Video 30 Jul

“Homage to Newton” is a surrealist sculpture, cast from bronze and painted with dark patina, which was cast in 1985 and can now be found in the Central Business District of Singapore.

The sculpture depicts a male humanoid figure close to 4m tall, in the motion of twisting and turning. It is metallic dark gray in coloration, with a smooth reflective texture, due to the materials it is made from. The figure is not depicted in a manner true to nature. It has no recognizable facial features, but instead has an oval hole in its head, and tentacle-like protrusions coming out from the head. The figure also has a similar oval hole in its body, in which a metal sphere is suspended, and a similar but larger metal sphere suspended from its hand. It is also detached from reality in other subtler ways, such as the exaggeratedly sinuous and lean curves of its muscles, and the fact that its right foot has a sixth detached toe. The repeated motifs of the oval holes and suspended spheres give the figure a sense of rhythm, which gives the sculpture a sense of cohesiveness and harmony. This is further exemplified by the uniform texture and surface of the whole sculpture, as well as the consistent use of curved forms and liens throughout the artwork.

I think the sculpture is largely influenced by the idea of physics, as its intention is to be a homage to the physicist Newton. This is seen in the use of lines that are almost all curved, which give the sculpture a fluid sense of movement. From the curves of the muscled limbs to that of the pronounced twisted spine to the curved surfaces of the oval holes and metal spheres, the figure is largely formed by curved smooth forms that give the sculpture a sense of flowing directional fluidity and grace, further emphasized by the reflective and smooth surface of the artwork that adds on to the artwork’s sense of fluidity. This is reminiscent of other sculptures like “The Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” by Umberto Boccioni, and effectively conveys a sense of movement in the artwork that rigid stagnant lines would fail to express. This sense of motion and movement also ties in to the idea of the principles of physics. The suspended spheres in its body and from its hand also embody the ideas of physics, effectively immortalizing the ideas behind the conception and creation of the artwork. The symbolism of the artwork in relation to the ideas of physics does not end there, as the oval holes in the figure’s chest cavity and head can be seen as being representative of an “open heart” and “open mind” respectively, both of which are important qualities that are crucial to the advancement of science.

Other than the more solid ideas of physics, ideas of dreams also seems to have left its influence in the artwork, as typical of Surrealist artworks of Salvador Dali’s making, although it is to be noted that the true artist of this artwork is debatable, as will be explored later. This is seen from how the figure is warped from reality, with the unnaturally curved sinuous muscles in its limbs and the holes in its body and head. It even has a sixth detached toe at its right foot, and strange tentacle-like appendages protruding from its head. These strange qualities that give the figure an appearance of being distorted, warped and bizarre, give it a dream-like feel, as if its appearance and design were influenced by the artist’s subconscious mind, which was believe by Surrealists to surface in dreams according to the principles of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Thus, the artwork is also influenced by the stuff of dreams and imagination.

This dichotomy of physics and dreams, science and imagination, may initially seem to make the artwork a contradictory one. However, I do not think this is actually the case. Conversely, I think the artwork serves to embody how artistic imagination and scientific advancements come hand in hand, and how the arts and sciences contribute to each other. For example, the bizarre tentacle-like protrusions from the figures head seem dream-like and bizarre, yet the direction they are positioned in show they comply to the physics of the figure’s turning movement. The bizarre existence of the hole in the figure’s body, which appears dream-like and unbelievable, also contains one of the the suspended metal spheres that embody the ideas of physics. Thus, the figure shows how science and the arts come hand in hand, that the ideas of physics and dreams are not opposing each other but on the same side. To go deeper, the initially bizarre appearance of the figure even reflects how great scientific advancements or discoveries are often received with shock and disbelief, with people looking at the most modern of science and thinking it is the stuff of dreams, yet the harmony and unity of the figure shows that that these ideas are not distinct or mutually exclusive, but could very well be the same thing—after all, the science of today is the science fiction of yesterday, and who can say what will become fact in the future?

The artist of this artwork is supposedly Salvador Dali, but there has been debate as to whether it was truly made by Dali or merely sports his signature, as Dali had, by the late 1970s, developed Parkinson’s disease, and also suffered the infidelity, brutal treatment and physical abuse from his wife Gala. This caused Dali to start to lose his will to create art along with his lust for life by then, as expressed by his psychoanalyst Dr. Pierre Roumeguere in 1980, making it questionable as to whether Dali was truly in any condition to have possibly made “Homage to Newton”. It is my opinion that this is something we will probably never know, but that even so, the sculpture is undeniably a great work of art, regardless of who its creator may be. Even if it was not the work of the famed Salvador Dali, I suppose some good has come out of its creator passing it off as one, in that it is consequentially well-known enough for us to know of and appreciate it today.

