Unica Zürn, Autonomous Precursor

Drawings as a cryptic map of inner torment

By La Galleria Nazionale

Senza titolo (1966) by Zürn UnicaLa Galleria Nazionale

Nora Berta Ruth Unica Zürn was born in Berlin in 1916. After studying economics, in 1933 she worked as an editor at the Universum Film AG studios in Berlin.

From 1936 to 1942, she worked as a commercial writer. In 1931 she was introduced into Nazi high society following the second marriage of her mother to a high dignitary of the Third Reich.

Unica married Erich Laupenmühlen in 1942, a wealthy merchant with whom she had two children. The couple divorced after a few years and children were entrusted to their father. In these years Unica wrote short stories and novels for newspapers and radio programs.

Untitled by Unica ZurnLa Galleria Nazionale

In Berlin in 1953 during an exhibition she met the artist Hans Bellmer and followed him to Paris. Here Bellmer introduced her to the group of surrealist artists.

Thanks to André Masson and Max Ernst, Unica began her artistic experimentation through automatic drawing. A compilation of anagrams and drawings followed, subsequently published under the title of Hexentexte by the Springer gallery in Berlin.

Depression and schizophrenia
In 1957, the meeting with the poet and intellectual Henri Michaux was critical for the development of the character of “The man of jasmine”, a novel written between 1963 and 1965.

Following a nervous breakdown and schizophrenia, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Wittenau, Germany. A suicide attempt and the resulting psychiatric crisis led her to numerous hospitalisations in psychiatric facilities over the course of ten years.

In 1959 she participated in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme at the Daniel Cordier gallery in Paris. In these years she appeared in some of her companion Hans Bellmer's shots: in one of them Unica is portrayed naked, crouching on the cover of Le Surréalisme, même.

In the years 1963-1964 her drawings were exhibited at the Le Point Cardinal gallery, that Max Ernst wrote the preface of the catalogue for and designed the invitations.

During her life, Unica Zürn relentlessly followed an aesthetic study in a decisively autonomous direction and anticipation of future tendencies: an abandonment of forms, the result of a personal synthesis where the supporting elements were her life and body.

Dark spring
In 1969 Hans Bellmer became hemiplegic due to a stroke. Unica published “Dark Spring” but was re-committed and was no longer able to draw or write.

After her last hospitalisation in 1970, during which she had drawn up a diary entitled “Stories for children”, upon returning home the artist committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window. Unica Zürn is buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris alongside Bellmer.

The drawings that Unica made between 1954 and 1970 represent an almost cryptic map of her tormented inner world.

Delicate female figures adorned with scales, pointed millipedes, mysterious volatile hybrids, predatory plants, jellyfish, snakes, various enchanting monstrous creatures, often crossed by points, cones, spirals and reticula that a multitude of eyes spring from.

Somehow, the disturbing chimeras of her subconscious emerged through all of these enigmatic ink watermarks.

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