Tag Archives: Surrealism

Domestic Surrealism

I know you know Magritte’s Pipe, which is not a pipe. So I am going straight to what I think we need to do.

“This is not a…” has become an internet meme as powerful as the line “This is not what you think it is!”

Banksy used it:


Even Kim Kardashian is a fan (though I doubt she’s aware of the primary source).

Kim KardashianOut in Hollywood, CAJuly 3, 2008

Frankly, if there’s one thing I care least, it is the debate whether art represents life or is life itself. I care about the changing or second meaning of things. It’s more fun.

I think we can keep building on the great master’s idea, making it relevant today. That’s a set from the times when I was a teenager:


What are the objects that have a double meaning for you?

Let me know, I’ll add them to the gallery, with full credits, and many thanks!

Can art help to forgive and forget?

People who hold grudges resemble ships carrying tons of toxic waste in their hold, with port after port rejecting them entry and unloading. They’re rusty, lonely, and ecologically dangerous.

I’ve met people who believed “art could help”. Yes and No. Art can’t help to forget a grievance; all it can do is assist with the unloading. Artists, being notoriously easy to offend, have learned to use this art magic, metaphorically similar to Dumbledore’s Memory Pensieve. 

So, when you look at an art object and mutter, “what a freaking pervert!”, chances are you look at one of the artist’s grudges.

Lars von Trier had been feeling gloomy and made the Melancholy movie to get rid of his depression. He admitted it got him cured. Critics are still debating the flick’s artistic value.

Artemisia Gentileschi (raped by her father’s friend) dedicated her art to the celebration of revenge. She is the most famous female artist of the Renaissance, and it is a pity she’s got most of her fame for being very convincing about cutting men’s heads off.

Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620, oil on canvas, the Uffizi, Florence, Italy)

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620)

Were it not for her naturalistic penchant, she might have been lost in the obscure army of Caravaggio’s followers. Grudge helped her to stay in history.

Salvador Dali‘s beloved sister and model for most of his early paintings made a grudge deposit in her brother’s bank of memories when she published a book about him, a memoir that Salvador didn’t like a bit.

So, his beloved sister from this famous painting of 1925…


…got reinterpreted in 1954 into “Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity”:


I mean, what a freak he was, really. But had he not painted his grudge, he might kill his sister. So, freak or no freak, art can help neurotic characters stay away from prison.

So, art can transform a depression of one into that of millions, a rape into fame, and prevent a murder, among other things, of course. 

Isn’t it magic? It is, of the black variety mostly.

Or not?


Becoming an avant-garde artist

…is easy if your kids are grown up enough to let you use their cache of Lego.

Enrico Baj. Cover for Une Medaille book, 1972

Enrico Baj. Cover for Une Medaille book, 1972

This is a cover for the book that Enrico Baj both wrote and illustrated, having created an encyclopedia of graphic techniques with references to his surrealist friends (Max Ernst and Man Ray).


Enrico Baj was a great graphic artist full of bullshit ideas (beyond the realm of graphic arts), which – quite surprisingly – produced some very right attitudes.

He was head over heels into pataphysics (and no, you don’t want to know what it is, but if you click on this link and understand what it is about, you may qualify for the Nobel Prize in Comprehending the Inexplicable). He admired the founder of Anarchism. Yet, he fiercely opposed nuclear arms (who doesn’t?) and was a stern opponent of Berlusconi.

Perhaps, his inner strength in common sense prevented him from being enslaved by any of the isms of the 20th century art. He never formally joined dada or surrealism. This gave him a lot of freedom and artistic insight. Plus, he could safely borrow ideas from (or “quote”) his predominantly surrealist friends.

The exhibition of books illustrated by surrealists currently run by Moscow’s Pushkin museum made me wish I kept my boys’ two chests of Lego somewhere safe. I have a couple of empty walls that might benefit from a bit of graphic colour on them.

Can’t not, daily

Ed Ruscha made a clever statement using banal materials and simple words .



It is not that I have to do that. No one is twisting my arm, really.

It is not that I must do that, as otherwise public scorn would twist my neck.

It is not that I can do that, for I don’t know if I can, actually.

This is RESOLVE at its best.

This is determination of a man who can’t avoid responsibility – and he is not necessarily happy to assume it either.

It is easy to know resolve in action movies, when the setting includes a countdown bomb display with 30 seconds to go, and the hero decides to stay and disarm the ticker or die.

It is more difficult to recognise resolve In the real life, when men have to show heroic resolution in mundane environment. Such as their own kitchen and dining table.

Hence the table mat.

Is this great art?

It is a great joke by a very talented artist. And a very expensive piece of joke at that, sitting nicely between Picassos and Max Ernstes, even though I can’t imagine why it is seen as a surrealist object.

It is very real to me.