Photo 7 Jul This is my final clothing design designed as part of a fashion design workshop we had the privilege to attend. I learnt a lot from the workshop, and it gave me a glimpse into the various aspects of clothes to take into account when coming up with a design, such as influences, current trends, target audience (especially with regards to the age group), the silhouette of the piece and the various qualities of materials used, among others. Thus, in the process of making this design, I tried to take the aforementioned factors into consideration.

For instance, in the initial phase of coming up with and sketching out the overall form of design, I chose to position the pleated details on the shorts where I did to give the piece a structured silhouette reminiscent of a skirt, and to make the cardigan unstructured and breezy to complement the shorts. I also tried applying knowledge from our previous art lessons to make an aesthetically balanced and pleasing design, such as repeatedly using the same kind of buttons throughout the clothes to give the outfit a sense of rhythm and unity. Other than using such acquired knowledge, I tried to make a design that was interesting and fresh, by recombining existing clothing pieces in new ways (this made me think of the deconstruction and reconstruction frequently carried out in Cubist artworks). For example, I like the collars that formal dress shirts have, and decided to include them in the design at the waist of the shorts instead of the neck of the shirt. I also like pleated skirts/dresses in general, so I included that as well, but as part of the details on the shorts.

In the next step of my designing process, I decided on materials to make each piece of clothing out of. This was fun but challenging, as each material has its unique qualities that would have massive impacts on the clothing made from it, but I also have a very limited knowledge of materials. Thus, this step included a lot of imagination, where I tried to visualise what the clothes would look like if made of different materials, and balancing out the achieved effects to create the best possible outcome. For instance, I initially thought of making the cardigan out of an opaque fabric, but then realised that a breezy cardigan would be more interesting and subtle if made of shear fabric instead. Similarly, I had considered stretch-knit as a candidate for the material of the inner shirt, but found the more matte texture of cotton more suitable to balance out the glossiness of the white buttons.

Finally, deciding on the colours of each piece in the outfit was the last step of my design process. When doing so, I tried to consider what colours would be in line with current trends, as well as my own preferences of colour combinations and the target audience. We had learnt that some current trends include pastel colours, so I initially decided to go with a light yellow colour for the shorts, although I then decided to make it a more saturated yellow as I found the vibrance of it more suitable for the youths who hypothetically wear it. My choice of colour for the cardigan—a warm peachy pink—was due mostly to my sense of colour combinations, as I am partial to warm colours and felt this shade of pink would give the bright yellow shorts a more gentle, subtle, refined edge. I also chose to use a fair bit of solid black and solid white, in the pleats, buttons, shoes and inner shirt, so the emphasis could be concentrated on the colours of the shorts and cardigan.

In general, I am quite pleased with my design, and feel like I have learnt quite a bit of interesting knowledge about the fashion design industry, although I am certain that what I’ve learnt is but the tip of the iceberg. It was a fun project to work on, and I’m excited to see the exciting designs everyone else has made.

This is my final clothing design designed as part of a fashion design workshop we had the privilege to attend. I learnt a lot from the workshop, and it gave me a glimpse into the various aspects of clothes to take into account when coming up with a design, such as influences, current trends, target audience (especially with regards to the age group), the silhouette of the piece and the various qualities of materials used, among others. Thus, in the process of making this design, I tried to take the aforementioned factors into consideration.

For instance, in the initial phase of coming up with and sketching out the overall form of design, I chose to position the pleated details on the shorts where I did to give the piece a structured silhouette reminiscent of a skirt, and to make the cardigan unstructured and breezy to complement the shorts. I also tried applying knowledge from our previous art lessons to make an aesthetically balanced and pleasing design, such as repeatedly using the same kind of buttons throughout the clothes to give the outfit a sense of rhythm and unity. Other than using such acquired knowledge, I tried to make a design that was interesting and fresh, by recombining existing clothing pieces in new ways (this made me think of the deconstruction and reconstruction frequently carried out in Cubist artworks). For example, I like the collars that formal dress shirts have, and decided to include them in the design at the waist of the shorts instead of the neck of the shirt. I also like pleated skirts/dresses in general, so I included that as well, but as part of the details on the shorts.

In the next step of my designing process, I decided on materials to make each piece of clothing out of. This was fun but challenging, as each material has its unique qualities that would have massive impacts on the clothing made from it, but I also have a very limited knowledge of materials. Thus, this step included a lot of imagination, where I tried to visualise what the clothes would look like if made of different materials, and balancing out the achieved effects to create the best possible outcome. For instance, I initially thought of making the cardigan out of an opaque fabric, but then realised that a breezy cardigan would be more interesting and subtle if made of shear fabric instead. Similarly, I had considered stretch-knit as a candidate for the material of the inner shirt, but found the more matte texture of cotton more suitable to balance out the glossiness of the white buttons.

Finally, deciding on the colours of each piece in the outfit was the last step of my design process. When doing so, I tried to consider what colours would be in line with current trends, as well as my own preferences of colour combinations and the target audience. We had learnt that some current trends include pastel colours, so I initially decided to go with a light yellow colour for the shorts, although I then decided to make it a more saturated yellow as I found the vibrance of it more suitable for the youths who hypothetically wear it. My choice of colour for the cardigan—a warm peachy pink—was due mostly to my sense of colour combinations, as I am partial to warm colours and felt this shade of pink would give the bright yellow shorts a more gentle, subtle, refined edge. I also chose to use a fair bit of solid black and solid white, in the pleats, buttons, shoes and inner shirt, so the emphasis could be concentrated on the colours of the shorts and cardigan.

In general, I am quite pleased with my design, and feel like I have learnt quite a bit of interesting knowledge about the fashion design industry, although I am certain that what I’ve learnt is but the tip of the iceberg. It was a fun project to work on, and I’m excited to see the exciting designs everyone else has made.

Video 31 May 287 notes

emperpep:

A jumpy painting process of http://emperpep.deviantart.com/art/Dream-of-Leporiphobia-255-457612340

I forgot to take photos on earlier process, sorry.

Photo 30 May 11,337 notes

(Source: msmollym)

Photo 28 May 94 notes jacoblivengood:

Leader of the Pack - 14 x 20, pen on paper (5/28/14)

jacoblivengood:

Leader of the Pack - 14 x 20, pen on paper (5/28/14)

Video 27 May 1,839 notes

maruti-bitamin:

a speck

Dr. Ph. Martin watercolour

Video 27 May 204,154 notes

iguanamouth:

something about memories

Video 26 May 177,838 notes

rainbowclusterfuck:

f-l-e-u-r-d-e-l-y-s:

christopher-ryan mckenney: surreal photography

These are so scary I fucking love them omg

(Source: asylum-art)

Text 14 Apr AEP SoVA Assignment: Brancusi

Part one

The Sculptural Ensemble at the city of Târgu Jiu in Romania is a piece of outdoor sculpture. It was made by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), who was commissioned by Aretia Tatarescu, president of the National League of Gorj Women, to build this monument. He accepted the commission free of charge. The artwork was made to honour and commemorate the Romanian heroes of WWI who had defended Târgu Jiu from Germany in 1916, and consists of three large sculptural pieces—the Table of Silence, the Gate of the Kiss andthe Column of the Infinite.

Is it really three separate pieces of art that are all very different and bear no correlation to each other?

The three pieces were built to be an ensemble, but I personally see them as more of individual separate pieces than parts of a whole.

I do not deny that the three pieces are not entirely unrelated, in the sense that they are all made for the same ultimate purpose of commemorating the war efforts of the Romanian soldiers who heroically defended Târgu Jiu, and hence convey messages that support each other and do not contradict on another. For example, the idea of infinite sacrifice that is conveyed by the Column of the Infinite complements the idea of the transition of the soldiers to another life which is portrayed in the Gate of the Kiss, to convey the overall message of recognising, remembering and honouring the sacrifice of the now-dead Romanian war heroes.

However, I feel that their aesthetic appearances and individually conveyed meanings are too dofferent and individual to produce a significant sense of harmony between the pieces. While the overall messages behind the work ultimately fulfill the same broad purpose, I feel that there is still a sense of incongruence between them that makes the pieces feel more like three separate artworks based on the same broad theme, almost as if they are three different artists’ unique takes on the same prompt. For instance, the colours and textures of each structure are quite different; the Column of the Infinite is golden, metallic and smooth-surfaced, whereas the Table of Silence is rough grey stone. Thus, the three pieces lack overall harmony. Each individual piece is harmonious and whole within itself, but I do not personally think they work together in a balanced, connected, harmonious way.

Even the messages conveyed are not very closely related, as seen by how the Table of Silence represents the table around which the war heroes gathered before going into battle, while the Gate of the Kiss has next to nothing to do with the time before the battle, and tells of the time after the soldiers’ deaths and their transition into the afterlife—the same general idea, but with different points of focus and different individual messages. Thus, I do feel that the three sculptures do not work all that well as a set, as they simply are not parts made complete only when treated as a set, but carry different, individual, distinct messages. Hence, the ensemble lacks overall harmony and cohesion, and appears more like three separate works than one ensemble.

The Table of Silence

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The Table of Silence (Masa Tacerii) is a sculpture depicting a round stone table surrounded by twelve stool-like chairs, each of which is shaped like a simplified hourglass, made up of two hemispheres placed on top of each other. The sculpture is made in limestone, and has a panel diameter of 2.15 meters (0.43 m thick), and a single leg that is 2m in diameter and 0.45m thick. The surface of the sculpture is fairly rough due to the material of limestone, and it is stone grey in colour. The melancholy grey of the sculpture, as well as the lack of any decorative or flamboyant designs on it, create a sombre and solemn mood, which is appropriate as The Table of Silence represents the table around which gather the soldiers before confronting their enemy. The use of a stone material without any paint to embellish it is almost like what is typical of tombstones, further adding to the symbology and sense of impending doom of the soldiers. The fact that there are twelve seats, coupled with the round centre table, bring to mind the idea of a clock, which has a round face and twelve numbers, possibly symbolising the notion of time. This is further shown by the fact that these seats are shaped like hourglasses, which are often used to portray the idea of time running out—a countdown of time before battle, before death. Some have also drawn connections between this artwork and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, because the twelve seats of the monument can be seen as representing the twelve apostles, and the table in the centre could be the place of Jesus Christ. I think this sculpture is a successful one, as the use of simplified forms without the distraction of unnecessary detail creates a strongly impactful and memorably iconic image that strikes the viewer and stays with him after. The choice and use of materials also works to convey the message that the sculpture holds, so I think it has effectively and successfully put across this idea of impending doom and solemn preparation for battle.

The Gate of the Kiss

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The Gate of the Kiss is a rectangular arch-shaped gate that is 5.13m high, and is formed by two cuboidal pillars on each side of the arch that are 1.69m wide, as well as another rectangular cuboidal architrave on top lying horizontally to form the top of the arch. Each of the supporting pillars are embossed with Brancusi’s symbol of a kiss—a circle split in two—on each face of the cuboidal structure. The 5.54m-long architrave on top of the two supporting pillars also has this symbol on it, almost like a watermark. The gate is made of Banpotoc travertine, and appears sturdy and stone-like. Similarly to the Table of Silence, it is not painted but left in its sandy brown-grey colour. The subject-matter of a gate symbolises the transition of the Romanian war heroes to the afterlife, almost like a gateway to the afterlife, bringing across the idea of the triumph of life over death. This serves to show that the Romanian war heroes are not truly defeated, but have moved on instead to an even better place, thus honoring them. The repetition of the kiss motif gives the artwork a sense of rhythm and order, further put across by the organized, symmetrically balanced and geometric composition of the artwork, that creates a mood of calmness and harmony, as if all is right and in order with the world, to show that the sacrifice and war efforts of the soldiers have ultimately culminated in a peaceful, happy end with their transition to the afterlife. The repetition of the kiss motif also serves to emphasize its importance the artwork—to symbolize the union of the eight regions that were attached to the mother country of Brancusi, Romania, through the unifying act of kissing. This motif of two semicircles facing each other also serves to represent eyes looking into the gate, that may suggest the idea of viewers of the artwork bearing witness to the transition of the warrior’s to the afterlife, and the union of the regions that form Romania. The simple, unpainted surface of the sculpture, once again true to Brancusi’s artistic style, gives the artwork a natural, sincere, simple feeling, so that the essence of the structure and its messages is not covered over or over-embellished by unnecessary distractions like colour, but retained and concentrated by this elimination of unnecessary detail that allows the artwork to be simplified to its absolute essentials. I think this artwork is successful in showing the sense of peace and rightness in the transition of the warriors to another life, as this sense of peace, harmony and stability is clear through the balance and harmony of the composition, as well as in the sturdy and solid structure of the gate. However, I do not feel it is entirely successful in transmitting the idea of a transition into the afterlife, as other than it being a gate, there are no clear indications of the afterlife in any motifs or engravings, thus making that particular message a bit hard for typical viewers to understand, as many people would not immediately associate a gate with moving to a whole other life.

The Column of the Infinite

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The Column of the Infinite, at 29.33m high, is a tall column made of seventeen and a half rhomboidal cast iron modules stacked on top of one another that towers over the other artworks in the ensemble, It has a smooth metallic gold surface. The seventeen and a half  modules, each about 1.80m high and 860kg in weight, are significant in number, as their number symbolises the year when Romania adhered to WWI. The half module also suggests that what we physically see is only a portion of the whole picture, that actually there is another half above the incomplete one, and another and another above that. This creates the illusion of infinity and endlessness, of something going on and on into eternity, an idea further conveyed by the use of repeated identical rhomboidal modules that create a sense of rhythm and repetition that lets us anticipate more similar modules above those that are physically in place. Hence, the infinite and endless nature of the war heroes’ great sacrifice and contribution is captured in the artwork. The upwards-pointing direction of the column also seems to convey an idea of divinity and great worthiness of the sacrifice, portraying the positivity of the work that the soldiers have done, and how it has helped direct Romania towards greater heights and higher achievements that would have been impossible if not for their sacrifice. This idea of the great value of their sacrifice, which helps to commemorate and honour the soldiers and their contributions, is further shown by the golden colour of the column. Unlike the previous two structures which were coloured more like simple grey stone, this sculpture appears golden and shining due to its metallic material and the golden colouration it has been adorned with. This gold colour and smooth surface makes it look like it is made of real gold, which is very valuable, further emphasizing the great value of the sacrifice of the Romanian warriors. I think this sculpture was very successful, as its appearance of grandeur, created by its vast scale and gold coloration, effectively evokes the kind of awe, appreciation and wonder that viewers should feel when honoring the Romanian war heroes, thus effectively serving as a tribute to commemorate them.

Which of the three do you like the most?

My personal favourite is the Column of Infinite, because I like the idea that it conveys of honoring and appreciating the soldiers’ infinite sacrifice. I really like the way the artwork focuses on celebrating the war heroes’ achievements and contributions, and on evoking gratitude towards the endlessness of their sacrifice. Instead of simply conveying ideas related to their deaths, like the other two artworks did, this artwork focuses on what they achieved with their efforts in life, what they did for the country, what they gave for the country, and what it was that they were willing to die for. And this is a message that touches me greatly, as I think commemoration should be done not by mourning the dead or envisioning what has happened to them after death, but by celebrating and feeling grateful towards the things they have achieved and contributed to in their lifetimes, the things they have done for us and given to us and that they would feel proud of, if they were still around.

Compare this collection of work with another monumental sculpture’ that you think is effective (and you need to define effective) in communicating something important (important in global human terms)

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The monumental sculpture I have chosen to compare the ensemble at Targu Jiu to is that of Mount Rushmore. A famous tourist destination and memorial of past American presidents, Mount Rushmore is situated near Keystone, South Dakota, in the United States. It is massive work of sculpture by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, featuring four 18m sculptures of the heads of United States presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire piece covers 5.17 km^2 and is 1745m above sea level. I think this monumental sculpture is effective in communicating the prominence of these figures in America’s history, as the sheer hugeness of the scale would let anyone understand on sight that the figures sculpted are very important people, even if the viewer has little knowledge of American history. The use of a realistic style to capture the likenesses of the four presidents without much stylization or simplification also makes the faces very immediately recognizable, especially since the subject-matter is of such prominent figures in American history, thus making the artwork easy to recognize and comprehend for viewers, adding to its effectiveness as a piece celebrating and honoring the four presidents.

Thus, I think Mount Rushmore is more effective in creating a strong immediate impact, due to the grand scale and iconic recognizability of the subject-matter. Furthermore, the contrast between human faces and the unlikely location they have been carved into (the rock face of a mountain, no pun intended) creates an almost quirky kind of impact, leaving an immediate, striking, and lasting impression in the viewer’s mind. On the other hand, the sculptural ensemble has messages and imagery that is more subtle and less direct, that cannot be easily and immediately understood without deeper analysis or an explanation, as many of the motifs and simplified forms appear very open to various interpretations on first sight. Thus, the impact is less immediate and less striking, although that may be appropriate due to the more solemn and quiet nature of the meaning behind the works. Even so, the immediate impact is definitely greater in the case of Mount Rushmore, thus making it more effective in communicating the prominence of the American presidents, as its message is packaged and presented in a more “user-friendly” way.

However, I think Targu Jiu wins in terms of the depth of the meaning it conveys—each piece of the ensemble carries a different message on the idea of honoring the Romanian war heroes, and each message is again conveyed through various layers, elements and motifs that often hold more than one meaning. For example, the stony grey material of the Table of Silence serves not only to create a mood of solemnity, but also suggests the idea of gravestones the associated idea of death, and the seventeen and a half rhomboidal modules on the Column of the Infinite also serves multiple purposes such as implying the idea of infinity as well as communicating the year in which Romania entered WWI. Thus, there are various fine, subtle nuances and layers of meaning and sentiment in the structural ensemble of Targu Jiu, in the artworks’ structures, colours, composition and materials among other elements, allowing it to be more effective in communicating its messages in the sense that there is more than is conveyed, if not immediately. On the other hand, there are less things of symbolic value or that hold multiple fine nuances and layered meanings in the sculptures on Mount Rushmore, as their message and subject-matter is put across quite directly and in the most typically-expected artistic style of closely resembling reality, without the kind of deeper motifs that the artworks at Targu Jiu uses. This may be due to the fact that one primary purpose of making Mount Rushmore was to attract tourists, so its use as an icon with immediate striking impact was more important to its value than its depth of meaning. Overall, I personally prefer the sculptural ensemble at Targu Jiu, as its subtlety of meaning and creative ways of using motifs and even numbers to convey ideas appeal to me more, as it makes it more mysterious and engaging—the longer and deeper you look, the more you can find—as compared to the more immediate and direct impact of Mount Rushmore.

Part Two

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I combined the famous landmark of Singapore, the esplanade, with a pair of simple flip flops. The esplanade is usually very flashy and glamorous, with its shiny spikes and gleaming appearance, to match the fanciful and grand performances within it. However, I replaced this landmark with a simple, plain pair of flip-flops, commonly seen on the feet of Singaporeans, but not at home with so grand a location as the esplanade. This alters the scene, as the brilliant and flashy esplanade now appears a lot more plain and boring, putting across the idea of the incongruence between the flamboyant displays of luxury and grandeur in districts aimed at tourists such as that, and the everyday lives of regular Singaporeans, who are more likely to just walk around in plain clothes and simple flip-flops.   

Text 23 Mar AEP SoVA Assignment 2: Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte: Introduction

Rene Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian painter, draughtsman, printmaker, sculptor, photographer and film maker of the 20th century. He was one of the major figures of Surrealism, particularly well-known for artworks that make use of commonplace objects that exist in real life, but are altered or arranged in witty, surreal manners. Some of his artworks include “Personal Values”, which I will be analysing, and “The Son of Man”, my personal favourite.

Analysis: Personal Values

""Personal Values”, painted in 1952 in oil on canvas, is one of Rene Magritte’s most iconic artworks. It depicts the interior of a bedroom, with walls patterned to resemble a blue sky with clouds, a closed cupboard with mirrored walls, a bed, and carpets. In this room, positioned to fully occupy it, are a number of objects—a comb, a matchstick, a shaving brush, a bar of soap, and a wineglass—which are blown up to human-sized proportions. These are mostly everyday items, commonly found in a typical bourgeois Belgian home, but they are magnified to such an extent that they seem to encroach on one’s personal space, fully occupying the room and leaving no place for their owner.

The main subject-matter of the painting is the various magnified objects inside the room in the painting. In general, they are all regular household objects that are easy to find in any ordinary bourgeois Belgian home, a class to which Rene Magritte belonged. This implies that Rene Magritte could have possibly used objects he had frequent interaction with as subject-matter to convey the values and meanings that the objects hold to him, an idea that is also conveyed by the title of the artwork, “Personal values”.

Each of the objects also has significance in the artwork, and seems to reflect something about the occupant of the room. For example, the bed, which is tightly made, appears rigid, formal and organized, just like the general composition and overall appearance of the artwork, which is also very systematic and organised in composition. This once again adds to the clinical, mechanical feel of the artwork, which contrasts to the subject-matter of a personal bedroom, evoking a sense of discomfort and unease. The bed is also placed very close to the matchstick. In the French language, a “matchstick” is an “allumette”, which is probably a play on the French phrase “Tu m’allumes”—”You turn me on.” This visual pun adds erotic subtext to the painting, something typical of Surrealist artists, who are often interested in appreciating the erotic, as such things are thought to be largely connected to the subconscious mind in the Freudian school of thought. It also shows Rene Magritte’s sense of humour.

The mirrored wardrobe also holds symbolic value. Mirrors are a common Surrealist symbol, used to represent psychological space and the realm of fantasy. In this case, it may be symbolic of the inner thoughts and imagination of the occupant of the room, the true individual desires and free thoughts that one has, within exterior restraints of class and social norms. This idea of a longed-for freedom within rigid restraints is further reflected by the image of the sky seen in the mirror’s glass. The wardrobe itself suggests a psychological interior, possibly containing more detailed clues about the true nature of the room’s occupant

The wine glass is the only item in the room that stands fully upright, and even inhabits a central part of the foreground of the composition, hence has a particularly prominent position. It is also the only item that one would not typically find in an average bedroom, suggesting that it may represent a guest of the occupant. The curvaceous glass might even imply a feminine presence, given its positioning beside the suggestive matchstick. Taking this interpretation a step further, I feel that the central, commanding position of this “outsider” may imply that the room’s occupant finds himself under pressure to bend under the scrutiny of others, to adjust and submit himself to their collective expectations.

The comb, soap and shaving brush also represent this idea of a presentation of a socially-acceptable exterior, a public face, as they are all objects that are used to groom and clean oneself on preparation for appearing before civilized company with societal expectations. The comb’s position of prominence on the bed shows the affinity between it and the pillow—one rests one’s head on the pillow, and then grooms the hair on one’s head with the comb after resting, to prepare oneself for presenting oneself to civilised society. The soap and shaving brush allude to the importance of grooming to the inhabitant of the room, which may be assumed to be Magritte.

However, the shaving brush is also placed carelessly on top of the cupboard, which shows the ever-present desire of the middle-class to live freely, in a manner true to one’s desires and preferences, despite the constant pressure to present a socially acceptable exterior. This idea is further captured by the clouds and blue sky that fill the walls of the room. The sky suggests unlimited boundless freedom, while the walls suggest confinement and restraint.

The artwork has a detached, clinical, impersonal feel (ironic, considering that the title of the painting is “Personal Values”). The incredibly realistic and unbiased depictions of subject-matter, as well as lack of personal human touch in the room displayed, particularly create this atmosphere. Furthermore, even the composition of the artwork is one of rigidity and formality, with the items arranged in a systematic, organised, almost mechanical manner. This atmosphere of formality contrasts with the subject-matter of a bedroom, which is supposed to be a highly personal and comfortable place, especially since all the items within it have a strong symbolic value in expressing things about the room’s occupant. This creates a deep sense of discomfort and unsettledness in the viewer.

Furthermore, the painting has a rather symmetrically balanced composition, with the bed on the viewer’s left counterbalancing the cupboard on the viewer’s right, and the magnified objects arranged evenly throughout the room. This balance and order seems to be an assertion of placement and harmony, suggesting that the objects are meant to be exactly where they are, in the size they are. This contrasts the discomfort created by the irrationally and unnaturally large, almost invasive, scale of the objects, thus serving to further emphasize the bizarre nature of their size.

Similarly, the realistic, naturalistic style employed in the artwork adds to this. The objects are painted very realistically and objectively in a manner that is true to life, which contrasts the unrealistic, unnatural subject-matter of huge objects in a bedroom in the painting, creating a sense of incongruence and discomfort. This further emphasizes the strangeness of the large objects. This technique of distorting recognizable, realistically-rendered things in bizarre ways is typical of Super Surrealism, and is also seen in the work of Salvador Dali. These various techniques to create a sense of discord in order, unease in comfort, can be seen as reflective of the feelings of discomfort that one may feel when torn between conformity to social norms and one’s true self. It also serves to emphasize on the surreal aspects of the painting, by closely contrasting unnatural subject-matter with a very traditional, typical painting style.

My “Personal Value” Room

This is my own “personal values” room, containing objects that are of value to me. It was made with photography and photoshop.

Objects: Significance

1. Painting

This painting, which now hangs on the wall in my parents’ bedroom, was a collaborative effort of me and my sister. We painted it about four years ago, maybe, and it means a lot to me as I consider it representative of our relationship. For one thing, art has always been important to us both—for as long as I can remember, we have both loved it, and much of my early childhood included drawing together with her. Furthermore, when specifically painting this artwork, we at some point worked out a collaborative technique that fitted us both very well, where my sister would put in larger blocks of colour, and I would add details and “clean” it up. I find this is quite reflective of our general personalities, with her being better at seeing and doing broad, general, effective things, and me more inclined towards individual details and exact amount. It also represents how these traits can be complementary. Hence, this painting is representative of my relationship with my sister (and best friend), hence it holds great sentimental value to me, personally.

2. Cap

This cap is a gift from my little brother, who went to Taiwan and brought it back as a souvenir. Similarly to the painting, I placed it in my “Personal Values Room” as a symbol of my relationship with my brother, who is yet another great force of influence in my life. While I generally get along with him less swimmingly than with my sister, I feel that we ultimately are able to understand each other, although we are not always willing to meet in the middle. I think our tendency to get on each other’s nerves is largely because neither of us are very generous, but both of us like to hold our ground in arguments. However, it is when either of us steps back and gives that the petty bickering ends. Hence, I think the cap is a good symbol of this relationship, as it was given to me out of his generosity, thus reflecting the positive aspect of the relationship, which is something I treasure dearly, though I am not fain to admit it.

3. Stuffed toy mouse (his name is Cheddar)

This is a toy I’ve had for a really long time, and he is significant to me because to me he represents my childhood. One of my older cousins once told me that when we were little we always “talked to our (toy) mice”, and this is absolutely correct. My childhood included a lot of playing pretend with such toys and my siblings or friends, often entailing Cheddar and his other toy friends going on various adventures. This was a very fun part of my life, full of imagination and enthusiasm, and stories in which anything is possible and there is never a fixed ending. Hence, Cheddar earns a space in my “Personal Values” room as he represents all of this, which meant a lot to me and still means a lot to me now. Of course, while he represents the past, he is not quite in the past. I still hug him to sleep at night sometimes.

