“My painting is visible images which conceal nothing … they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘what does that mean? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable”.
– Rene Magritte.
Rene Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist who became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking pieces. His work is known for challenging the preconditioned perceptions of reality. Whilst the artist’s work is often imbued with a sense of mystery, the artist himself was far less conspicuous. Magritte lived on a street much like any other in Brussels. His house was much like any other in the local area too, proper and ordinary like the man himself. It was this mundane nature of everyday life which the artist valued greatly and used to his advantage, taking ordinary things and imbuing them with a sense of something less ordinary through his unique vision.
“I want to breathe new life into the way we look at the ordinary things around us. But how should one look? Like a child, the first time it encounters a reality outside itself. I live in the same state of innocence as a child, who believes he can reach out from his cot and grasp a bird in the sky”.
– Rene Magritte
Upstairs in the Surrealist artist’s home of twenty five years, which has since been turned into a museum, his wife lovingly preserved his final unfinished canvas, perhaps as John Cale says in his song Magritte, from the 2003 album HoboSapiens, “stretched, For umbrellas and bowler hats, Everyone knows Magritte did that”.
You can see Magritte in his array of self portraits, often “Inside a canvas of blue saturated with beauty, In a web of glass”. You can also see portrayals of the artist’s wife, Georgette, as well as glimpses of their modest Brussels home. There is an autobiographical quality to Magritte’s work but what of the mystery that surrounds it? We do not need to look for the mysterious as it exists everywhere, even in the most conventional of lives.
“Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see”.
– Rene Magritte.
Images that are illustrative bring about a powerful paradox in the mind of the viewer. Magritte’s work is beautiful in its clarity and simplicity but can also invoke unsettling thoughts. They are suggesting to you that they hide no mystery but they are also often odd and puzzling. With his tribute song to the artist, John Cale manages to evoke the same feelings that we get when looking at one of the artist’s pictures. On starting to listen to the song, we are drawn in to a string soaked discussion of the beauty of the artist’s work. Yet, in the second verse, we are faced with the sound of “a car-horn in the street outside And a museum with its windows open”. Later in the song, Cale says, “Somebody’s coming that hates us, Better watch the art”. This is the paradox and mystery in Cale’s Magritte, a seemingly beautiful ode to an artist actually appears to be discussing something altogether more sinister. Is a song which starts as a loving tribute to the artist’s work actually about an art heist at “a museum with its windows open”? Is the “car-horn in the street” a getaway car? Are the people who hate the narrator and his accomplices, those “legends of conspicuous men”, the police? This is the mystery in Cale’s song, as seen quite often in his work, just as in Rene Magritte’s work: It is left open to interpretation, out there somewhere, “pinned to the edges of vision”.
“This arbitrarily reconstructed verbal / imagerial lexicon evinces that, in an alternate, oneiric state of logic, words and objects can acquire new relationships, as they are not transcendentally united”.
– Rene Magritte.