Rene Magritte’s best-known work is called The Treachery of Images, but many viewers will probably recognize the droll surrealist masterpiece by another title, one that’s printed on the
lower portion of the painting itself. Writ large, the words proclaim Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (“This is not a pipe.”) Since the oil on canvas convincingly depicts a briar pipe – albeit one that
floats in midair -- the ensemble presents a decidedly mixed message. In the bargain comes a lesson in aesthetics, an invitation to ponder the meaning of reality, and a sly smile.
Let’s start with the obvious question: well, if it’s not a pipe, what then is it? Hidden in
plain sight, the answer defines the essence of modernity. It is first and foremost a painting, an object in its own right, manifesting a host of nuanced physical properties that collectively
encode its meaning. This particular object happens to evoke a pipe; but representational and
non-representational paintings alike are always just that: paintings. This pure
and simple truth has complex consequences.
So we’re agreed on the fact that Magritte’s Treachery of Images is not a pipe, because
it is instead an oil on canvas. Now here’s a tougher question. How do we classify the unique BMW sedan that that serves the latest and most ambitious canvas of the American
Expressionist Tom Christopher? Could we claim that this is not a car?
For starters, let’s admit that Christopher paints cars – literally and figuratively. This automotive motif has been a staple in his art for decades, where it represents a subset of
his focus on Manhattan’s urban landscape. These days, Christopher’s up to something startlingly new. The artist has taken to painting images of cars – and cyclists, and taxis, and
fleet-footed pedestrians negotiating their way through canyons of concrete – all swirling
across the hood, roof and chassis of an actual automobile, a sleek four-door
classic that looks to be moving at breakneck speed …even when parked!
After graduating from Art Center College of Design – that bastion of automotive design in Pasadena, California -- Christopher spent his early years working as an illustrator and
courtroom artist for venues such as CBS News and The Wall Street Journal. There he honed
his ability to capture a sense of character with alacrity, and he realized that
body-language matters mightily. Now, as then, Christopher recognizes the narrative potential
that inheres in reportage and he updates journalism’s well-known truism, to wit:
A car on the streets of New York isn’t news. But the streets of New York on a car, now that’s news!
Gerard Haggerty is an artist and writer who teaches at Brooklyn College, City University
of New York. His prose has been published in ArtNEWS, Art in America, Arts, and Artweek, among other venues. His work has also won the support of the National Endowment for the Arts,
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ford Foundation
Curating work for exhibit and book with Galerie Tamenaga, Paris in 2016