Understanding Eisenstein’s Drawings
Eisenstein’s trip to Mexico marked a new direction in his creative life. He arrived in the United States in 1930 with a contract at Paramount Pictures. Having failed to get any of his projects approved at the studio, he consequently left for Mexico at the end of 1930. There he hoped to create an epic about the country’s history. As a result, he remained in Mexico until early 1932. He shot up to forty hours of raw footage. Sadly, he was never allowed to edit this footage. Various films have been created but no authoritative version of the film would be released.
Eisenstein’s time in Mexico allowed him to channel his reaction to Mexican culture into drawing. Most importantly, this bout of activity marked the beginning of drawing’s outright importance in Eisenstein’s practice. So, he wrote, “It was in Mexico that my drawing underwent an internal catharsis, striving for mathematical abstraction and purity of line”. Eisenstein used the line to great effect, especially when drawing sensual relationships between human figures.
Most importantly, Eisenstein viewed his drawings as more personal than his films, which he understood
as public-facing. However, the drawings were never wholly private, as Eisenstein shared them with close friends. Nevertheless, this intimate quality gave Eisenstein the freedom to explore sexual content. Consequently, Joan Neuberger has called this strand of Eisenstein’s drawing—which also encompasses stage and set designs—as “sex drawings.” This situates Eisenstein’s drawings not as pornography or erotica. Instead, they are an outlet to explore the possibilities of visual storytelling. They translate his internal feelings and ideas into images.
During his life, the drawings took on various aesthetic transformations. They ranged from detailed production sketches and designs to a few expressive lines. These drawings dovetail into Eisenstein’s celebration of Walt Disney. Eisenstein championed Disney for his use of humour and style to explore the rational and the pre-rational. With his spare and refined drawings, Eisenstein gave life to wild sex acts and a vivid imagination. He probed the libidinal and the absurd, consciousness and unconsciousness. Finally, his goal, was less titillation than a new type of image. Above all, he aimed to traverse historical and psychological conditions to locate a form that could express his deeply humanist viewpoint.