Van Gogh •
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René Magritte, the famous Belgian Surrealist, developed his signature
techniques early in his career while working as a commercial artist-designing wallpapers, posters, sheet-music covers and collage illustrations for furriers' catalogs.
When he moved to Paris from Brussels, in August 1927, to join the Parisian Surrealists, Magritte began his investigation of pictorial language in a burst of activity that was to produce sixty pictures in one year, some quite large. When Magritte left Paris in 1930, he abandoned the Surrealist milieu where the painters tended to be subordinate to the writers, and in particular to André Breton. Although Magritte was not adverse to the company of writers-indeed Paul Eluard was his closest friend in Paris and many of his writer friends helped produce titles for his paintings-he was adverse to Breton's organizing, and returned to Brussels where he was regarded as the center of the avant-garde circle. He remained in Belium, save for a few trips, until his death.
Magritte's works are conceived of as riddles. In them, he explores the mysteries lurking in the unexpected juxtaposition of everyday things, involving the viewer in a self-induced disorientation. His paintings exclude symbols and myths; everything is visible. Magritte worked from several sources, which he repeated with variations: anatomical surprises, such as the hand whose wrist is a woman's face; the mysterious opening, where a door swings open onto an unexpected vista; metamorphic creatures, such as a stone bird flying above a rocky shoreline. He animates the inanimate, as a shoe with toes; he enlarges details, as an immense apple filling a room. he makes an association of complementaries, as the leaf-bird, or the mountain-eagle. His titles accompany the paintings in the way that names correspond to objects, without either illustrating or explaining them. There is always a kind of logic to Magritte's images but when asked about analysis of the content of his paintings, Magritte replied, "If one looks at a thing with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but of thinking of the question that is raised." The interpretation of the image was a denial of its mystery, the mystery of the invisible. His images are to be looked at, not into.