Magritte on the Old Question

Who are we, really?

Beck-Ola Extruded. Illustration created by the author. Album cover, public domain.

The age-old question, “Who are we?” is given a disappointing answer in the world in which we have to live.

We are, indeed, no more than the subjects of this so-called civilized world, in which intelligence, depravity, heroism and stupidity jog along happily together, and are extremely topical.

We are the subjects of this absurd and incoherent world in which arms are manufactured for the prevention of war, science is devoted to destroying, killing, building and prolonging the lives of the dying, and where the most insane activities are self-contradictory.

We live in a world where people marry for money, and where great hotels are built and left to decay on the sea-front.

This world hangs together; but are the signs of its future ruin not already visible in the night sky?

— Rene Magritte, La Ligne de vie, November, 1958

Rene Magritte, 1898–1967, is another of the great painters of the modern era, an artist whose surrealistic internal spaces explored all the inner spaces that we inhabit, and by this I include the caverns of the mind and recesses of the soul, as well as rooms, gardens, and hats.

He lived through a period of great change. As a young painter he had been taken up with the Futurist movement in Europe, but he is most well-known for the surrealism, hence, my own interest in his work when I was a young painter.

This weekend I borrowed a wonderfully immense book from the library with over three hundred pages of Magritte drawings and paintings. It also delves into the man himself.

“Man with a Puzzled Expression”

I doubt there are many of us who’ve not seen some of his work since many of his images re-appear in various ways in pop culture. Jeff Beck used one of his paintings on his album Beck-Ola in 1969, and several movies make reference to his painting, “The Son of Man”, which features a man in a bowler hat with his face obscured by an oversized green apple.

A Belgian who lived through two world wars, he never lost his wit. The opening lines of a lecture he gave explaining the roots of his current work (above) show that he never lost his sensitivity or keen perception. While creating work that at times is absurd, there was an accessibility there as well, and it helped him achieve success within his lifetime. His work had a context and the paintings reflect this man’s response to that which was reverberating about him and within him.

At least two of my own paintings have been tributes to Magritte. You can find out more about the man and a few examples of his work here. If unfamiliar, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

Originally published at October 2010
Man with a Puzzled Expression, ink on paper, by the author.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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