To some people, art is intoxicating. Art is contagious. Once you’ve had it, you can’t get enough. I’ve traveled Europe my entire life. I’ve grown up in museums. I remember when I was fourteen and my parents took me to the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria. I saw this painting of two fruits wearing masks and it blew my mind, I didn’t know art could be like that. I didn’t know that there were no rules in art. So for years, I scoured the internet but to no avail. The painting was lost.
Fast forward seven years and there I am in Vienna again, in the Albertina Museum, staring at the painting that had captivated me for a third of my life. That painting was Le Prêtre Marié by René Magritte, and consequently, the painting that sucked me into surrealism. In 2007, that painting was sold for over five million pounds.
René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist artist, is now one of my all-time favorites. Magritte’s paintings amuse me and make me think great thoughts. His art features reoccurring objects like the green apple and the bowler hat, and patterns like clouds and open, endless seas. Sometimes, the depths of his paintings seem infinite. I’ve sought out his art in museums all over the world, the most recent being the Magritte Museum in Brussels, which I visited only a few days ago.
Magritte’s art pushes the boundaries of reality in ways that no other had done before. Andy Warhol himself said that he was inspired by Magritte. His work is timeless, and Magritte is still inspiring people long after his death. I’ve seen his handwritten letters, his lazy yet genius sketches, and his experimentation with photography. Eternal mystery, unusual, familiar, and satisfying, René Magritte has left me speechless on more than one occasion.
Another Belgian artist, by the name of Jean-Michel Folon, is as magical and mesmerizing in his own ways. He is famous for his illustrations, drawings, and sculptures. But above all, he is famous for his watercolors. Softly muted or brilliantly vibrant, the colors radiate off the page. Interestingly enough, he was renowned in the United States way before he was even recognized in Europe. He illustrated many covers for journals like The New Yorker and Time Magazine. He did the cover art for Ray Bradbury, Guy de Maupassant, and Franz Kafka.
Soon enough, his name was popping up everywhere. After Folon’s first exhibition in New York City then followed exhibitions in Tokyo, Paris, Milan, and Venice. Folon also did plenty of city art for underground metro stations. But other than being an incredibly talented artist, he was a good person. As a humanitarian, Folon constantly campaigned against racism and even illustrated the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights. In 2004, he was named the ambassador of UNICEF.
Folon was brilliant and he loved to experiment. Near the end of his life, he dipped his toe into sculpture. He started with wood and then dived in, head first, to using clay, bronze, and marble. He was an entirely self-taught sculpture. He would also create these plaster molds of his sculptures so that other artists could later replicate his design. Folon’s sculptures can be found all over, from the shores of Belgium to the gardens of Rancho Santa Fe. Today, you can find all of Folon’s works anywhere in the world; London and Paris, Tokyo and Barcelona. His art has left a powerful impression on myself and countless others.
Two artists. Two Belgian artists. That’s all it took to change my life; to change how I look at the world. Through my gold-rimes spectacles, I see the world with more possibilities than impossibilities and more questions than answers. Art changes you. It makes you feel alive. I suggest you go to a museum that you’ve been curious about or wanting to go to for a while but have never had the time. Make time for it. The trip will be worth it, I promise. You might just find your own Magritte or Folon. Remember, life imitates art.
Here are the addresses of the museums, should you find yourself in Belgium:
Fondation Folon: Drève de la Ramée 6a, B-1310, La Hulpe, Belgium
Magritte Museum: Rue de la Régence 3, 1000, Brussels, Belgium
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