Un Coup de Chance
The painting isn’t bad; the painting is “bad.” Loulou the Pomeranian feels the scare quotes vibrating the air around the frame, same as the loose brushwork makes the dry sky on the canvas vibrate. Paint bright, colors saccharine. The pig is fat and stands upright on two feet. The slate gray suit covering his turned pig-back makes him, supposes Loulou, a bourgeois pig.
It’s from his Sunlit period, so the master has set the image up to scintillate and wink, pretty and Renoir-like. But the content feels warlike, at least to Loulou. A strike designed by Magritte, who dresses like a bourgeois himself, to epater his own kind. To horrify his fans and his critics alike.
The cemetery is full of cypress trees – a symbol of mourning in classical antiquity. (Loulou would never pee on one.) Over his shoulder, the figure’s small black pig-eye gazes with the expression of a politician or businessman. His flesh –aka, thinks Loulou, his meat –is expertly rendered: big and delicious and disgusting and greasy like the bacon Georgette lets Loulou eat as a treat.
It’s supposed to be a work of profound triviality, but Loulou the Pomeranian perceives it as straight profound. Rustic and provincial. The war monument bedecked by a wreath in the background can’t help but be sentimental, but there’s no place for sentimentality in animal husbandry.
A stroke of luck, okay, but why? A stroke of luck that it isn’t raining in the picture, and the pig is practically cooked in a convection of sunlight? A stroke of luck that Loulou happened to be born a dog and therefore is stroked by loving hands? A stroke of luck not to be a pig and fall to the stroke of a knife, to end up with parsley in your ears and a lemon in your mouth. A stroke of luck not to be fodder for men or a man and a fodder for other men’s cannons.
Whatever they are, the figures in this painting look to Loulou the Pomeranian like the bishops from a chess set. Except that bishops don’t come with single, blue, unblinking eyes comprising the entirety of what might be their faces. Nor do they encounter each other in mute triumverates on dark-light, indoor-outdoor stages.
But are they chess pieces, or turned wooden table legs? Stair rails, or the handles of a children’s ball-and-cup toy? Max Ernst gave them a name: “phallustrades.” The master calls them “bilboquets.” If Loulou were playing against them, he’d be tempted to say, “Your move, Eyeball-Head.”
But he’s playing the master, because the master loves chess. “Avid,” Loulou says when he talks to Georgette. Man-versus-pom, they play each other regularly and are both okay-to-good, depending on the day. Loulou matches the color of his pieces to his fur—black to black or white to white: he’s a bunch of different dogs over time, so it changes.
The master plays almost everything as a serious game: “I don’t create paintings, I create reproductions in oil,” he claims to those trying to get him to say something sanctimonious on the subject of aura. His signature on each canvas coils, loopy and cursive, like a tight black spring. Like a thing waiting its turn. Poising for checkmate.
These games can be played within any setting, but the master does have an infatuation with curtains, with windows, with frames within frames. The object? To defamiliarize. To create an encounter with the hidden activities of the mind.
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor with Eric Plattner of The Selected Writings of René Magritte, forthcoming from Alma Books next year, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! (2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (2012). With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of the poetry collection That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008) and the chapbook The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go (Hyacinth Girl, 2013).