Klaas Verplancke is the author/illustrator of Magritte’s Apple (MoMA), a wonderful introduction for kids like you and me to the impressive surrealist puzzles that the master introduced to the art and illustration world. I am quite taken by Verplancke‘s reinterpretations of René Magritte’s masterpieces, and asked him about what’s most engaging in this iconic dreamscape.
What do you want your young and not-so-young readers to know about Magritte?
The book starts with Magritte falling asleep, where he becomes the painter of his universe. Finally he steps out of his dream, his paintings, and experiences that his universe is also present in his ‘real’ life. This is an essential part of the story: Magritte’s surrealisme is not about painting dreams, it is about looking sideways, beyond the preconditioned representation or signification of what we see. In fact, he goes back to the academic basics: You can draw a chair by looking at a chair, but you can also draw a chair by looking at the space around the chair.
He was the master of decontextualization and juxtaposition. Everything, even the most ordinary object, can become interesting when you delete its ordinary environment or displace it in an unusual context. Add paradox, opposition and metamorphosis and you have the basic recipe for a Magritte.
How do you make a picture book about a pictorial artist without using his pictures?
For copyright reasons I was not allowed to reproduce any painting. This was the hardest challenge in making this book. Thus, I had to reinvent, reinterpret, the work of Magritte. A sort of sursurrealisme, making new visual concepts based on and one step beyond the intention of the paintings I wanted to refer to. One could say, repackaging Magritte’s classics.
What did you learn about Magritte in the course of doing the book?
His painting technique is coarser than I originally thought. Magritte’s realism is mind-boggling and dazzling, but he achieves this sculptural effect, surprisingly, by a fairly visible brush technique. I’ve tried to draw near this visible writing by using a color pencil technique on Japanese papier. Up close you can see the shading but remotely you get the same graphic realism.
I also discovered and realized how playing with words and images opens a world of associations, especially since I’m illustrator and author of this book.
How do you think you and Magritte intersect?
I’m generally a concept-targeted illustrator, like endless many colleagues. We all use metaphors in extraordinary and surreal combinations to create visual wit, a smile in the mind. We are all indebted to Magritte, who was an illustrator too.
We Belgians seem to have a very specific sense of humor, but MoMA signed me most of all for my long-term experience in picture books, and moreover my typical combination of conceptual and narrative imaginary for young children, which was in this case the main challenge. I’ve tried to crystallize Magritte’s mental universe into one long storyboard, with spare words and endless associations and references.
What other artists are you going to interpret?
I’ve done a lot of visual references to the work of Bosch, Breughel and the Flemish Primitives in my previous work. Like every artist, i constantly interpret. I borrow and filter pieces from what I capture, aware and unaware, and put them together in my own way, that’s all.
I would like to dive into the work of my all-time-idols Picasso or Hopper, but my current work is closer to (Flemish) expressionisme (such as Edgard Tytgat and Permeke) and African art.
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