This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – January 2012.
I have read several books by and on Picasso, but “Life with Picasso” by Françoise Gilot shades a very different view on the artist’s life.
Françoise Gilot, as painter, brings an artist’s view on Picasso’s life, like the photograph Brassaï did when he published a book on his encounters with Picasso. She can give an accurate description of Picasso’s technique for paintings, lithographs or sculptures.
Sunday Times' article reproducing the interview from the Sydney Morning Herald
The striking difference with Brassaï’s knowledge of Picasso is that Françoise Gilot was one of the women in Picasso’s life. She lived with him from 1943 (when she was 21) to 1953 and they had two children together: Claude and Paloma Picasso. She also left him. As she put it in an interview she gave in 2011 to the Sydney Morning Herald: “I am the only woman who didn’t sacrfice herself to the sacred monster.”
On the artistic side, Picasso acted as a mentor to Françoise. He would set her some exercises and direct her research in new directions. She admired his great focus and commitment:
“One of the qualities I had admired most about him was his intense power of self-concentration to unite and direct his creative energies. He attached no importance to the facade of living. Any roof would have suited him, so long as he could work under it. He spent no time on "entertainment": we almost never went to the theater or the movies.”
This intimate portrait of Picasso shows a deep apreciation of his work but also describes how manipulative and cruel Picasso could be.
Pablo had a prima donna attitude to life. He liked to have people around him and be the centre of attention. A notable exception was his relationship with Matisse. Both men showed mutual admiration and respect. Françoise Gilot explains it clearly in a few words:
“Pablo had almost a reverence for Matisse because Matisse's manner reflected an inner balance, a calm that brought peace even to a man like Pablo. Also, I think that Matisse had eliminated from his thinking any sense of rivalry, and this made their friendship possible.”
The book contains some interesting quotes from Picasso. Here are two examples:
“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things.”
“If a sculpture is well done—if the forms are perfect and the volumes full—and you pour water from a pitcher held over the head, after it's run down, the whole sculpture ought to be wet."
Henry Moore, Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, 1973, cast bronze - San Francisco
“It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work. By trying to express his aims with rounded-off logical exactness, he can easily become a theorist whose actual work is only a caged-in exposition of conceptions in terms of logic and words.”
Henry Moore, in “Notes on sculpture” (“Writings and Conversations” – Edited by Alan Wilkinson)
David Hockney has a new exhibition title A bigger Picture at the Royal Academy in London.
The big pictures are made of multiple square canvasses painted on site by the artist. He did this first for his 2004 exhibition. The exhibition also features a few pictures from the sixties.
David Hockney is a special case in the art world: he is a representational painter in an era where conceptualism gets all the hypes. He is proud to paint all the works by himself. No assistant holding the brush… His painting is anchored in tradition. Like Constable, he goes outside to paint. Like Monet, he captures the seasons and comes back time and time again to the same spot in Yorkshire.
David Hockney is far from retrograde. He makes good use of technology:
for his large works composed of multiple canvasses, he uses a computer to see the whole picture as he could only get ten pieces at one time in his studio.
He has been painting on his iPad® for a long time;
He also put together a battery of nine cameras mounted on a car to capture a global view of the Yorkshire countryside. He got the idea from the way he built larger pictures using nine canvasses (three times three).
David Hockney gave some interviews around the show. In particular, he talked to Andrew Marr on BBC4 Radio. Here are a few good quotes from this interview:
“I am interested in depiction, meaning what does the world looks like, what we think it looks like.”
“An artist can support hedonism, but he can’t be a hedonist himself, because artists are workers – by definition they work.”
“Things look green when you are looking at them here but on a bigger scale, it is a calmer green isn’t it? It’s a herd colour to use a lot of. (…) Turner avoided greens. Abstract painters don’t use green, because it evoques landscape.”