Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Chapter Eight: Rene Magritte

Why You Can(’t) See Rene Magritte’s Cat

Get your copy now: Famous Artists's Cats: The Book

Walking into a room of Rene Magritte’s paintings is like entering a workout gymnasium for your brain. Nothing expected happens with Rene Magritte, even when you expect the unexpected.

One of his most famous paintings is of a simple pipe against a plain background. Beneath the image is an inscription: Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Translated: This is not a pipe. And, of course, it’s not. It’s a picture of a pipe.

The Invisible Cat / © Deborah Julian
Other surrealist and impressionist artists may make you think. Magritte forces you to. Or you can just leave the room.

But why leave when the art is so easy to enjoy? Many of his paintings are beautiful, like La cuerda sensible (The Chord), where a cumulous cloud rests atop a giant glass that dominates a semi-arid plain. Others, like the baffling La condicion humana (The Human Condition), poetically challenge your perception of reality.

In almost every instance, no matter how challenging, Magritte creates a painting so pleasing to look at, you are willing to go the next step and think about it.

Think about it you will, too, and you will probably still think about it after you’ve left the gallery and are trying to concentrate on something else. Magritte finds his way into your subconscious, because that’s where the real conversation takes place.

As the most playful of surrealists, Magritte digs beneath the surfaces that you believe in to set your imagination running in the absurd world behind it. Often, it’s a world of dreams or one of doubts stuffed back from conscious awareness. He believes in a world of masks in which things are greater than they appear to be. Fears, wishes and everyday assumptions prop it up.

One of the most startling facts about The Invisible World, which Magritte painted in 1954, is that, less than ten years earlier, the artist supported himself by painting fake Picassos. In the post World War II period, he also raked in cash by printing fake bank notes with his brother, Paul. You can see where invisibility might be an advantage.

In Le monde invisible, Magritte again plays with words. An invisible world couldn’t really be painted, could it? Or is he suggesting something else, something more hidden and sinister than invisible? It’s Rene Magritte, so who knows?

In the background, an endless sea has indefinite contours while a storm gathers above. The foreground is less predictable. A chiseled boulder casts a deep shadow across a formal-looking room in front of a window to the sea. The image is solid and indefinite simultaneously, changing and certain — much like most of our dreams.

People sharing their lives with cats eventually become award of their feline companions exceptional abilities for teleportation and intermittent invisibility. Those gifts set up the perfect model for The Invisible Cat. 

Sam pops into view in Magritte’s painting, completely invisible, just like the rest of the world.