The original was created using Gouache on paper.
It is not my intention to make anything comprehensible. I am of the opinion that there are sufficient paintings which one understands after a shorter or longer delay, and that therefore some incomprehensible painting would now be welcome. I am at pains to deliver such, as far as possible.
Belgian artist René Magritte was a leading figure in the Surrealist art movement. Led by French writer and poet, André Breton, the Surrealist rejected a rational vision of life for one that focused on the unconscious and dreams. They found inspiration in the unexpected and peculiar, the overlooked and the unconventional.
In his Surrealist Manifesto (1924), Breton defined Surrealism as:
pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.
To achieve the absence of control over reason, some Surrealist artist used automatic drawing or writing, also called automatism, to reveal the contents of their subconscious, while others created images that revealed a hyper-realistic dream world and emotional unease. Together, the Surrealists were focused on interpreting dreams as conduits for unspoken feelings and desires.
Surrealism can be divided into two main artistic groups. The first offshoot of surrealism included automatic writing and painting in which the artist suppresses conscious control over the creative process, allowing the unconscious mind to take over. Joan Miró and Andre Masson are leading examples of the automatism movement. Psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud used a variety of techniques to bring the subconscious thoughts of their patients to the surface. The Surrealists borrowed many of the same techniques to stimulate their writing and artwork, with the belief that the creativity that came from deep within a person’s subconscious could be more powerful and authentic than any product of conscious thought.
Magritte was part of the second branch of Surrealism called Veristic Surrealism. This group used meticulous realism to portray the imagery of the subconscious mind and included artists like Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. Together, these artists shared the ability to paint ordinary objects in unusual contexts giving new meaning to familiar objects.
While fellow Surrealist like Dali and Miróproduced more abstract and fantastical works in the 1930s and 1940s, Magritte was committed to figurative Surrealism. Magritte chose to portray recognizable subject matter and relied on the relationship of ordinary but unrelated objects and the placement of figures in irrational surroundings to create inner tension and unsettling conflict.
In L’Incendie, five overlapping pastel trees that look like giant leaves are situated at the center of the composition and stand in stark contrast to the darkened sky and foggy haze that shares their space. The veiny branches humanize the trees, essentially bringing them to life. The power of this work lies in the Magritte’s ability to reveal and exploit ambiguity and contradiction within seemingly familiar subjects. What looks at first glance to be a harmonious, figurative image unravels quickly upon further inspection. Are they trees or leaves? Where are they planted? How can they grow so vibrantly in such a dry, forbidding environment? Is it nighttime? Daytime? These questions are left open-ended so that the viewer may unearth their own meaning.
Writing about the leaf image in Magritte’s painting, Jacques Meuris observes, “Nature, as Magritte saw it, was an element with the same characteristics, mutatis mutandis, as those with which he invested every object, every thing. There was no ‘naturalist’ tendency in his work, no ecological impulse, not even a poetic transformation of the natural. Nevertheless, trees and leaves, alone or in groups, clad or bare, occasionally nibbled by insects, may be regarded as “individuals”, invested with multifarious feelings, endowed with charms in the various senses of the word.” Simply put, Magritte’s trees were more human than plantlike.
Executed in gouache, L'Incendie immediately captures the viewer’s attention and prompts further exploration once its humanoid veins are considered. By reconfiguring commonplace elements of everyday life, Magritte was able to give his figures and objects new meaning.
How can you give an everyday object new life? Sometimes it is as easy as placing it in an unusual context. Think about the objects you see around you every day while sheltering in place. For example, how would you respond to a cellphone wearing a face mask? What can you create by placing toilet paper in a new context? Be creative, maybe even place your artwork outside and give your neighbors a much-needed laugh! We could all use a little silliness in our lives right now. We would love to see your creations! Please share pictures of your artwork at firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be featured on our website.
*automatism – In art, automatism refers to creating art without conscious thought, accessing material from the unconscious mind as part of the creative process. Surrealist artists used the technique of automatism to explore fear, desire, fantasy, eroticism and symbolism. They often expressed and pondered images and ideas through writing and making art. Artists who employed automatism investigated the true abstraction of their subconscious, and relied heavily on chance.
*gouache – An opaque watercolor paint. Whereas transparent water colors allow you to see the “white” of the paper below the paint, gouache paint can be applied in solid colors, which allows artist to paint in layers from dark to light.
*subject matter – In artwork, the subject matter would be what the artist has chosen to paint, draw or sculpt.
*surrealism – An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
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*The Emergency Art Museum claims no ownership, or copyright to any materials found here, or on-site. The Emergency Art Museum functions solely as a non-commercial, non-profit, educational resource for the community. All artwork represented or reproduced, has been done so for educational purposes only under the fair use act.
-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator