Magritte: The power of re­al­ity and il­lu­sion by Mona Iskan­dar

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Mona Iskan­dar

Rene Magritte was imag­i­na­tive, witty and thought pro­vok­ing, whose dream-like qual­ity in his art fas­ci­nated peo­ple and in­flu­enced move­ments. He would place or­di­nary ob­jects in an un­usual con­text to give them a new mean­ing, make them strange, pro­vok­ing, and mys­te­ri­ous. It was his way of tran­scend­ing the re­al­is­tic de­pic­tion of com­mon scenes, ex­plain­ing: “Art evokes the mys­tery with­out which the world would not ex­ist.”

Magritte re­belled against bour­geois con­cep­tions and ques­tioned the tra­di­tions of lan­guage and vis­ual art. He would mis­name ob­jects, use rep­e­ti­tion, or con­ceal his in­ten­tions by pro­duc­ing half hid­den scenes, to blur re­al­ity. He chal­lenged or­dered so­ci­ety and the way peo­ple think and see. In his work, there is al­most al­ways ten­sion be­tween na­ture and the man-made, the real and the imag­ined, truth and fic­tion, mak­ing his art unique, dream-like and imag­i­na­tive, such as clouds look­ing like loafs of bread or a pipe at­tached to the nose to be­come part of the face. He liked to shock, and could be dis­turb­ing.

Magritte would mis­name ob­jects, as in one of his most fa­mous paint­ings ‘ This is not a pipe’, where he ques­tioned def­i­ni­tions and rep­re­sen­ta­tions, as all is not what ap­pears. Called ‘The Treach­ery of im­ages’, he wrote un­der a pipe ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’, which seemed like a con­tra­dic­tion. When asked about it, he ex­plained:” The fa­mous pipe! How peo­ple re­proached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a rep­re­sen­ta­tion, is it not? So if I had writ­ten on my pic­ture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been ly­ing!” He high­lighted the dif­fer­ence be­tween the ob­ject and its im­age since the pipe in the painting can­not be filled with tobacco or smoked.

Magritte was born in Bel­gium in 1898 to a mid­dle class fam­ily. He started tak­ing painting les­sons in 1910, when he was 12, and then joined the Royal Academy of Art in Brus­sels. In 1922, back from the mil­i­tary ser­vice, he worked as a drafts­man in a wall­pa­per factory and a year later, be­came a free­lance poster and pub­lic­ity de­signer. The in­flu­ence of com­mer­cial art showed later in the clar­ity and sharp­ness of his work, and in his habit of mak­ing more than one copy of his art.

In 1927, he had his first ex­hi­bi­tion in Brus­sels, which was so badly re­ceived that he de­cided to move to Paris where he got in­volved with the Sur­re­al­ists and be­came a lead­ing mem­ber. He also started us­ing words in his paint­ings. Af­ter three years, un­able to sell and sup­port him­self, he went back to Brus­sels to form with his brother an ad­ver­tis­ing agency. For­tu­nately, the suc­cess of a New York ex­hi­bi­tion gave him in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, and he went back to se­ri­ous painting.

When he was 13, the pain­ter’s mother com­mit­ted sui­cide by throw­ing her­self in the Sam­bre River near where they lived. There

is an un­ver­i­fied the­ory that his mother’s face was cov­ered with her dress when she was taken out of the wa­ter. This im­age can be be­hind some of Magritte’s paint­ings of peo­ple with white veils over their faces

In 1922, Magritte mar­ried Ge­or­gette, the butcher’s daugh­ter, whom he had met when she was 13 and he was 15. In 1936, he had an af­fair with a young artist and ar­ranged to have a friend dis­tract his wife; pre­dictably, they too had an af­fair. They were even­tu­ally rec­on­ciled in 1940.

The artist was in­flu­enced by the new dis­ci­plines of psy­cho­anal­y­sis and of the sur­re­al­ist use of dreams. The bizarre, the il­log­i­cal and dreams fas­ci­nated him.

In ‘The Hu­man Con­di­tion’, he used the op­ti­cal il­lu­sion de­vice, painting a land­scape in front of an open win­dow, then painting the pic­ture on an easel from in­side. He showed the as­so­ci­a­tion of na­ture and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in art and the bound­ary be­tween the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior, be­tween re­al­ity and the imag­ined. He painted dif­fer­ent ver­sions, us­ing the same name. ‘The Key to the Fields’ had the bro­ken glass of a win­dow with the ex­te­rior land­scape still show­ing on the splin­ters.

‘The Em­pire of light II’ is a very sur­re­al­is­tic im­age where the lower part is a street scene painted at night, while the up­per part has the bright blue sky and white clouds of daytime.

‘Le Blanc- Se­ing’ shows a for­est with a horse and rider dis­sected and sliced with a tree trunk in front of the pic­ture while its base be­hind.

A train juts out of the chim­ney to an empty room in ‘La Duree Poignardee’, and the mir­ror over the fire­place re­flects only one of the two can­dle­sticks, typ­i­cal of the strange and mys­te­ri­ous that Magritte loved to trans­mit.

In ‘The Lovers’, a cou­ple are kiss­ing, their faces hid­den by white veils. Is this the me­mory of his drowned mother, or are they un­able to give fully their love to each other?

In­stead of a bird, there is an egg com­pletely fill­ing the cage in ‘Elec­tive Affin­ity’. Here, he goes back to the source of the bird and plays with the con­cept of size and scale. An­other painting on the same theme has the artist look­ing at an egg and painting a bird. There is also a canvas with stairs that lead nowhere. Typ­i­cal of his un­re­lated com­par­isons, he wrote to a friend:’ the present reeks of medi­ocrity and the atom bomb”.

Magritte thought of his artis­tic prac­tice as a process of rea­son­ing. He wrote:” I had to dis­cover ‘for my­self’ that thought of­fers the only illumination.” Many artists, singers, ad­ver­tis­ing agents and cinema di­rec­tors use Magritte’s im­ages in their work.

La Trahi­son des Im­ages (This is not a Pipe) - 1929

La Clair­voy­ance (Per­cep­tive­ness) - 1936

La Durée Poignardée - 1938

La Clef des Champs - 1936

Le Blanc-se­ing - 1936

Les Va­cances de Hegel - 1958

La Lampe Philosophique - 1936

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