familiar /fəˈmilyər/, adj.

René Magritte was one of those artists that I learned about through pure chance. When my English teacher in junior year of high school retired, she let her former students and classes that year (which included me) take their pick of the many prints and posters she’d collected for her classrooms over the years.

By the time my period was able to choose, many of the ones I’d eyed on her walls had already been taken. There was one, however, that I hadn’t seen before and caught my eye immediately: “The Human Condition,” painted by René Magritte.

The Human Condition_Magritte
“The Human Condition” | Photo Courtesy of ReneMagritte.org

The print displayed a canvas in front of a window, depicting the same landscape that appeared outside the window. It simultaneously made no sense and complete sense. I was able to wrap my mind around this painting—unlike my inability to comprehend other, more abstract pieces—which was enough for my high school self to roll it up and take it home proudly under one arm.

At home, a quick Google search led me to discover Magritte’s other works, many of which I immediately loved upon first viewing.

My fascination and appreciation of Magritte didn’t, and still doesn’t, come from my great understanding of art.

High school me likely enjoyed Magritte because she did appreciate his art style, but she also delighted in the way his work was genuinely complex. The color palette of a number of Magritte’s paintings could fall into the same aesthetic of the “Tumblr hipster” blogs she avidly followed. Magritte, however, was high-class enough to not be idly thrown into the same categorization of scorn from Internet users older than her. Liking Magritte, in short, made high school me feel like an adult.

Adult me, after visiting the SFMOMA’s Magritte exhibit and reacquainting herself with his paintings, continues to appreciate the accessible, but mind-twisting complexity of Magritte’s work. She, however, no longer dares compare Magritte to anything she’d find on Tumblr (probably because she is now even older than the Internet users who used to scorn the likes of her high school self).

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One figure from the series L’Empire des Lumieres (Empire of the Lights) | Photo by Courtney Cheng

The last time I wrote art commentary and analysis was in senior year of high school, and the last time I wrote an academic paper was also over two years ago, so I won’t even try to disappoint you with my attempts at art critique.

On a more personal level, revisiting Magritte’s work this past weekend and being able to introduce it to Candle Boy (who’d never seen any of Magritte’s paintings before Saturday), felt a little bit like coming home.

As mind-puzzling and “trippy” (as Candle Boy said at least 23 times through the entirety of the exhibit) as Magritte’s works continue to be in spite of the many times I’ve viewed some, they pull up memories of my junior year in high school when I asked my mom for a frame for the print I brought home from school that day. They remind me of my freshman year dorm, when I printed one of Magritte’s paintings to hang in front of my desk.

Walking through the SFMOMA exhibit on Saturday with Candle Boy and seeing the same familiar prints that I’ve known for the past eight years now reminds me that no matter how some things in life are always subject to change (where I live, what I do, where my friends are), certain things (what I love) will remain constant.

Magritte’s paintings are a giant brain teaser to have as a constant, but at least now, at home, I’ve graduated to looking at prints and postcards that I’ve officially bought with my own money.

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