Marcel Mariën and his star dancer
I discovered Marcel Mariën by accident when I was wandering the Tate Museum in London a couple years ago. My friend Max always knows where to take me to find the best art. My eye was caught by a little piece called Star Dancer. A starfish floating amidst a solid blue background, wearing a single little white heel on one of her legs. So simple, so clever, so graphic. I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Mister Mariën before. I was born in Brussels in 1993, he died in the same city, that same year. He is often linked to René Magritte, and combining cultural and political provocations, became one of the most elusive and mysterious characters of the Belgian Surrealist movement.
Little is known about Mariën, who is very often left out of the Art History books. Some of you may be familiar with his single seeing glasses or some of his erotic photographs, but Mariën was many things. He was an artist, a publisher (Les lèvres nues), a journalist, an avid lover, a sailor, a contrabandist, a master trickster, a photographer, a sculptor, a criminal, and filmmaker (of a single controversial film, l’immitation du cinema, combining religious and sexual material. It was immediately banned after the first few screenings). He is mostly known as the first and principal historian and chronicler of the Belgian surrealist group, while also creating his own outrageous creations through sensual photographs, witty collages, unexpected assemblages or subversive writing.
Although lesser known than his friends, Marcel was nothing short of brilliant. He developed an anarchistic style with visual rhymes full of scandalous poetry. His creativity and wit went beyond his initial lack of talent in drawing or painting. Resourceful, imaginative and humorous, he used a large variety of media. He loved to play with objects, imagery, words and toys to make his provocative art. He tackled taboo topics like sexuality or politics, often mixing both in a satyrical way. He turned traditions and preconceptions upside down.
I love Mariën’s dadaist side. Naive and wise, sophisticated and simple, subversive and playful. Like Man Ray or Duchamp, he loved women and the female form, a recurring subject in his works. He wasn’t afraid to make steamy political statements and although his amateur-ish style might confuse some, he was very aware and in control of his aesthetics. Matt Damsker put it too well when he said: ”On one hand, he sought to pay homage to his surrealist inspirations, while on the other, he, as a true Dadaist, was intent on painting a childlike moustache on the fine-art tradition, and he did so with a mixture of deadpan bravado and disarming glee.”
I love to find multidisciplinary artists, because I can relate to their restless spirit. This little-known but more than relevant Belgian surrealist led an adventurous life. His biography is full of great stories and pranks. He travelled the world, he was a war prisoner, a sailor on a danish cargo ship, forged bank notes and sold falsified paintings, both allegedly painted by Magritte himself. I invite you to explore this fascinating character, you won’t be disappointed.