Artistic movements: the CO.BR.A. group
In November 1948, Paris hosted an international conference dedicated to the art of the avant-garde. While the speakers tediously debated on topics such as geometric abstraction and social realism, a group of six young artists left the soporific conference to move to a café on the Seine. From their meeting sprang the basic text of a brief but significant abstract expressionist movement that took the name of CO.BR.A.
Origin of the name
CO.BR.A. was the acronym to indicate the cities of origin of the group’s founders: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. In fact, the six painters and writers who initially joint the group were respectively active from Denmark, Belgium and Holland’s capitals.
As a happy coincidence, the word Co.Br.A. also hid a metaphor, with symbolic interpretations. The animal immediately drew meanings related to land, demonic, lust, returning elements in the poetic of the group.
It all started by a group of 6 artists: the Belgian surrealist poets Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret, the Dutch painters Karel Appel and Constant, the Belgian Corneille and the Danish painter Asger Jorn. The founders came from previous associative experiences, the Flemish group Reflex, the Danish Høst and the Belgian “Revolutionary Surrealist Group,” three movements in opposition to the dictates of Geometric Abstraction and of Socialist Realism.
These later were joined by other protagonists of the culture of the time as Kay Nielsen, Robert Jacobsen, Karl Otto Götz, Pol Bury and Pierre Alechinsky. At the time of maximum expansion, the group surpassed the 50 members. Most of them came from Holland, Belgium, Denmark and the countries of northern Europe: artists from different backgrounds (writers, poets, painters, etc.) that gave the CO.BR.A a wide artistic dimension, because there were cells within the movement that act almost independently. The headquarter of the group was originally known as Cobrahuis, in Rue du Marais in Brussels; later artists met especially in Paris.
In Paris manifesto dated 1948, Christian Dotremont outlined the guidelines and aesthetic concepts of a new group which aimed to be a variant of informal art, an alternative to geometric abstraction and to social realism. The CO.BR.A was inspired by primitive art, rejecting the pursuit of beauty and harmony in art. The art of the Cobra group had its roots in folklore and fables of Northern Europe, in the free expression of the unconscious through dreams, Surrealism and coexistence with other arts such as poetry. The founders were motivated by the same aspiration to a spontaneous art, almost childish, far from the sterile rhetoric disputes of contemporary intellectuals.
The result were experimental works, suspended between figuration and abstraction, characterized by gestures and free, aggressive and ironic colors. The favorite subjects were fantastic, naïve and mythological, from Nordic folklore. They also developed themes related to the figurative tradition such as children and the feminine.
The members of the group mainly worked in the fields of art, literature and architecture. Collective action concerned the publication of documents such as magazine Co.Br.A and exhibitions of paintings that were a source of confrontation between the affiliates.
Quite important the exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1949) and the exhibition organized at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège (1951), in which other artists took part. These two moments represented the pinnacle and the end of the movement that broke up in 1951 because of the divergent political views within the group, after 3 years of intense experimentation that consigned to history the Group CO.BR.A.
Featured Image: Karel Appel, Two Faces, Acrylic on paper, 48,5 x 77 cm, 1977 © Artrust