4. “The Universe”

This was one of my favourite books as a child. It’s a non-fiction “Childcraft” book entitled “The Universe”, and contains a simplified version of many things related to space, such as black holes (my favourite section), supernovas, and space travel. I think this is significant to who I am and how I think, as it was one of the books that first sparked my interest in the profound vastness of space and the mysteries it holds. It also represents my interest in science and the natural world, which has always been present (unfortunately, I am not very good at science)—my favourite book as a child was a non-fiction book called “Outside and Inside Spiders”, I think. This interest is directly linked to my dream, which includes studying medicine (and then hopefully going into psychiatry), so this is an object that is very important to me.

5. “A Wrinkle in Time”

I first read this book when I was 11, as part of the school curriculum, and fell in love instantly. The lyrical language, beautiful plot, and interesting characters endeared themselves to me greatly. This represents the other side of my interests—literature and the humanities. I have always had a passion for language, for the magic of words. Now, too, I am constantly awed by the kind of power words, books, literature can have on people, the way you can store a whole universe within 26 symbols making up an alphabet. Hence, this book represents this interest of mine that I hold close to my heart.

6. Collection of received birthday cards

These birthday cards are the ones my friends surprised me with this year on my birthday. I hadn’t expected the amount of thought they’d put into the cards, which even included playlists of songs they thought I would like. The attentiveness and kindness of good friends entailed by these cards touched me greatly. Hence, I put them in my “personal values” room to represent the amazing people I call friends. While I admittedly have never felt the kind of closeness I do with my family with my friends, they are still a great support who I can laugh with or cry with.

7. Sketchbook

One time a couple of years ago, a friend wanted to see my sketchbook. She expressed this by jokingly saying “Your sketchbook or your life?”, to which I answered, “my sketchbook is my life!” While this was, naturally, an exaggeration, it is still in a sense the truth. Art means a lot to me, and has always been a core part of who I am, as mentioned earlier by the painting. I’ve always found joy, escape, expression and pride in art, so I decided to include in this “personal values” room the sketchbook I am currently using, to represent this.

Order of objects

I arranged the objects from the top to the bottom, in three large bands—the top, containing the painting and cap, the middle, containing Cheddar, “The Universe” and “A Wrinkle in Time”, and the bottom, containing the birthday cards and sketchbook.

The top band contains the only two objects mounted to walls instead of placed on the floor. This is because the painting and cap signify some of my treasured family relationships, which are of a somewhat higher importance to me than what the other objects signify, and hence were placed in a more elevated position than the rest. 

The middle band is for objects that have more to do with my personal history and self, that have less to do with other people. I would say that these are things that, in a sense, I value on a less deep level than my relationships with my family, thus explaining their less elevated position. “The Universe” is placed on a stool, putting it a notch above the other objects in this band, because it is directly linked to my dream, which is something that means a lot to me.

The last band, containing the cards and sketchbook, are for other things of great importance to me, but that I would frankly “rank” below the earlier two bands in terms of personal significance. Of course, they still mean the world to me, but as John Green wrote, “some infinities are greater than others”.

Thoughts/reflections

This assignment was, for me, an interesting but challenging one. I thought it was a rather fresh way to look into the work of Rene Magritte, by creating a spin-off version of “Personal Values” with our own personal touches. Of course, what I did to make me “Personal Values” room was not the same as what Magritte did in his making of the original artwork, but I think it still gave me a peek into the kinds of thought processes that could have gone into the making of this artwork. For example, selecting the objects to feature and finding a suitable arrangement of them. 

Personally, I found the selection of objects rather challenging. Of course, there are many things that are important to me—family, respect, precious memories, ideas, relationships…the list goes on. However, many things of value to me are in more abstract forms, unable to be captured in physical objects. How could I represent a song that’s helped me through tough times (少年游 by 优客李林 ), or the particular texture of my favourite blanket? How could any object, any mere thing, represent the values, feelings and people that are most important to me? Hence, this assignment made me have to think out of the box to find objects to represent what matters to me.

It also let me think more deeply and consciously about how I interact with objects, and how different kinds of meanings are formed through different kinds of interaction (e.g. all the adventures I’ve had with Cheddar have). In a sense, all of these objects are actually meaningless, as the meanings they have are defined by how I used and feel about them. I find this interesting to dwell upon.

Hence, in general, I did enjoy this assignment, and I feel I have benefited from it.


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