Many of the world’s would-be artists are trying to find their style, experimenting with as many different styles as possible to find one that works for them. The results of this intense experimentation can be somewhat outlandish, to put it mildly.
This was no less the case for surrealist artist Rene Magritte. Born November 21st 1898 in Belgium as Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte, the artist’s early life was riddled with trauma. The financial hardships of his father’s business forced the family to move regularly. Compounding the young Magritte’s misery, his mother committed suicide by drowning in 1912.
Magritte sought comfort, as many artists do, through creative pursuits, such as films, novels and painting. This early appreciation for the arts led him to study at Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1916, remaining for two years. This exposed him to the works of cubism and futurism, adding to his existing predilection for impressionism.
“The torment and chaos Magritte witnesseD in world war II led him to pursue happier material”
Much of Magritte’s work was influenced by the similarly surreal artist Pablo Picasso. His circle of influence was expanded by the creative colleagues he met when he moved to Paris in 1927. These colleagues included Andre Breton, the writer; Paul Eluard, the poet; and the artists Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Joan Miro.
World War II, with its colossal impact on the world, also served to change the course of Magritte’s life. The torment and chaos he witnessed in the war led him to pursue happier material and brighter colours within his work. This led him, along with many other artists, to the creation of a manifesto entitled “Surrealism in Full Sunlight”.
Magritte was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1963. In his later years, he dabbled in various other creative media, such as films and sculpture, reflecting his earlier experimentation. Though his life may have ended August 15th 1967, his legacy lives on with his influence on many modern pop artists such as Andy Warhol.
Magritte’s legacy can also be witnessed in the many pieces of artwork he left behind. A notable example includes the simple yet powerful The Treachery of Images (1929). This piece is notable as being among the first of Magritte’s paintings to experiment with incorporating text into the work as well as imagery. Underneath the standard image of a smoker’s pope can be seen the rather befuddling phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, French for “This is not a pipe”. It is a typical example of the subversive nature of Magritte’s work.
“It is not just artists trying to find their voice in this mad world, it is every human being”
Another of Magritte’s painting includes The Return of the Flame (1943). A giant, suited man is depicted in a pose of deep thought, while in mid-stride across an unknown city. He wears a top hat on his head and a mask across his eyes. In his right hand is a bright red rose, which matches the bright red sky in the background. It is unknown if the “flame” of the title refers to a moniker used by the main figure of the piece, or to the fiery red colours used. It is entirely possible that it refers to both.
One of Magritte’s best known works is The Enchanted Domain (completed 1953). This work began as the result of a commission in 1951 to paint a cycle of murals for the casino at Knocke-le-Zoute on the Belgian coast. By 1953, Magritte had compiled a collection of some of his most renowned images. One such image includes a pair of apples wearing eye masks (similar to the one worn by the figure in The Return of the Flame), positioned alongside a tree containing hidden compartments, in which can be found a silver orb and a doll’s house. This may serve to teach the viewer that, if nothing else, life is full of surprises.
It’s not just artists who are trying to find their voice in this mad, unpredictable world of ours. It’s every human being on the planet who is attempting this feat. Magritte can teach us that we should never be afraid to try new things in our pursuit for expression and identity. We might learn new things about ourselves, and perhaps inspire a host of other people along the way.
–Luke Mayo, Editor (Art)
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