P.S. Some intellectuals believe one can only be seen as an intellectual if he or she knows how to pronounce “Ed Ruscha”. It is stupid. But, just in case, it is pronounced “Roo-SHAY”. Next time you meet someone intellectual, you’d know what to ask them. 

Surreal getting real

This is The King Playing the Queen by Max Ernst, made in 1944 in the US.


It was shown at the recent Paris exhibition, but I wonder why the curators didn’t present the whole story.

Max Ernst was living in the US at the time, with his wife, Dorothea Tanning, They were a happy couple, as evidenced by this photo – even with their backs against each other:

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Painting the smell of cheese?

I bumped into this mini-installation by Rene Magritte at the surrealist exhibition at Centre Pompidou a few days ago.

I knew Magritte loved to play with meanings and visuals.

I’ve been using Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” for ages to harass friends (and an ocassional foe) with the question, “What is wrong here?” The answer, in the majority of cases, was “the text is wrong”.

This is a fast proof that the visual channel is the boss for most of us.

Thinking about letters and meanings kicks in later, after the brain has already registered and catalogued the image as a “pipe”. So when the rational brain finally catches up, it decides that there’s something wrong with the letters. The rational meaning of the inscription comes to the peace conference well after the perfect image of a pipe has climbed up the stage and set out its own agenda.

But in the Cheese installation, Magritte runs a different game. 

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Surreal art: a recipe for success


This is “A la main du diable” (Devil’s Hand) by Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, a French artist who farms popular culture with the plough of surrealism. In simple kitchen terms, he is a blender of anything pop and everything surreal.

Given the density of crowds this work was drawing at a recent surrealist exhibition in Paris, it might be seen as the ultimate recipe for a successful show. I spent some time in front of it as well. It is impactful, at least when you see it for the first time. A huge red hand, hanging in the darkened air of a gallery can hardly leave anyone indifferent.

So, get your bowls and knives out on the kitchen table: we’ll be cooking some art now!

Four easy steps to fix a tasty successful show:

Step 1. Choose your foundation: find something (a myth, story, or film) that intellectuals believe is an important part of your country’s cultural heritage (doesn’t matter if it is good or bad heritage) to build your own story on

Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux seems to have taken the eponymous French movie of 1942, that featured the left hand of the devil as the talisman that was bringing luck to the main character (until its owner showed up, of course). The movie’s aesthetics was built around huge shadows, dramatised hand symbols, etc. I don’t know why it is the right hand both in the poster and the exhibit.


Step 2. Choose your main ingredients: three or more images from popular culture in such a way that…

  • one of them is provocatively sexy


  • one of them is about violence (sex-related, preferably)

Vincent Sellaer (c 1500 – 1589) Judith with the Head of Holofernes

  • one of them is about evil that lurks behind a cheerful mask (or good that is hidden behind grisly appearance)


Step 3. Throw to the pot a good measure of surrealism (eggs, tails, animal parts growing on human bodies, enlarged organs, etc.).


It is great to bake together something unashamedly pop, semi-intellectual pop, and a bit of really hardcore intellectualism. And do not forget the titties! 

You may want to know how to recognise if something is “intellectual”. When it comes to people we instinctively know who is an intellectual and who’s not (intellectuals use multi-syllable words at least once per sentence, and know that Ed Ruscha is pronounced as “roo-shay”).  The problem is that besides doing or loving intellectual stuff intellectual people also do a lot of down-to-earth things. How do you tell then if something is intellectual?!

Easy. It is usually something that intellectual people find more interesting doing than having sex. 

Step 4. Once you’ve secured a prominent place for the titties, start moralizing!

Add a spoonful of something religious, pious, or considered 100% moral by the society. Piling up symbols together helps to create baffling complexity (highly valued by Dali admirers) that many spectators take for cleverness. This trick is also used by some Swiss watchmakers, who sell you a transparent watch with a zillion moving parts to make you feel an idiot in mechanics each time you look at your own wrist. The only thing these watches are not good at, is actually telling time. It is more efficient to check it on the phone, rather than searching for the minute and hour hands amidst the chaos of moving parts. Dali was often doing the same, by the way, for identical marketing purposes.


The work of art is almost complete. You might want to leave a few open-ends, like introducing the figure of a cowboy, or referencing de Chirico’s mannequins. This can help create some room for spectators’ individual interpretation. Art-house movie directors are called geniuses for doing it (they call it loose ends of the plot).


The last, but not least. Make it larger than life. The larger, the better.

Center Pompidou believes this is art worthy of being shown together with Picasso, Miro, Max Ernst, Duchamp, and Giacometti.

What do YOU think?
I am seriously interested. If you have no time to write a comment, just VOTE!

*) on the toilet issue: it is a shame for the gallery, and a disaster for its visitors. I wrote about it here