We know pigs are smart. But they may be even more intelligent than we think. Researchers in the US have discovered that pigs can move computer joysticks with their snouts while watching a screen. Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory showed “behavioural and cognitive flexibility”, report Professor Candace Croney and Dr Sarah Boysen, who trained the pigs using tasty treats.
I am hardly surprised. Pigs rock, both for the obvious reasons that they are pink and cute, but also because they are super-bright and talented. This became completely clear to me over lockdown.
I wanted an antidote to the anti-vaxxers, the Kardashians, footballers’ wives’ legal feuds, and Zooms on the terrorist mind. So I watched some lectures by the great primatologist and anthropologist Dr Jane Goodall.
After an hour or so, I came across her interaction with a South African pig. Goodall had received a painting from the woman who discovered her talent, Joanne Lefson, and had written her a letter of thanks. The picture Goodall received was by Pigcasso, the world’s only painting pig. Goodall had always loved pigs (a woman of taste!) and wrote that, as a child, she had befriended one she named Grunter.
Soon I was in Hog Heaven. Here I came face to snout with the “heavyweight Abstract Expressionist of the World”, the remarkably pink Pigcasso. Nothing could have cheered me up more.
The 2000-lb painting pig is world-renowned since she burst onto the art scene in 2017. Her partner-in-paint, Joanne Lefson, rescued the piglet when she escaped en route to a slaughterhouse and brought her to the Franschhoek Valley in the Western Cape.
Lefson discovered Pigcasso’s talents soon after they moved in together. Lefson had put toys in the pen to keep the obviously intelligent sow amused. After destroying everything, the frustrated pachyderm gravitated to the paintbrush. Once she got the hang of it, she wouldn’t let it out of her mouth. One thing led to another, she acquired her artistic name and now human and pig collaborate.
Or rather, Lefson puts the brush in the sow’s mouth, and Pigcasso does the rest. The paintings are quite extraordinary (see above ‘Algae’: by Pigcasso, owned by the author) and the website advertises that “connoisseurs are invited to invest in a Masterpiece”. Pigcasso has a fantastic array of work, from a black and white period to various colourful canvases, all with perfect pigmentation…Actually, they reminded me of black and white sketches I had seen by starchitect Frank Gehry at the Louis Vuitton foundation in Paris.
Pigcasso lives in Farm Sanctuary SA, where you can see her work displayed at the onsite Oink Gallery. Unfortunately, due to Covid, there are no snacks served when you visit, “unless you eat grass or hay”. Each original is signed with Pigcasso’s nose-tip and countersigned by Lefson.
The collaboration sparks more than just a debate about art. Pigcasso’s works sell for quite a bit less than her more famous Spanish namesake, but the money supports Lefson’s non-profit organisation that highlights the devastating effects of animal agriculture on climate change. Lefson’s mission is to have us think differently about what we eat. She wants to inspire consumers to make “more compassionate choices”.
Most pigs spend very short lives in pens the size of coffins. Yet they are more intelligent than our beloved pets. Churchill had it right: “Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” Only, some are more equal than others.
Pigcasso and Lefson have launched their own line of South African wine, and in 2019, Pigcasso partnered with Swatch. Maybe you really can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so to speak, and as Lefson says “It’s No Pig Deal”. All that Pigcasso needs to look more like the female Picasso she is, is the Dior beret with a veil that I found on one of my other online diversions.