Manuel Viola considered Surrealism a philosophical adventure that could be translated into a moral attitude. Its goals were the destruction of an oppressive reality and the realization of man. Surrealist art should be both reflection and action, and should contribute toward the creation of a new revolutionary reality.
In the 1940s Viola—who lived in Paris clandestinely—connected with the La Main à Plume group that formed around Jean-François Chabrun and Noël Arnaud. The group sought a return to the Surrealist movement and achieving its fruition after it had been interrupted by the Second World War. The artist participated in the group’s debates, authored a number of manifestos, and published several theoretical and poetic texts.
Signed J. V. Viola, this drawing illustrated Chabrun’s treatise Les Déserts de l’enthousiasme [The Deserts of Enthusiasm], published in 1942. It puts several elements of the Surrealist worldview into play: ruins, organic forms, the ambiguity between the natural and the artificial, the desert, the chessboard, the bird, and the statue. Desolation and hope coalesce as if echoing Chabrun’s poetry, who had been important member of French resistance.