The Artists

What's in a name?

Toyen, The Artists
Portrait of Toyen

Names are assigned to us before we are aware of their meaning, and we grow into them as much as they come to reflect us. In Japan artists often changed names after milestones in their lives, but in the west, once you've been given a name, you're usually stuck with it—a rigidity that makes claiming a new name even more powerful magic.

The name Toyen was invented by the poet Josef Seifert during a visit to the Paris National Cafe. It may have been derived from the French citoyen, citizen, or the Czech phrase for ‘it is them’ but as soon as it was birthed, the name was claimed by the 20 year old artist Marie Čermínová. The name transformed the person into a new being, without gender or heritage, and the person made the name famous, signing it to five decades of canvases, drawings, illustrations and writings.

Toyen’s work developed in the frenetic urgency of the post WWI avantgarde. Art production was alchemical, a tool to understand the nature of reality itself. The Constructivists were using art to understand society, the Surrealists were delving into the subconscious, the cubists were unzipping the act of observation, and after dabbling with all these, Toyen and their partner, the poet and painter Jindrich Styrsky, started their own movement: Artificialism—an attempt to unbind artwork from reality itself.

Reed Enger, "Toyen, What's in a name?," in Obelisk Art History, Published November 27, 2022; last modified September 11, 2023,

Toyen was a Czech artist born on September 21, 1902. Toyen contributed to the Surrealist movement, worked in France and died on November 9, 1980.

No items found.

By continuing to browse Obelisk you agree to our Cookie Policy