Hans Bellmer, Plate from La Poupée, 1936
One of the more outré figures of modern art, Bellmer, a German artist who lived in Berlin, developed his work independently of the Surrealists that were based in Paris, though he would eventually join their ranks. As a child, he and his brother hid out from their tyrannical father in “a secret garden decorated with toys and souvenirs, and visited by young girls who joined in sexual games.” Sounds like a recipe for an erotically obsessed artistic genius! Bellmer was largely self-taught, having initially studied engineering, per the demands of his father. His creeptastic dolls, or poupées, were cobbled together complete with pudenda out of wood, plaster, broom handles, metal rods and ball joints. They were initially meant as a protest against the Nazi’s rise to power (Dad was an ardent Nazi, naturally)—the result of Bellmer’s renunciation of doing anything “useful” for the new regime. The poupées were inspired by memories of his secret garden and his sexual encounters there. Bellmer took photos of his creations, publishing them in a book that came to the attention of André Breton, who invited him to exhibit with the Surrealists.