Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920, a single child of a poor family. His mother wanted him to leave school as soon as possible so that he could start bringing money into the home. Aged 15, Marien became apprentice to a photographer – initially undertaking menial roles, but later setting up a home studio to develop his own projects.
Initially, he could not paint or draw, so he instead used a wide variety of media, including collage, decoupage, drawing, painting, toys, household items and even a reproduction of a Michelangelo fresco. With this anarchistic approach, he was acknowledged as the initiator of the Surrealist technique of étrécissements.
Throughout his career, he produced hundreds of humorous, puzzling and provocative tableaux that challenge and mock preconceptions and taboos.
In 1939 he enlisted in the Belgian Army to fight in World War II, but was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Germany. Following his release, he returned to Brussels and, in 1943, wrote and published the very first monograph on Magritte.