Man Ray became dissatisfied with his original composition for this work inspired by a tightrope performance he had seen in a vaudeville show. He had originally arranged pieces of colored paper cut into the shapes of the tightrope dancer’s acrobatic forms. Glancing down at the floor, he noticed that the discarded scraps of paper from which the shapes had been cut formed an abstract pattern resulting from chance. Comparing the accidental pattern with shadows that a dancer might have cast on the floor, he incorporated it into his composition.
Gallery label from 2020
Though executed entirely in oil paint, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows grew out of Man Ray’s numerous collage experiments. The work’s original composition was inspired by the view of a tightrope dancer in a vaudeville performance. Back in his studio, Man Ray cut colored paper into shapes resembling his memory of the dancer’s acrobatic movements but, dissatisfied with what he had done, he discarded the scraps on the floor. Glancing down, he noticed that by chance they had formed an abstract pattern. Comparing the accidental pattern with shadows that a dancer might have cast, he incorporated it into his composition.
The dancer is outlined in grey and white at the top of the canvas, her legs and fluttering skirt shown in various positions simultaneously. Similarly, Man Ray depicts the tightrope six ways; each line swinging out from her feet atop the large planes of color, which represent the “shadows” cast by her figure.