When seeing many of René Magritte’s paintings back to back (and with some repetition of works) over the nine minute video “René Magritte Les Peintures” certain patterns develop. There are various figures that continually recur in Magritte’s work: apples, clouds, men in bowler hats, nude women (but never nude men), birds, street lamps, people draped in cloths, French horns, figures a cross between the shape of chess pawns and banisters, leaf-shaped trees to name a few. Frequently they occur in combination in one painting.
I find it interesting that while an individual painting may seem to range from a moderately to impenetrably incoherent image, taken as a whole there is a sense of order to his work. It’s an odd one, but there is a modicum of structure in his works.
What structure is it precisely? I’d guess it’s the structure of the mind of René Magritte. The idea of painting in the style of l’autotisme – allowing the action to flow with as little involvement of conscious thought, will, or intention as possible – is clearly not pure rubbish (well, at least not stylistically. Some may argue that it is ideologically, but that’s beside the point for now, I think).
I won’t go as far as to say that we know Magritte by looking at many of his works. Paintings, even in a multitude, are still paintings. They aren’t men any more than Magritte’s pipe is a pipe, as he so clearly states, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” But, while we can’t necessarily encounter Magritte’s personality in his works, there is something personal we encounter. This consistent images, if we take his surrealist philosophy on faith, were images that were somehow and for some reason integral to his conscious and/or subconscious. They were perhaps images that consumed him, intrigued him, or haunted him. Perhaps there was a kinship or artistic stirring he felt when he saw such objects in reality that they translated themselves into his thoughts and dreams, and finally into his art.
Or maybe they were the only things he could paint particularly well. I’m dubious that this is the case.