Posts Tagged ‘Rene Magritte’

Rene Magritte- The Empire of Light – Guggenheim Museum


Life obliges me to do something, so I paint. 

–Rene Magritte


I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about when I started. Still don’t know, to be honest. I was simply going to put up a short quote with a painting or two by an artist, as I sometimes do. In this case the artist was the famed Surrealist Rene Magritte.

I liked the quote above. Simple. Concise. Right to the point.

Plus, I think it lines up with an answer that I sometimes give when someone asks how I became a painter. I will answer, “Hey, everybody has to do something.

That opens up what could be a whole philosophical discussion about what our obligations really are in our lives as humans.

Are we really obliged to do something?

I don’t know.

Maybe. I guess not doing something is, in it’s own way, doing something. I know that when I am not a painter I am, among many things, sometimes a lazy slob.

Life obliges me to do something, so I do nothing.

That doesn’t have quite the same cache as Magritte’s statement but it is sometimes true.

But for the most part, when life obliges me to do something, I paint.

Not like Magritte. In my own way, at my own pace and of my own choosing.

Hey, life can push me around but only so far.


PS: I was going to write about the painting at the top which is one version of a painting, The Empire of Light, that Magritte painted fourteen times. The subject was not going to be about the night scene of this painting with a blue sky above. Rather, it was to be about the repetition of forms by artists, a subject to which I am well acquainted. Maybe next time.

Now, let’s look at some other Magritte paintings.

Rene Magritte- Decalcomania – 1966

Rene Magritte- The Mysteries of the Horizon 1928

Rene Magritte- The Son of Man 1964

Rene Magritte- The Beautiful Relations 1966


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My originality consists in putting the logic of the visible to the service of the invisible.

Odilon Redon


This is a bit of a continuation of yesterday’s post where Magritte spoke of poetry and mystery in his work. The above quote from Odilon Redon (1840-1916) describes very much that same sentiment.

A work of art should have a sense of logic to it even if it might go against all that we know of the natural world. This created logic allows us to accept what we see before us, permits us to fully absorb the poetry and mystery–the invisible elements to which Redon alludes–without question.

This acceptance allows us to move beyond the visible, allows us to perceive our reality in a different manner, perhaps in an enhanced way.

As a viewer, I know the works of art that move me most of all fall into this category. They may not seem unusual at first look. Their subject might even seem mundane. They seem outwardly logical but there is something that moves them into that area of mystery and poetry, that gives them an sense of the indefinable.

As an artist, it is something you hope to achieve but don’t really know how to explain how you do it because you don’t really know for sure. It sometimes either happens or it doesn’t.

And that is its own mystery.

It’s a mystery that keeps the artist wanting to always move ahead with the hope that it will all someday be revealed.

Will it one day be revealed? Who knows? It’s a mystery.


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People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images.

Rene Magritte


I absolutely love this painting, The Banquet, from Rene Magritte in 1958. It has the effect where I don’t question anything about it. I just accept it as it is presented. I am not looking for symbolism in it at all, not looking for a reason why the red ball of sun is hovering low in front of the trees. The colors, the contrast, the composition– they create a whole sensation doesn’t need a why or what or how.

As Magritte points out, it contains poetry and mystery.

And that is something to try to understand. I know I often feel the need to try to explain my work, to point out where I find an emotional base in a piece. Sometimes that is easy, almost jumping out at you. But sometimes it is not so obvious and it is simply the mystery of the created feel, a great intangible pulse, that makes a particular painting work.

You see it, feel it, accept its reality yet you don’t fully understand the why and how.

And maybe that is just as it should be. Not all we behold can or should be explained. Sometimes, maybe we simply need to experience poetry and mystery.

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Visible things can be invisible. However, our powers of thought grasp both the visible and the invisible – and I make use of painting to render thoughts visible.

― René Magritte


It’s an interesting thought, that our power of thought grasps both the visible and the invisible.

I, a seemingly visible thing, have sometimes felt invisible.

And I have sometimes seen things that turned out to not be there at all.

Thought is a magical thing.

And maybe that is why some folks paint, to attempt to capture those things they think they see and to take away their own invisibility.

Gotta chew on that one for a while…

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magritteI conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image emerge. . . . There are no “subjects”, no “themes” in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable.

–Rene Magritte, 1967

    In a letter two months prior to his death


I am giving my annual Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery this coming Saturday, August 9.   I don’t usually come in with a prepared speech, instead speaking off the cuff and responding to the audience, but I still prepare myself in a few different ways.  One is to go over possible themes and clarify my thoughts on these subjects to minimize awkward pauses at the actual talk.  Oh, it doesn’t eliminate them but it helps to have some sort of thought formed beforehand.

The quote above from Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte reminds me of an instance where I didn’t fully get across what I was trying to communicate in response to a question.  While speaking to a regional arts group consisting of enthusiastic painters, some amateurs and some professional, a question was brought up about the importance of subject.  Magritte elegantly stated in his words what I was trying to say that evening, that the purpose of what I was doing was not in the actual portrayal of the object of the painting but in the way it was expressed through color and form and contrast.  To me, the subject was not important except as a vehicle for carrying emotion.

Of course, I didn’t state it with any kind of coherence.  Hearing me say that the subject wasn’t important angered the man who  was a lifelong painter of very accomplished landscapes.  He said that the subject was most important in forming your painting.  I fumbled around for a bit and don’t think I ever satisfied his question or got across a bit of what I was attempting to say.

I think he was still mad when he left which still bothers me because he was right, of course.  Subject is important.  It is the relationship that you have with the subject that makes it a vehicle for accurately carrying the emotional feeling  you are trying to pull from the painting.  While I am not interested in depicting landscapes of specific areas, I am moved by the rolls of hills and fields and the stately personae of trees and that comes through in my painting.  Yes, I can capture emotion in things that may not have any emotional attachment to me through the way I am painting them, which was part of what I was saying to that man that evening, but it will never be as fully realized as those pieces which consist of things and places in which I maintain a personal relationship.

It is always easier to find the poetry of the unknown in those things which we know.

Hopefully, I will not be as inelegant Saturday as I was on that evening.  I hope you can come to the West End Gallery around 1 PM and test me a bit.  I think I’m ready.  Plus, you might walk away with a painting from my studio!

See you then…

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