A friend writes: Do you know the Magritte painting, figuring a pipe? Says the legend: "This is not a pipe."
...Which makes sense: it's just an allegory of a pipe, in a poorest dimension as compared to a "real" pipe. I say that, because I wonder why you need to write "Bicycle" as a legend when you paint...a bicycle?
I'd be interested in reading--even briefly expressed--a few words about the context...or the technique you had then chosen and why.
I am indeed familiar with Magritte’s La Trahison des images, 1929, from art history classes and by its presence in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, of which I was a member during my lengthy residence in that county. (I tell you this in case you would like to see it on your upcoming visit to this country.)
I have my own thoughts about it, but first, here are the words of the museum curator:
La Trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of images [This is not a pipe]) is one of Rene Magritte's Surrealist masterpieces and an icon of modern art. Heavily influenced by Freudian psychology, Surrealism represented a reaction against the "Rationalism" that some believed led Europe into the horrors of World War I. It attempted to join the realm of dreams and fantasy to the everyday world. Magritte's word-image paintings are treatises on the impossibility of reconciling words, images, and objects. La Trahison des images challenges the linguistic convention of identifying an image of something as the thing itself. At first, Magritte's point appears simplistic, almost to the point of provocation: A painting of a pipe is not the pipe itself. In fact, this work is highly paradoxical. Its realistic style and caption format recall advertising, a field in which Magritte had worked. Advertisements, however, elicit recognition without hesitation or equivocation; this painting causes the viewer to ponder its conflicting messages. Magritte's use of text in his word-image paintings influenced a younger generation of conceptually oriented artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Ruscha, and Andy Warhol.
Magritte produced this work at a time in art history when it still was not clear how Painting was going to deal with the challenge of Photography—the defining motivation for art during most of the twentieth century. Surrealism, in addition to defying rationalism, provided an ideal subject matter. It was impossible to photograph a dream!
All art, in fact, had to confront the easy illusionism of photography, in one way or another, in order to claim any kind of significance; and the obvious tactic was first to abandon the field of illusion. I believe that Magritte’s painting represents a deliberate tearing away of painted images from their subjects, by the wonderful contradictory device of joining a realistic image with the words that deny any connection. We can imagine visitors to a museum or gallery saying to one another, “What’s that? Oh, it’s a horse, and there is the barn.” Magritte, and I, insist that “No, the significance of a painted image is not its pipeness or horseness. Look deeper. If you just want to represent a horse, take a photo.”
The war between Painting and Photography is pretty much over. Neither side won, exactly, but Painting has decided to go ahead and work the way she pleases and not let Photography push her around. Photography attempts to argue that her concerns are the same as those addressed by Painting, and Painting lets her believe it.
About my Blue Bicycle, I am not concerned about a viewer saying, “Look, a bicycle,” because it is now general knowledge that a painting does not have to aspire to the realm of the “realistic.” Some paintings do, but they do not have to. So, yeah, this is a painted image of a bicycle. You look at it and you do see an image of a bicycle, so why not call it that?
Many painters choose to supplement the meaning of their work by using a title that completes a thought, either as a narrative or as an aid to identifying the subject. I don’t often do that, though I’ll admit it sometimes amuses me to choose a title that brings attention to a minor part of the image. For example in the painting Three Little Birds, you have to look for them. I did that in the hope that viewers would look a little more carefully.
These days most of my paintings celebrate something abstract I see: a color relationship, a shape, a space. I have worked hard over the last few years to remember to zoom in on what attracts me to paint something in the first place, rather than including a wide view of its surroundings. In this case it was something about the bicycle.
I don’t care whose bicycle that is, nor what it meant to that person. (Somehow it had found its way to my garage, unclaimed by any family member, and I kept it, but that is not significant either.) One day I was practicing blind contour drawing and chose that bicycle, but as I was drawing I was knocked out by its particular blue color. A few days later I decided to paint it (or, rather, its image) and set it out in the driveway. I noticed that it cast interesting shadows, and hence their outline became part of my concept. I moved the bicycle this way and that, seeking the most interesting interplay between bicycle and silhouette. I also walked around the setup again and again, seeking the best point of view.
(An amusing side story. My friend and neighbor, a neat-as-a-pin Austrian, told me that she had seen the bicycle lying in the driveway for several days and very nearly picked it up!)
In creating the actual painting I was faithful to the blue, though the exact luminosity was impossible to capture, since its appeal depends partially on the fact that it changes as one moves. To emphasize the blue I included an orange bungee cord and the yellow reflector on the pedal. The color of the driveway also sets off the color of the bicycle. It turns out, then, that color and shape relationships are the subjects of this painting.
If you come up close to The Blue Bicycle you will see that I am completely unconcerned with slick realism; I painted the spokes freehand and left them lumpy to make certain that the viewer understands that a photographic image is not my intent. When I leave my painting clumsy like that it is the best way I know to signal that glossy illusionism is not the point. Besides I like the way it looks. The viewer can enjoy the brushwork as evidence of my process, but I hope she will also enjoy the aspects of the painting with which I did take great pains.
Sorry--not brief. I hope you find this interesting and helpful!