A hot-air balloon in the form of an eye soars above a marshy landscape, bearing a severed head on a plate. “Mounting toward infinity” is how Redon described this mysterious creature/contraption, which, released from the mind and the body, leaves behind the physical world to explore what lies beyond. In fin-de-siècle Paris, Redon was celebrated by Symbolist poets for his interest in making visible the world of dreams and fantasies. “My originality,” he wrote, “consists in bringing to life, in a human way, improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting—as far as possible—the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible.”
Harnessing the suggestive power of charcoal, Redon evoked the unknown and the fantastic not only in the subject matter of his work but also in its form. At once descriptive and evanescent, the diffuse pigment creates an atmosphere beyond what is merely represented—for instance, in the way the blurred and erased charcoal around the eye-balloon charges the sky with a foreboding nebulousness. Redon called his charcoal drawings noirs (blacks), linking the medium to its color and making the drawings’ materiality central to their mystery. His use of charcoal points to something beyond the visible, a darkness that can only be felt.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)