France LeJeune - Fine Art

Artist:  Marcel Mariën

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From an early age, surrealism and photography were intertwined in the life of Marcel Mariën. Born to a modest family, he left school at the age of fifteen to become apprenticed to a photographer in Antwerp. From 1936 until 1937, Mariën earned a living with menial, unrewarding jobs at photographic laboratories. It was during this time that he discovered the work of René Magritte in an exhibition in Antwerp and read the Manifeste du Surréalisme by André Breton. Mariën set up a small studio at home and embarked upon his first surrealist images, but with little result. Retreating to the darkroom allowed Mariën a chance to escape his monotonous family environment and indulge his passion for reading, writing poetry and producing collages.
Marcel Mariën corresponded with Magritte, twenty years his senior, and the two artists met in July 1937. The young man was warmly welcomed into the circle of Belgian surrealists where he forged friendships with Paul Colinet, Paul Nougé, and Louis Scutenaire.
In December 1937, Mariën took part in the group exhibition “Surrealist Objects and Poems” in the London Gallery.
His travels take him further than Antwerp and Brussels and, in 1942, after exchanging letters with René Char and Paul Eluard and, the artist meets Eluard, Picasso, Oscar Dominguez and Georges Hugnet during his first visit to Paris.
In 1943, Mariën publishes the first monograph on Magritte, which marked the official debut of a long and prolific career as author and publisher. De Sade à Lénine , the first widely known emblematic photo work by Mariën, was included in the “ Surréalisme “, exhibition at Galerie des Editions La Boétie, Brussels, between December 1945 and January 1946. The image shows a woman cutting a slice of bread, the loaf gripped tightly against her naked torso, the sharp tip of the blade pointing at left breast. With this piece, the artist was commenting: ‘the knife passes from de Sade to Lenin ».
In the vein of purest surrealist tradition, two distinct themes recur in Mariën’s photographic work: everyday objects stripped of their traditional function, and the female body as instrument of creation.
Between this short period in the 1940s and early 1980s, Mariën largely abandoned photography to pursue other media - collage, decoupage, drawing and object-making. However, from the 1950s to early 1960s, Mariën produced little plastic work; always an adventurer, his wanderlust impelled him to sign up as a sailor on Swedish cargo ship (late 1951 to early 1953), spend time living in New York (in late 1962) before deciding to live and work in Communist China. Rather than being inspired by ideological reasons, the move east had purely financial motives; Mariën had been offered a job working in Peking as corrector for the French edition of the magazine La Chine en construction (October 1963 to February 1965).
In between the periods spent abroad, Mariën managed to find the time to distribute the fake banknotes printed by René and Paul Magritte throughout the Belgian coast (May to June 1953), and to write and publish numerous works, among which his best-known magazine, Les Lèvres Nues (from 1954 onwards). The artist also directed the film L’imitation du cinéma in 1959 which caused a scandal in Belgium and was prohibited from being screened in France. In July 1962 Mariën and his collaborator Leo Dohmen wrote and circulated the tract “ La Grande Baisse”, for a major retrospective of the work of Magritte at Knokke Casino. Presented as written by Magritte himself, this pamphlet announced dramatic discounts on some of Magritte’s major pieces, and the chance to order them in different sizes. Intellectuals and art critics including André Breton in the newspaper Combat failed to grasp the joke, and praised the great Magritte.
However, the distribution of this tract brought twenty-five years of friendship between Magritte and Mariën to an end.
After his stay in China, Mariën returned to Brussels in 1965. His friend Leo Dohmen encouraged him to start making collages again and, in 1967, Mariën’s first solo exhibition was held at Galerie Defacqz in Brussels. Numerous solo and group exhibitions were to follow, in Belgium and abroad.
Throughout these years, Mariën also continued to write and publish prolifically. Publication of Lèvres Nues ceased in 1975, but was recommenced in 1987 and continued until 1993.
The bulk of Mariën’s photographic work was produced between 1983 and 1993. During this time, he also published two books dedicated entirely to his photography: Le Sentiment photographique, in 1984, and La femme entrouverte, in 1985.
Not a very practical man, Mariën’s companion, Hedwige Benedix, assisted him in the production of his works. After her death, he returned to photography, which proved an eloquent medium for expressing his ideas. Mariën’s images required rudimentary technical knowledge, relying neither on sophisticated lighting nor complex backgrounds. Nor was he intent on depicting the ideal body, or constructing the suggestive poses typical of erotic photography.
In his mise en scene of the female body with objects, Mariën eliminated technical and aesthetic aspects so as not to distract the spectator: “Ne faites pas attention à la photographie” (“Don’t pay attention to the photography”)
What we see in La banlieue is the Eiffel tower, balanced on a woman’s navel, gazing at her pubis. Mariën’s choice of title makes the elements of the image immediately legible, thus reinforcing the narrative of the photograph.
In La géante , a miniature toy horse rests on a woman’s pubic triangle. In a free association of ideas, we establish a harmonious link between the vast forest and the little animal that, with his right foreleg, seems to caress this inviting resting place.
But what is the focus of Le Mire ? Is it the Giaconda to which our eyes are drawn? Or is our gaze lured towards the untroubled valour of Mariën’s model who, between her parted legs, conceals the smile of the Mona Lisa? Setting aesthetic judgement aside, we are out-smarted by Mariën’s storytelling games.

4La mire page of the catalogue

sample work

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Les noces de Jessica
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La parole giusta (Le mot exact)

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Marcel Mariën - click to enlarge
name: Marcel Mariën
country: Belgium
born: 1920
deceased: 1993