A supremely thought provoking and troubling philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte. We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.
The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.
I saw you clearly, as you are,
For the first time in a long while
From the perspective of the hallway
In the stillness of the afternoon
The bedroom (our bedroom) door
Wide open of any passing voyeur
To see and stare at the scene
Spot-lit by a pellucid light
Glaucous and migraine inducing
Nearly naked but of an undone bra
Twisted black satin and frilled lace
Lying almost still on the bed (our bed)
Pale flesh limpid in the peculiar glow
Your limbs entwined entangling
Intimately with his legs and arms
I flatten myself against the wall
But never for a second avert my gaze
Still my breath, strain to catch
Any stray whispered endearments
Sweet nothings or talking dirty
Hypnotic mesmerizing scandals
From this vantage point, this angle
I am unsure as to the identity
Of my lover’s lover, he could be
My brother, best friend or any
Stray random other, my betrayer
I am enraged, ashamed, enraptured
After all these years how could she?
The shame should be theirs but I’m
Intruding on an illicit secret passion
My skin burns hot with rushing blood
Perversely enjoying the raging hellfire
Of a jealously never to be quenched
Fanning ever anew with fierce delight
At the thought of this vivid tableau
Unknowingly arranged and presented
For my vast ever constant delectation,
A whole world of infinite heartbreak
In a pair of hastily cast-aside shoes.
J.G Ballard, the genre busting English science fiction writer responsible for such novels as The Drowned World, Crash, High Rise and Empire of the Sun as well as some of the finest short stories in world literature, frequently remarked that he really wanted to be a painter in the surrealist tradition that he so loved instead of a writer.
This deep reverence and constant engagement with the visual arts can be most clearly seen in his demented and wildly perverse cult classic collage novel The Atrocity Exhibition. Referencing Ernst, Dali, Magritte, Dominguez, Matta, Bellmer, Delvaux, Tanguy as well as Pop Artists Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol in the frequent free association tests and ‘condensed novels’ that comprise the text, The Atrocity Exhibition could easily be used as a textbook primer on surrealism and popular culture in the sixties.
In 1990 RE/Search Publications issued an expanded edition with four new stories, Ballard’s bizarre yet illuminating annotations, disturbing illustrations by the medical illustrator/graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner and photographs by Ana Barrado of brutalist buildings and weapon ranges. It also features a preface by the Hitman for the Apocalypse himself, William S. Burroughs.
Below are some of the many paintings mentioned in the text, some of which are very well known and others less so.
Where have you been?
I lost you for so long.
Are you leaving already?
Must your destination
Always remain a mystery?
Are you to be forever
An unknown quantity?
All these questions
Make life a dull dream
If only I could wake up
I might regress to relive
Our assignation in deep time,
A day and age aeons ago.
The clocks run slow there,
Erasing the crime of identity:
Your hands shaped my body
Annealing the raw material
Bringing forth the potential
Defining me in relation to you:
An enigma that makes no concessions.
The figure of the witch has haunted many an artists work, from the strange and disturbing phantasmagorias of Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien at the time when the Early Modern witch trials were sweeping across large swathes of Europe to the feminist re-envisionings of Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Alison Blickle.
The archetypal image of the witch created in the Early Modern period is of a women, alternatively a hideous crone or a beautiful temptress, engaging in nocturnal flights upon enchanted broomsticks or diabolical animals to attend Sabbaths presided over by the Devil in animal form, where they participate in sexual orgies and blood rites. This delirious but potent fantasy contributed to the hysteria that resulted in around 50,000 executions between 1424 to 1785. Even after the witch craze abated she lingered in art as a femme fatale in the 19th Century, only to be reborn and recast in spectacular fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries as an unlikely heroine and High Priestess of a new religion.
Below is a brief tour of pictorial representations across the centuries from the 16th to the 21st that highlights the spell that the witch and her craft has cast across cultures and periods.