Monday, October 26, 2015

Marguerite Magritte in Decalcomania 1964

René Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

One of my very favorite genres of painting has consistently been Surrealism.  The precise and well thought out placement of ordinary objects in unlikely settings, produced and depicted in such a way as to render a dreamlike quality, and provoke the mind.  This little dreamer has often lost herself in art books of Surrealism for many years.  Thinking beyond what is seen, and interpreting at will, is what artists do.  Whether they paint, dance, compose or design, when the imagination becomes passionate, so flows the magic.

Several long months ago, my close friend Betsy, who has been watching my work for some time now, sent me an undressed Maggie Iacono doll, with the hopes that I might sew for her.  I studied Maggie's work, and was even lent a couple of garments and a pair of shoes to help inspire me and learn how they were made.  My favorite aspect to her designs was the wool felt appliques that depicted little stories on mixed fabric garments.  Trees, clouds, houses, of course flowers, and sometimes a bit of airbrushing, lent themselves to utterly charming costuming.  Maggie also dresses her dolls more traditionally, yet I faltered at coming up with a truly original idea.

I'd named the doll, and Marguerite stood silently, like a muse, on my work table for many months.  One night several weeks ago, when I was thinking of Marguerite as an art doll, an idea came to me.  This, coupled with the fact that I haven't had an intellectual conversation about art, in general, for so long, I'd begun craving the desire to explore my old art books once again.  So that is exactly what I did. 

I'd already ventured into "surreal imagery" clothing with Shelley Thornton's little ten inch doll, and I'd practiced a bit with the wool felt creating Alice Illustrated's card costume from the Maria L. Kirk illustration.  I felt ready to further this design journey.  I pulled several books from my shelves, including Dali and Kahlo, but Magritte has always intrigued me, and I was quickly drawn in by his simple shapes with extraordinary complexity.  The first painting that struck me as a forum for creating Marguerite's debut outfit was Decalcomania, 1966.  The simplicity of the bowler hatted figure could easily be interpreted to wool felt appliques. 

Self Portrait - Perspicacity, La Clairvoyance 1936
Rene Magritte was born in Belgium in 1898, the eldest son of Leopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant.  He studied at the Academie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1916 -1918, but found the instruction uninspiring.  While his painting career took him through Futurism and Impressionism, and a paying job in advertising, he would  best be known for his later life works in Surrealism.  The illusionistic, dream-like quality characteristic of Magritte's work would eventually gain popularity in the 1960's, in the last years of his life.  Magritte died at the age of 68 in 1967, leaving behind a legacy of inspiration and beautifully rendered work -  that today would inspire me to celebrate his work on a doll.

One of things I had to decide upon, since I "saw" the dress in my mind's eye, was how to dress Marguerite beneath the art.  I'm not quite sure how it sparked my mind, but after seeing so many male figures, including self-portraits of Rene in suits, this was the direction I took the under garments.  I had some fine wool suiting on hand and created a modified suit that would be both feminine, and make a statement about the artist.

I began with a shirt that had a turned over collar.  Standard men's wear.  I used the suiting wool to create this shirt, rather than make a jacket of it with a white shirt beneath.  For one thing, a full suit would be far too bulky beneath a wool felt tunic or A-line shift.  I wanted to acheive the idea a suit and keep it understated to provide the focus to be on the tunic.

The next piece would be the pants.  Some may look at this costume and question why I didn't make a full dress with black stockings instead of designing a pair of cuffed suit pants.  The answer again lies in the art.  The images I was pulling into cloth shouldn't be too large as they would overwhelm the doll, so a neat tunic was the answer. 

This wool was not at all easy to work with.  I do not possess an iron with steam since I cannot find one that doesn't spit.  What do I do?  If the fabric needs a crease, or the absence of wrinkle, and it won't come out with an appropriate iron temperature, I use a mister.  Just a spray bottle with distilled water in it.  But, like the silk on a bias, this wool did not want to maintain a crease.  I guess that's a good thing for people who sit all day, but it would prove a challenge to work with.

I'd lined the collar with a black silk with white pinstripe.  It helped in folding over the collar, keeping it thin enough to do so.  Then I got the idea to give her a tie out of the same silk - on the bias.  I made a wide tie just to try it, and liked it just the way it was.  It was dark enough not to stand out, but added a bit of polish to the under garments completing the suit effect. 

The tunic is made from the wool felt and a soft cloud and sky print reminiscent of Magritte's skies.  As with his painting, Decalcomania, I cut the male figure out of the "curtain of red".  I added a panel of blue for the ocean, and a panel of beige for the sand of the beach.  All this is hand stitched on in little pricks of thread.  I also added a running stitch of red thread to outline the shoulder that blends into the curtain in his painting.  Yes, its barely visible (click on a photo for better viewing).

The back of the tunic is the blue sky cotton print.  The dress is completely lined as Iacono lines her dresses.  When it came to cutting out the applique of the figure with the bowler hat, I was a bit nervous that the tunic wouldn't work out since the figure, which I planned to center, would conflict with the closures.  Then I took another look at the painting and realized, again, that the shoulder of the figure is placed in the front edge of the red curtain.  Hah!  This would work perfectly after all.  The figure, true to the painting, has a bit of ocean and sand to the left in wool felt to complete the look.  Three wools were used for the figure.  Peach for the head, brown for the hair, and black for the hat and coat.

Finally, she needed shoes.  Maggie makes her doll shoes with microsuede, so I followed her lead and made Marguerite's of the same.  Only I gave her feminine Wingtips to carry the suiting theme a bit further.

One of Magritte's recurring images, was that of the apple.  When approaching this subject, Magritte painted the fruit and then used an internal caption or framing device to deny that the item was an apple. In these "Ceci n'est pas" works, Magritte points out that no matter how naturalistically we depict an object, we never do catch the item itself.  Indeed. Marguerite is posed with such an apple of green in the hopes Magritte would approve.

Miss E. Mouse

Title N/A  Use of sky and red curtains again.

Son of Man 1964

Song of Love 1964

Call of the Peaks 1942

Title N/A

Time Transfixed 1938

Marguerite Magritte 2015

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful blog post. I enjoyed every bit of it, especially your awesome rendition of the painting.