One of my favourite Magritte paintings is The Menaced Assassin, which is the centrepiece of the first room in our exhibition at Tate Liverpool.
Painted in 1927, it presents a macabre yet curiously tranquil murder scene. The body, described by the chief theoretician of the Brussels Surrealists Paul Nougé as ‘a corpse of rare perversity’, is centre-stage with a scarf draped over its neck, its head diabolically severed from the body. We see the murderer pausing to listen to the gramophone, his expression remote and malevolent. Unbeknownst to the murderer are the assailants, two bowler hated men, waiting in the wings. An obsession with violent and sadistic crime - in reality and fiction, was a key Surrealist concern. For example, in Nadja André Breton likens beauty to a series of violent and expulsive shocks, akin to a train erupting from a station.
The Surrealists - and Magritte in particular - were fascinated by Fantômas, an elusive arch-villain anti-hero and sociopath who murdered with sadistic ruthlessness. The character became popular in early 1900s through the serialised pulp novels of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. These stories were adapted for film and The Menaced Assassin actually appropriates a still from a 1913 Fantômas film. Many of Magritte’s works draw on the language of cinema in their composition, and through their allusion to cinematic narrative and mood. This relationship is exemplified in The Menaced Assassin. An unusually large painting, we might imagine the image being projected onto the wall, like a painted film-still. Our exhibition also presents a selection of Magritte’s rarely seen home-movies which he began making after buying a super-8 cine camera in 1956. Magritte’s home-movies feature his friends and collaborators, who are sometimes ‘directed’ by the artist.
Many of Magritte’s most famous images can be read as fantasy scenarios that might unfold like film over time. In particular, his 1960 film Tuba (Interior) re-stages the veiled kissing figures of The Lovers 1928, an image which itself appropriates an image from a ‘Nick Carter’ detective comic. Magritte would later be inspired by caricature and the popular imagination, in particular the comic book imagery of Louis Forton’s Les Pieds Nickelés, which he used when creating his ‘Vache’ works of 1948.
Can you think of any other artists who took inspiration from comic book imagery?