Thursday, February 25, 2016

March Newsletter: Master of Reality vs. Illusion

Back a few years ago I was reading, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The author talks about shadow artists. According to Cameron, 

 "Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead."

She states that often these folks go into advertising, art education, law or even medicine because, "Art won't pay the electric bill."  She continues by stating that many of these "shadow" artists are frustrated with their career choices and would rather be artists.

Of course, Cameron would label me a shadow artist. That's because I was in advertising for 25 years and I've taught drawing and painting for 10 years. To be perfectly honest, I never regretted either decision. Maybe it's because throughout my life, I've spent most of my free time creating some form of art. I always thought I had the best of both worlds.

Many artists have had to follow the same path to make ends meet. It's just a reality of life. We're all in the same boat (unless we have a wealthy family or patron), and we do our best. One artist in particular followed the "shadow" way, earning a living whatever way he could.  But all along, he also created his own art and in my opinion, was one of the best in the 20th century.

I'm talking about the Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte (1898-1967). He was a graphic designer, a theater set designer, owner of an ad agency with his brother and even a visual forger. Eventually, he became a major player in modern art, influencing pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. The name may not ring a bell, but his artwork will (see below).

Son of Man  1964
Golconda  1953
Decalcomania  1966

What's most interesting about Magritte is his transformation. He went from very abstract to being an artist of reality vs. illusion. He liked to repeat themes over and over again as well as attempt new methods. I simply love looking at his paintings and collages. They are all delightful.

When you look back through his early works, you can see that he was heavily influenced by Cubism and Futurism, early 20th century art that placed traditional art upside down (sometimes literally). Here are some of his early works dating from 1919 to 1924. Notice the Cubism influence.

Nude 1919
Landscape 1920

Model 1922
Around 1925, Magritte's style began to change. The Window, done in 1925, demonstrates that he was still using Cubism but he added a window, a curtain, a hand and a bird, all of which will appear in future work.

The Window 1925
In that same year, you can actually see how he was transforming from Cubism to Surrealism. His Nocturne work begins to show his emphasis on light and dark, the introduction of the bilboquet (toy), the web on the floor and again, the curtain and bird.

Nocturn, 1925

In 1925, Magritte also created what he considered his first Surrealistic piece, The Lost Jockey (Le Jockey Perdu). He repeats this theme several times, including in 1925 as a collage and then again in 1926 in gouache on paper (see below).

The Lost Jockey--collage 1925
The Lost Jockey--gouache on paper 1926

Fortunately for Magritte, he was able to secure a contract with Galerie 'Le Centaure' in Brussels from 1926 to 1929, which gave him the income he needed and the opportunity to live in Paris for three years with other Surrealists. But once the gallery closed its doors, he was back in Brussels by 1930. He returned to advertising and even opened up his own agency with his brother--both of them were able to earn a living wage. Hooray!

He continued to develop his style and enjoyed his first exhibit in New York at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1936 and in London in 1938. Here are some of his most interesting works:

The Lovers 1928 

Magritte used the clothed face theme several times. Some believe it was related to his mother's suicide during his youth, but there is no proof of that.

The Treachery of Images, 1928-29 

The title on the painting is "This is not a pipe." Many people were confused, so here's Magritte's response:

"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!"

The Human Condition (Painting One 1933) 

Look closely, is this a painting of a painting in front of a window? Yes, it is! So cool!

The Human Condition (Painting Two 1933) 

Again a painting of a painting in front of a door? One of my favorites.

During the German occupation and after the war, Magritte delved into different periods, one was his Renoir period, where he created colorful paintings, and his second in 1948 called his Vache period, where he painted similarly to Fauvists. I like his Renoir period the best. Notice the ballerina below on the fiddler's lap. Every one of his paintings reminds you to look closer than normal.

Le Premier Jour 1943 

Le Stropiat 1948

After the war, times were hard on everyone, and it is said that Magritte and his brother engaged in creating some forgeries, including works by Picasso, Braques and Chirico, as well as the printing of forged banknotes. Hmmm. I wonder what "shadow" he was working under then?

By the time the 1950s came along, life was better, and we see the modern day Magritte come alive. This is when his work became popular up to and throughout the 60s. Unfortunately, he died in 1967 of cancer at only 68 after producing over 1,000 paintings (an amazing shadow artist if you ask me). The following paintings were done in those last couple of decades and are definitely some of my favorites. I was truly fascinated by his work as a child.

The Empire of Lights 1950-54

The above theme is repeated again and again by Magritte. Notice the sky is daylight and the house is set at night I truly appreciate the contrast and love the creative touch. 

 Waterfall 1961

Lost Jockey III, 1962

 When the Hour Strikes, 1964-65

 Evening Falls II, 1964

The Blank Signature, 1965

Empire of Lights (unfinished), 1967
(was still on the easel when Magritte died)

I hope you enjoyed this visual journey of Rene Magritte's work. I sure love to revisited his stuff over and over again. If you want more information on this artist, you can go to Mattesonart, where there is a complete and thorough biography.

What's Coming Up!

New studio classes begin the first week of March. 

Beginning Acrylics Tuesday mornings
10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Most supplies provided
$90 per six-week term
(seats available)

The Morning Draw  Wednesday mornings
10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
$90 per six-week term

Fun with Acrylics Thursday evenings
6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
$90 per six-week term

Two travel sketching trips for 2016

Sketching the Fall Colors
Boston to Quebec Cruise
September 9-16
Register now to secure your place.

Sketching the English Village
May 8-15
Registration Closed

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