Children of the Surface and Children of the Axis


Victor Brauner, “Mutation Symbolique I”

In his “Mutation Symbolique ” Brauner uses a combination of immanent (based on realistic) features and stylistic (abstractly constructed) characterizations to depict four human socio-psychological types. The forms of eyes and lips we’ll call immanent or realistic features, and the shapes of the heads stylistic (constructivist) characterization (Brauner invents shapes for human head which provide additional features for his analysis). We have four faces-heads which we have to decipher socio-psychologically.

The two faces-heads on top represent, it seems, people of socially horizontal orientation – the very majority of the population in today’s Western and any traditional society of present and past. The two faces-heads below, on the other hand, represent people of hierarchical orientation (fighters for a place on the axis of the social hierarchy). Why Brauner’s intuition or intention has located the majority of population on the top row of the picture? The reason can be that the majority stands for “humanity” or “human species”.

We have to explain why we interpret the two faces-heads on the top of the picture as socio-horizontally oriented types of people (we see two mimic movements characteristic of the people with emotionally horizontal self-expressiveness). In a right face-head we see a shift of the lips to one side with a smaller shift of the eyes to the opposite side of the face, as if eyes and lips move away from one another. This disproportion reveals the presence of emotional split resulting in an impossibility of expressing emotions spontaneously. This emotional split in mimic expressiveness happens horizontally, without any vertical disproportion in the face. In the left face there is no emotional split, but instead we see the face-head’s stylized “enlargement” in a horizontal direction – as if a silent horizontal appeal in the direction of unseen peers in the attempt to create a unity with others, to fuse with them.

Look at the eyes of our horizontally oriented creatures. The eyes of the round face are rather frightened, as if trying to hide inside the face, to be buried there (Brauner puts additional lines over them like eyelids becoming wrinkles). But the eyes of the person with a widened head are full of sadness, may be, despair – they appeal to the viewers not less than the head does to invisible helpers (on the left). The person with a round face-head is much more introverted while the one with horizontally “enlarged” head is more psychologically harmonious but more “communally oriented”. Let’s call the right head-face frightened/tormented and the left appealing/complaining.

The two head-faces down below in the picture are very different. The hierarchical orientation of the person on the right is, first of all, expressed by a triangularly shaped skull and an enlarged giant jaw (both of which connote power, stubbornness and solidity). But there are also the aggressive “sideburns”. Why the face is not completed? – May be, because people of social power are gluttonous users of the social space (they are prone to expand/enlarge their territory). Let’s consider this head-face as belonging to the achiever and keeper of hierarchical power. Look at his eyes of the pharaoh – eyes which are not interested in looking/seeing, the eyes of grandeur, of showing the person’s solemn presence amidst the space and at the center of situations.

The head-face of the person on the low-left is like a shield. His vertical orientation is expressed by the angularity of his head, its “antenna”-like line in the center and its narrowing to a wide chin. Vertically massive jaws of the both bottom heads-faces create the impression of hardness, rigidity, strength. Why the mouth of the left bottom person is so big, even bigger than the mouth of the person on the right? Perhaps, it is a matter of subduing emotions while allowing expressing power.

Try to locate which of the four persons has the smallest mouth. It is the mouth of the face-head on the right top of the drawing. These are lips which keep emotions subdued, not expressed. But if to combine the locking up the emotions with, conversely, demonstrating power then lips become bigger and bigger – they as if have swallowed up the emotions of its host. The person on the bottom left can be a guard of power, a person of horizontality expressing the power of verticality over horizontality! His eyes are not solemn and imposing – they are wide open (intensely watching). Let’s call this person a guard of power (he can be sentinel, bodyguard, private detective or someone dedicatedly serving his master).

It is very curious that “horizontal” types (on the top) are kind of gender-neutral while “vertical” ones look rather male-like. Here our intuition can be a repercussion of (or, conversely, opposing to) the intuition of the artist.