I often surprise Steve with my knowledge of paintings and famous artists. It is not a vast selection of information but an absorbed tapestry of bits and pieces from years of flicking through art books and enjoying the odd gallery stroll. These little nuggets of information occasionally pop to the surface during a game of Trivial Pursuit, or prove to be the only answers I can possibly volunteer during University Challenge! I don’t get to see exhibitions anywhere near as much as I would probably enjoy, mainly because not many ‘big’ exhibits come into Birmingham. The last poignant show I remember seeing (poignant to me that is) was a small slice of Warhol at Liverpool Tate some years ago.
Studying art was always something of a casual hobby (after A levels anyway), it still is, although my art books haven’t been opened for a long while – they currently sit in packed boxes heavily labelled with permanent marker. Despite the dust which has settled, they will still be given pride of place in the move up north. There is no specific period of art to which I lean and I can tell you precious little about backgrounds and history, but I do know what I like. The BBC of late have produced some rather interesting programmes, including Fake or Fortune with Fiona Bruce, British Masters and Sunday night’s The World’s Most Expensive Paintings. Everywhere I currently look there are reviews on art, features in magazines and adverts for exhibitions. They might just be reaching my attention because of our looming London extravaganza, cramming in as many museums and galleries into a five day visit than is probably good for one’s health (and feet). It could also be because I have started thinking about potential outings for Steve and I on our precious weekend time come September.
In London, I am particularly interested in visiting the Royal Academy of Arts to view to 243rd Summer Exhibition – the world’s largest open-submission contemporary art exhibition. It is estimated that some 11,000 entries are made each year and for a short while the walls of the Royal Academy are literally crammed with frames galore:
Although I will experience the wealth and wonder of the London Tates, the V&A, The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery (with many others besides) it is an exhibition at Tate Liverpool which I suspect I am most excited about. Later this year I shall drag Steve to the Docklands to peruse the collection of Rene Magritte: The Pleasure Principle, open until October 16th 2011. A Belgian Surrealist, I was often mesmerised by the obscure oddities which were his paintings; giant fruit, men in bowler hats, trains steaming out of chimneys, pipes which are not pipes, gothic and creepy shrouded people, apples, apples and more apples. This is the largest collection to be shown in the UK for twenty years and is apparently shown in such a way as to change perceptions entirely.
Magritte is thought to be one of the most misunderstood artists. His work has, by some, been discounted as it didn’t measure up to the dizzying heights of lead surrealists like Salvador Dali. It is true that Magritte’s work does not, on mass, spark a feeling of heavy hangovers; the drunken melting of objects are replaced by other twisted forms. But as with all great surreal artists Magritte takes the mundane of ordinary life and provokes the onlooker into seeing them in completely new ways. It unleashes one of the greatest questions of life, what is real and what is illusion. Whether you choose to adopt these flamboyant arty descriptions or not, in my mind, Rene Magritte conjures magical images with great perception and intelligence. His work is almost a play on the very theme he is trying to represent; don’t take things too seriously, only then can you see the humour, wit and beauty in the world in which we live.
I am also intrigued to see his shrouded figures. The death of his mother was a traumatic one, allegedly seeing her body pulled from a river, the fabric of her dress cloaking her face rather than her modesty. Images of lovers and others with obscured faces (either by shrouds or giant fruit or birds) feature strongly in his collections and have often been seen as a crying desperation to the loss of his mother. I think I disagree. I would have to see the paintings arranged as they are in this exhibition, by theme rather than chronology, to fully form my opinion but I suspect Magritte was using this experience to say something else. Although containing elements of the unsettling, the image of The Lovers (1928) is still quite a gentle one. There is a distinct tenderness between the unknown figures, a beauty. I can’t see the pained, emotional terror which undoubtedly came with the tragic demise of his mother. I am probably, as with most artistic things, totally wrong, but I like to think that in this image, Magritte was trying to convey just how incredible emotions can be, that we can feel the power and sense of things without even being able to read the world around us. I suppose this is why art is such a fickle beast and so popular. It is all a little like horoscopes, you can take exactly what you want from a piece, see what you need or believe and allow it to influence you in whatever way you desire.
Regardless of all this unfounded nonsense, I enjoy Magritte’s work. I think there is something remarkably child like and silly in these hugely philosophical paintings, and who doesn’t like a little silliness in their life? And it shows in the memorabilia – I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these little gems (click images for links) . . .