Classical Geometry, Revolutionary Design
With his long career of pioneering work in painting, sculpture and photography, Man Ray (1890-1976) can readily be regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. In this first design of his relating to chess, Man Ray abandoned all the overly classical and figurative characteristics used to identify the pieces. Instead, he composed them of the pure Euclidean geometric “ideal forms” – cube, sphere, pyramid and cone. He still made iconic associations such as the pyramid with the Egyptian symbol of kingship, the cone with medieval queen’s headgear and the fla- gon with the bishop’s tradition of creating exotic liqueurs and spirits. Dadaist that he was, he could not resist interjecting at least one discordant, though still elegant, element into the ensemble. He based the form of the Knight on a found object in his studio, the head scroll of a violin. Its form, too, is based on pure geometry, though it is that of the Fibonacci sequence that defines spiral growth patterns in natural forms.
Man Ray was an American Modernist artist who spent most of his life in Paris, France. A significant contributor to both the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, Ray was close friends with other artists at the time, including Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp, even including the latter in a brief scene in one of his many arthouse films. As with Dali and Duchamp, Chess factored into many of Man Ray's works. It is no surprise, then, that he strived to design his own Chessmen!