Two paintings by Magritte

1. Le Plaisir, oil on canvas (1927)

Here is an image of sex, the transgression of forms and moral codes. The shape of the girl's skull reminds one of an Alex Katz painting. It is a mask which infers the hypnotic train of pleasure. Her food are the birds, mere symbols here of the flight and freedom of desire. Pleasure is part of the painting itself. The fluidity of linseed oil, the painting of the girl's chestnut hair. What an artist misses most when they are away from the studio is the simple, tactile process of their art, mixing and brushing on paint; the swish the brush at a particular speed across the canvas, loaded with a particular mixture and volume of paint.

The girl wears a blouse whose collar is fretted lace, a garment a chorister might wear, or a hand-me-down chosen by a parent. The birds too, seem quite Presbyterian. They sit there waiting to be had as if they belonged to the all-too-easy first level of a computer game. The hoopoe in Magritte's painting is green, suggesting sickness or envy (Hoopoes are orange). Or since the painting leans toward brown tones, the green key note balances its dirge effectively. In the Persian poem, The Conference of Birds, by Farid ud-din Attar, the Hoopoe gives reply to assembly of birds who are allegories of human vanity, representing, en masse, the bondage of Selfhood.

In Persian folklore, the Hoopoe is the symbol of virtue; in the Old Testament, considered unclean. "To deter predators when nesting, mothers and chicks have glands which produce a foul smelling liquid. This sticky fluid, which smells like rotten meat, is rubbed on the plumage to keep intruders at bay. The substances can also be squirted with deadly accuracy to deter marauding cats and humans. This is no doubt why the Old Testament declared the birds to be impure, Leviticus advising that they should not be eaten and Deuteronomy that they were not kosher"

The roughness of the tree bark. The tree ridiculously flat like a tapestry design or an Egyptian wall painting. The whole painting seems to owe some of its candidness to Henri Rousseau. This naivety helps to push the picture's eroticism: it is all too casual, it hides its subversion, its sinister intent. The young woman is in ecstasy, but to fuel her pleasure, she must devour: she must play upon the register of feeling. To do any more than this, pleasure must succumb to suffering, or to love.


2. L'Assassin menace, oil on canvas, 1927

The clothes of the dead woman are nowhere to be seen. How much can be read into that white cloth that is draped over the dead woman's neck like the garrotte and the fetish that kept the assassin's hand's clean. The clean white material represents the most intimate zone of this painting; but a perverse intimacy. That the cloth remains draped over the corpse suggests that it has been intrinsic in the act of violation. The fetish itself may still be charged: the blood that has splattered from the mouth of the victim during strangulation has not fallen on the white cloth.

The assassin is a sociopath and cannot resolve the problems he encounters in society through its approved methods. The assassin finds his own outlet which postpones the problem of having to join society by passing through the solution and then abandoning it. The assassin finds it difficult to reciprocate contact and therefore searches desperately and compulsively for something that will be engaging and will offer him the release of stimulation. Disgusted or disinterested by the things he has violated in order to extract an escape from his suffering, the assassin destroys the things that have failed to offer him engagement. The assassin's fidelity to his first victim, which is himself, remains.