The Surreal Photography of Marcel Mariën

“It is hard when you are the only one who realises that the emperor is completely naked, to persist, against the universal blindness, in seeing what you see.”

Hands by Marcel Mariën – 1980

An only child from a poor family, Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920. Fifteen years later Mariën left his school to learn how to become a photographer.

Two years later in 1937, Marien visited a René Magritte exhibition and travelled to Brussels to become an apprentice for the painter. The following year the young surrealist exhibited his own artwork titled L’Introuvable (The Untraceable) alongside Magritte in the Surrealist group exhibition Surrealist Objects and Poems in London.

Mariën’s early attempts at expressing his ideas in photography were unsuccessful. It was not until 1943 (the year that he produced the very first monograph on Magritte) that he produced his first photograph with a distinctive personal vision, “De Sade à Lénine”, an image of a woman cutting a slice of bread, the loaf gripped tightly against her naked torso, the blade pointing at her left breast. Mariën commented, “the knife passes from de Sade to Lenin”.

Despite this and other successful photographs, Mariën abandoned photography to concentrate on object making, drawing and writing but in 1951 he signed on for two years as a sailor on a Danish cargo ship and in 1962 Mariën lived in New York for a year before deciding to travel to Communist China where he lived from 1963 until 1965. He survived by working as a translator on the French edition of the magazine China Under Construction until very reasonably becoming disillusioned with Maoism.

In 1959, in an attempt to challenge traditional attitudes, he produced and directed the film, L’Imitation du cinema – it caused a scandalous sensation in Belgium and was actually banned in France and the USA.

In 1953, Mariën travelled to to the Belgian coast where, as a prank, he gave out fake bank notes printed by René and Paul Magritte. In 1962 Mariën and Leo Dohmen produced a short treatise entitled La Grande Baisse at the same time as a major retrospective of Magritte’s work in Knokke. This time the joke was on Magritte. La Grande Baisse was presented as written by Magritte himself and it announced massive discounts on the artist’s major paintings and even gave people the chance to order them in different sizes. Leading Surrealists, even André Breton, failed to notice the prank and praised Magritte for his brilliant artistic enterprise. Magritte, however, decidedly failed to find any humour in the matter and when he found out who was responsible the 25-year friendship between Magritte and Mariën was over.

In 1980, now living in Brussels, Mariën went back to his surrealist photography and became quite prolific often posing nude women with strange objects or in absurd situations. He died in 1993.

Thank you to wikipedia for much of this information.

Letter to Jane Graverol by Marcel Mariën – c. 1954

The Renaissance by Marcel Mariën – 1984

Muette et aveugle (Mute and blind) by Marcel Mariën – 1945

Cover of the 1928 Gallimard edition of Nadja, collaged over by Marcel Mariën, 1938.

La Tangente (The Tangent) by Marcel Mariën – 1983

Le Ressentiment by Marcel Mariën – 1986

La lettre volée (stolen letter) (detail) by Marcel Mariën – 1968

Would you like to support Flashbak?

Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.