The Human Condition

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La Condition Humaine-Rene Magritte 1933

Subtly terrifying, Rene Magritte’s La Condition Humaine uses the picture within a picture device that was to become a Magritte trademark. The painting is realistically banal, showing a painting by a window that is an exact representation of the obscured landscape. Or is it? Is the human condition the fact that we are trapped in the realm of appearances and any attempt to tear asunder the veil will reveal only another deceptive surface without any depth?

Magritte was characteristically unrevealing in his comments on the painting:

‘In front of a window seen from inside a room, I placed a painting representing exactly that portion of the landscape covered by the painting. Thus, the tree in the picture hid the tree behind it, outside the room. For the spectator, it was both inside the room within the painting and outside in the real landscape.’

Intimacy

Rene Magritte-The Lovers 1928
Rene Magritte-The Lovers 1928

All you ever
All you ever wanted
All you ever needed
All you ever
All you ever looked for
Was that intrusion of intimacy
At first, maybe just a glance,
Then the fleeting touch
That lingers for a brief instance
Suggestive of a succession of eternities
Something yet still more
Than the fiction of painless friction
A sovereign surrender
A paradoxical return to the self
Urging to merge together
Indivisible diversity
Rushing towards a paradise
Of blissful annihilation
All we ever sought
All we ever
All we ever tried to find
In tired old hotel bedrooms
Where the leaky faucets
Taps out a tedious tattoo
On the cracked enamel
All we ever
Amongst the haphazardly scattered
Bricks of centuries old ruins,
Beneath a uniform sky
The very denial of colour
All we ever desired
On the encroaching beach
Torching the landscape
With its scorched earth strangeness
All we ever tried to do
In the wasteland littered
With bric-a-brac and detritus,
The untold story of a million lives
Struggle for pleasure,
Was to become intimate
To really feel someone other,
To escape the terror
However briefly,
Even for an instance,
Of the All-Seeing I.

All I ever needed
All I ever wanted
All I ever
Was your intimacy.

The Truth of the Matter

The Empire of Light II-Rene Magritte 1950
The Empire of Light II-Rene Magritte 1950

You want to know the truth?
There are so many different kinds:
A truth for you and a truth for me;
If you ask me the truth of the matter
It’s that there is too much truth.
If only you would realise
The truth of what I say
Things might go a little easier
But if you really want the truth
You could find it in the empties
And lipstick stained glasses
Littering every surface…
No?
So it a different order of truth
That you are looking for…
Well, if you must insist upon
Searching for the truth
Wherever and whatever
You will have to hear me out
As I tell you a little story
Come closer…
Closer still,
So that I can whisper
Into the shell of your ear
The whole truth and nothing
But the truth;
In between the sweet nothings,
Sweeter than any truth
That I could possibly tell you.

It is true that I was the kind,
To fall asleep at their desk
Always at the very back,
Roused only by the exasperation
Of the weary teachers
As the lesson descended
Into a chaos that was
My unconscious objective,
Quietly disruptive and
Rubbing the sleep away
I would glimpse some
Sarah or Cathy or Lisa staring
Before quickly averting their eyes
Causing me to grin
Like a cat with spilled cream,
While the teacher would rant
About taking that look off,
But I couldn’t help myself
I never could, then or now
After all how can I help my face?
Besides maybe here was
My potential partner in crime,
A willing accomplice
Someone to share, finally,
In all my myriad punishments.

All this is all very fine and gospel :
But it isn’t the whole story
Not by a long chalk.
If you want to hear everything and all
Hold me tight and look into my eyes.
See…
Would I lie to you?

The truth is that you are not the only one
Who doesn’t know what to make of me;
Sometimes I was the class rebel,
Sometimes the comedian
But only occasionally,
Because I was really
The boy that wasn’t there
If you met me on the stairway
You might have breezed past
If I was waiting there at all,
Instead of loitering
On corners and stores
Pocketing and lifting
Whatever lay in reach
If the opportunity arose
And if not there then
Receiving my true education
In the somnolent suburban home
While rifling through the contents
Of drink and medicine cabinets,
Purses caked with make-up,
Locked draws and hidden chests
Before watching the old flick:
A world of stark black and white,
The body in the swimming pool,
The perpetually shuttered blinds,
In the decaying mansion
High in the lush Hills,
Far above the city
Blanched bone white, way down below,
Where the shadows are deeper
And the nights are oh so longer,
For the hero inescapably doomed
By a sinister fatal figure
Out of a past that refuses
To either forgive or forget.

Here then, is my eye witness
Testimony. For sure, it contains
Discrepancies, lapses, omissions
And perhaps evasions,
Even downright fabrications.
But the truth of any story
Lies in the telling;
And that, my tender, dearest one
Is the simple truth of the matter.

The Landscape of the Body

14-Collage-art-Illustrations-by-Sammy-Slabbinck-yatzer[1]

Some of my favourite artworks of the present century are the marvellous collages created by the Belgian artist Sammy Slabbinck (featured image for Showtime and Living the High Life). Using found images from magazines dating from the 1950’s to the 1970’s that he collects from flea markets, Slabbinck skilfully re-combines the elements to create wryly humorous, slyly subversive and sometimes unsettling, subtly horrifying works.

Citing influences from Pop Art, Dada and Surrealism, in particular fellow Belgian Surrealist giant Rene Magritte (The Object of the EyeThe Human Condition, Pleasure), Slabbinck’s frequently colour-saturated collages play with size and scale: magnified parts of female bodies form part of a landscape which tiny men journey towards or galaxies are contained within cereal bowls which the perfect 60’s mother and daughter is sitting down at the breakfast table to consume.  The resultant images are startlingly lush with a trippiness that achieves the defamiliarisation that is the aim of all Surrealist art.

Subversion of the Image

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The Birds Are Following You-Paul Nouge-Subversion des Images 1968

In late 1929-early 1930 the poet, photographer, theoretician and co-founder of the Belgian Surrealist Group Paul Nougé created a series of 19 photographs that were collected and published as Subversion des Images in 1968. The series lives up to the title, subverting and questioning perception in the manner of his friend and fellow co-founder Rene Magritte, who is featured in several of the images.