SURREALISM WITH A SMILE (Time Articles) Be Charming

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 3:24:57 AM

Monday, Mar. 16, 1953

As a school, surrealism has all but died of its own painted agonies. Its liveliest remaining master is one of the few with a blithely bubbling sense of humor. In an exhibit opening at a Manhattan gallery next week, Rene Magritte proves once again that he has all the technical facility of the best surrealists and almost none of their nightmare overtones. "It is much easier," he says, "to terrorize than to charm." Magritte charms with jokes-in-oils like this properly bowlered, quietly defiant self-portrait (upper right), a wine bottle turning into a carrot (above), and a sunlit sky that casts no light on the earth below.

The artist is a moonfaced little man of 54 who putters about Brussels, cultivating the philosophy that sprouts under his bowler. "Most people," he explains, "act unconsciously, thinking they know their goal. As for me, I'm consciously searching for the unknown." Four mornings a week Magritte stays home in his stuffy little apartment to paint. His technique is straightforward and exquisite; his results are oblique, funny, and sometimes forceful. Like Roman candles fired into the dark, his paintings are meant not to illuminate but to enhance the mystery of life.

Be Charming (Time Article)
Monday, Apr. 21, 1947

Surrealist pictures sometimes leave gallery-goers with the uneasy suspicion that the joke is on them. Last week a surrealist one-man show in Manhattan gave onlookers the pleasure of being in on the laughs. The paintings, by a dour little Belgian named René Magritte, have Salvador Dali's technical perfection but none of Dali's tiresome bag of Freudian tricks. Sample Magritte subjects: a fountain—as cool and wet-looking as the real thing—which spouts crystal mirrors, crowns, hands and cornucopias; a cigar box puffing a cigar; a door, set up against the sky, opening to admit a cloud; a glassy-eyed nude crammed into a bottle, entitled "inspiration," a beach sprouting sorrowful, earthbound pigeons, whose dull green wings flap like leaves in the wind (see cut),

According to their maker, these painted imaginings symbolize nothing at all. "I hate symbols as much as I hate tradition," Magritte told TIME's Brussels correspondent. "Symbols are what you learn at school, but to be a surrealist, as I am, means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen, and being always on the lookout for what has never been seen." Once, asked to give a lecture on his art, Magritte instead painted a picture of a pipe and captioned it This Is Not a Pipe. He explained: "Very easy. It is not a pipe because you could not smoke with it."

Magritte is 48, married, and has a pet Pomeranian, "Jacacki." He is a dapper dresser, paints on a time-clock daily schedule in a corner of his small, commonplace living room. Magritte considers Dali an excellent businessman ("he is rich") but has intense scorn for fellow Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux, who paints luscious nudes picking roses in classic landscapes, with now & then a streetcar lurking about in the background (TIME, Dec. 30). Painter Delvaux, Magritte thinks, "has exploited surrealism as he would have exploited pork-butchery."

What makes Magritte unusual among surrealists is his dislike of nightmares. Before World War II he painted his share of horrors (one of which, a pair of boots growing human toes, was included in last week's show) but nowadays, when Magritte closes his eyes in search of "what has never been seen," he hopes to come upon something pleasant. "The German Occupation," Magritte explains, "marked a turning point in my art. Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the experiences of war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm. It I is much easier to terrorize than to charm. ... I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive."

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