The Image of the Image (the Content of the Painting as a Double of its Form)

“Perhaps, the time has come to acknowledge that the imaginary middle road (the idea that our conversation with others should follow the path of avoiding extremes of hypocritical etiquette and unwarranted intruding obscene intimacy) has to be supplemented with both of its extreme poles: the “cold” discretion of symbolic etiquette which allows us to maintain a distance towards our neighbors, as well as (exceptional) risks of obscenity which allow us to establish a link to the other in the real of his/her jouissance.” Slavoj Zizek


Paul Delvaux, “Le canape bleu”, 1967

Our eyes are the eyes of our unconscious – they still believe that the visual image is the window to the world, not comment about it, not attempt to construct an alternative world. Eyes don’t understand that the image can deliberate about itself, be its own philosophy and not just imitate the surface of the reality. They are addicted to a permanent naturalistic illusion (unless they start to learn from our thinking). Only rare occasion of meeting film-directors and artists with a developed analytical consciousness can break the symbiosis of our sight with objects of the world that jump into our eyes like into our arms.

Delvaux is one of those rare artists who are capable of deconstructing the visual field (of our sight) that we perceive as a kind of Alpine meadow where we like to stroll along walking over the flowers of our visual impressions. We walk through it with our sight – we transform our eyes into our feet. But Delvaux doesn’t let us be pedestrians on visual images. He wants us to take boots off our eyes. He seduces us only to pour the icy water on our pleasant perceptual agitation – he shows us female bodies only to take them away by a cold from another world he injected into his female protagonists. He gave them to us naked only to withdraw them by dissolving their nakedness into suspended, empty nudity impeccable but dead.

Delvaux destroys the naturalistic illusion of our perception by transforming the image of human being into the image of the image of the human being (image of the woman into the image of her image). Delvaux destroys and debunks the mimicry of “realistic” art (art with meaning that is incapable to deviate from “naïve” visuality). He at first deceitfully “imitates” an art which is on its knees in front of ready-made visual impressions (conformist art) in order to in the next moment sadistically triumph over it by taking away from us the world he just generously put on the laps of our perception. Delvaux’s image of the image of the woman (the image of woman’s image) is her representation as belonging to other universe, as a creature with a woman’s body but without a woman’s soul, as a bodily surface that is frighteningly stuffed with the unknown material.

Look at seductively exposing herself, on the blue sofa, female. If you are not the one who dives into the beloved woman like a hunting eagle into waves for the fish you will notice the incompatibilities immanent in the image of the blue sofa (signifying the motif of the seduction). The non-realistically real opening of the woman’s tights contradicts the graceful fragility of the sofa. Relaxed but expressive gesture of her left hand can be taken as an invitation, but there is not enough space on the decorative sofa for two human bodies. Besides, the sofa is too short and too “antique” – it can too easily break under any enthusiastic gesture.

The light in the background is rather the one of alertness, not the one that stages a relaxation. The tiny figure of the man on the left in the depth of the yard is, it seems, a role model for the male viewers of the painting who should not cross the magic distance between the stony yard of the real life and the ritualistic interior (with the persistently irresistible model on the blue sofa) with any attempts of an imaginary frivolity.

But who is the woman on the right covered with her hair-mantilla while simultaneously exposing herself? And what is she doing with small candlelight amidst the space dominated by the alerting whitish light? May be, she is looking for a dark corner to hide from our gaze? Who is she – a companion, a partner, a servant, an Amazon-guard? She can be the personification of the blue-sofa woman’s real self which doesn’t want her to demonstrate herself to men-viewers. Blue-sofa woman exhibitionistically exposes herself to us in spite of her desire to be just in the dark corner of life! Why? – Just to tease us according to Delvaux’ will and take pleasure from or, conversely, hating doing it? Or just to do it without being aware of the purpose, just to assert her will in spite of the absence of reason and sense?