René Magritte: perfect quarantine painter

Everyday I find it more difficult to express myself, or to be “productive.”  I’m not depressed.  Not suffering from anxiety. However, I am in some kind of heightened surreal state of metaphysical unrest.

Over a lifetime of earning, creating, and producing, both for myself and for my clients, I’ve taken deep introspective periods of time to remove myself, and spend time alone. This has been sufficient to write six books, cultivate a greater sense of who I am, and how I feel.  I’m accustomed to being silent. This time it’s different. 

It’s like I’ve always lived in a grand amusement park, that has suddenly stopped whirling—lights out! The biggest ride still calls for my attention, the rollercoaster: with her shiny silver rails stretching and contorting upward, like an abandoned sculpture. Just for metaphoric purposes, I shall call the derailed beast, the global economy. Will I fly from its tracks and crash, or are we all simultaneously waiting for the short fat kid to get out of line so we can resume the ride?

Alone in front of the “Fun House mirror,” my physical distortion is both amusing and troubling: my face is even more disfigured than normal. I am alarmed. Remember, there is no one in the park, I tell myself. You are looking too intensely and singularly. Well, maybe that’s how I really look?

Back at home; I stroll around my yard introspectively. There is an impulse to be in nature for assurance: clouds, sunshine, and beautiful flowers. Spring is raging with aliveness all around me.  Delighted by the flowers and newly formed leaves, I realize that I don’t know how to live in the untamed natural world beyond my driveway. My little claim on her is as in significant, and fussed-over, as a southern Junior League mother preparing her daughter for her first Cotillion dance.  

Today’s headline: “Worldwide Toll of Confirmed Virus Deaths Nears 100,000”

Even nature is no longer a sanctuary.

Mindless Internet searching occupies my time—but searching for what?  French news, that I can barely understand, followed by various social media platforms, switching to auction sites for ethnographic art, and finally landing on an article about the slave trade in Charleston, South Carolina. 

For an estimated 200,000 African slaves arriving to America, their first glimpse of the “land of opportunity” will be in quarantine on Sullivan’s Island in “Pest Houses” to avoid spreading possible disease to the colony.

I feel so removed from real human suffering.

My quarantine is different. I’m emotional, agitated, by the certainty of people suffering: the sadness, the inevitability of human pain. I can’t see it, but I feel it. I decide to call it “sad faith.”

My attention goes to art and I observe portraits and landscapes: classic and modern. Mindlessly taking in the compositions, colors, and textures until landing on a painting by René Margritte from 1966, “Decalcomania.” The painting kidnaps my attention. It is absolutely representative of my metaphysical unrest, and inverts my unrest to awe. 

This is what I am feeling. This is precisely what I am feeling in the form of a painting, that I can’t myself express, or paint.

A man, who feels like “wallpaper,” for which he has removed himself, and dares to face the abyss and dream alone.

He is unseen, existing, and floating freely in an ethereal stage set. In nature, yet abstracted from it.

He is suspended by his own thoughts, hopes, and aspirations, which oddly are utterly independent of others, yet intrinsically intertwined: the inner world and the outer world. His own sense of wellbeing juxtaposed by others pain, illusory, or not.

Somehow, this helps. Seeing Margritte in this light gives me hope. I leave the computer knowing that my walk in nature today won’t feel quite so sad, or alone.

by Lane Rockford Orsak
April 10, 2020


Trying to find peace of mind