Wednesday, September 7, 2016

René Magritte's Selected Writings: On Jane Graverol

Jane Graverol's Le Cortège d'Orpheé.


Though the artist René Magritte (1898–1967) wrote extensively throughout his life and career—from aspirations of being a detective novelist to crafting genre-jumping essays, prose poems, lectures, reviews, and more—it’s hard to say why exactly it has taken so long for Magritte’s writings to become available in English. His Ecrits Complets (Complete Writings) were published in French by Flammarion in 1979, weighing in at a hefty 761 pages. An English edition of his Selected Writings, translated by Jo Levy and edited by John Calder, was originally commissioned in 1987 by Calder Publications, but the book was never released. The translation languished in typewritten manuscript in the Calder archives in Caen, France. Almost thirty years later, edited by Eric Plattner and myself, here it is.

Thanks to our having seen the Magritte exhibit The Mystery of the Ordinary: 1926–1938 at the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 2014, I became intrigued to learn more about Magritte’s output as a writer, because many of the museum wall texts consisted of quoted material from the artist’s writing.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Magritte’s Selected Writings is that it offers fans a chance to see him acting as a tastemaker and critic, as well as a supporter of his fellow artists. One of his most succinct and heartfelt endorsements is the one below of the Belgian surrealist painter Jane Graverol (1905–1984), whom he met in 1949 and whose eerie and imaginative images he admired. This piece is from a 1953 issue of the little magazine Temps mêlés (Mixed Time) dedicated to her work that also contained contributions from other members of their Brussels circle of artists and writers, including Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, Marcel Mariën (with whom Graverol lived for 10 years), Louis Scutenaire, and Geert Van Bruaene.

The accompanying paintings testify to what Magritte describes as her participation in “the only necessary spiritual activity.”

Jane Graverol's L'Esprit Saint.

On Jane Graverol

Everything that Madame Jane Graverol wants to paint seems to me to be charged with the symbolic resonance that comes from a variety of romantic and dramatic feelings. Instead of “using art as an escape”, it is indeed possible, from the moment one decides to paint, not to give up one’s usual preoccupations and to create images of conflicting emotions which will be of real interest to someone interested in human documents, who can then, in his turn, arouse the curiosity of a new observer and so on, ad infinitum. Jane Graverol’s paintings are somewhere in this world of feeling where connections between things are contained within precise limits. But it turns out that the power of the unexpected makes it harder to grasp their meaning. Jane Graverol does not wish to counter the power of the unexpected, consequently she participates in the only necessary spiritual activity.

Jane Graverol's Lolita.


Kathleen Rooney is coeditor of René Magritte: Selected Writings. Rooney is senior lecturer of English and creative writing at DePaul University, and author of eight books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and criticism.

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