infamous because Graham Chapman of Monty Python threw fresh fish over the Mayor and other assembled VIPs.

Surrealist exhibition

Sigmund Freud reminded the world of the importance of dreams in life and in art, and it was Ernest Jones from Gowerton who rescued Freud from Nazi Austria in 1938. 

Swansea has more claims to a surrealist vision than many people realise.

Minotaur Ballet – Swansea Surreal takes place from 8 – 26 October at Volcano Theatre and Gallery, Swansea.

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Dave Mitchell
Dave Mitchell
28 days ago

To mark the event, Incunabula Books (of Swansea) will be publishing a new translation of Andre Breton’s ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ by acclaimed translator and author R J Dent.
You can find all of Incunabula’s publications (many of which are avowedly surrealist) at their website;

Richard Huw Morgan
Richard Huw Morgan
28 days ago

I co-interviewed Graham Chapman in his underpants after the fish incident. It was for the Swansea University student union paper. I wonder if there is a copy in existence anywhere…

Dave Mitchell
Dave Mitchell
25 days ago

I think Chapman was the most genuinely surreal of the Pythons. When I was a kid watching them for the first time, I preferred the same bits that most people liked; the Spanish Inquisition, the Dead Parrott. Rewatching them now, it’s Chapman’s bizarre off-the-cuff parts that impress me as real genius.

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