When you think of Surrealism, do you, like me, think of melting clocks? Or maybe Dalí’s twisty mustache? Well I must say, René Magritte was to me, until recently, just another of those Surrealists who happened to have a penchant for trains and mantle pieces, and who inspired an entire class of year nines to draw apples instead of faces when Surrealism was the latest movement to be covered in art class (by the way I went to a cocktail party the other day and saw a man dressed in a little black suit with an apple suspended from his bowler hat. No joke. Obviously the apple thing struck a chord with him too).
I’m not sure why I’ve never given much thought to Magritte. Perhaps when his work was covered that day in class I was distracted by the melting clocks and the brashness of Surrealist art? Or maybe it was that his little mysterious scenes and rigid, strictly composed images were too quiet. What I realise now is that their quietness is something quite special. Magritte’s work is neat, the image self-consciously put together so that as a viewer you might sweep over them without a second thought, until you notice that in the corner there is a corpse stretched out on a sunbed, or that the lovers kissing in the painting have their heads covered, or that there is a bowler hatted man lurking somewhere. His bag was perception and subversion, and he called upon the long established conventions of painting to create works that look almost straight forward and everyday, but containing a glitch, a hint of unease, which once discovered leave you feeling unsettled and basically creeped out.
I also just like their simple, paired-back, graphic quality. Magritte, once an ad man, was the master of visual puns, never shied away from a repeated motif and had in his work a certain brand of Frenchy weirdness (though actually I think he’s Belgian) that really appeals to me. Perhaps that is why his work is so iconic and loved. Enjoy, happy Monday!