I have often in mind how one summer (1907) the young Picasso left his girlfriend in their upstairs apartment and hid out in the basement drawing and drawing. It is said that he made some 700 sketches, on his way to the breakthrough which we know of as Les demoiselles d’Avignon. I have a book containing a few dozen of these sketches, and while there are some striking ones, the overall sense is of doodling, of an artist working within his own mind, trying to let something unknown out.
Often I think that I am in the process of making (with less dramatic result!) my 700 sketches, and this though I have no basement (or girlfriend raging on a higher floor), and although I have never been a doodler. My drawing is always of an external something: a model, a landscape, a still life, a photograph of another artist’s work.
Returned from a long vacation (a true vacation, not drawing or writing as I went), I have wanted to do some unknown to me, yet new kind of work. While walking around Paris I had sketched a few lines of a short poem. After I got home, in two days—6 hours the first and 4 hours the second—I worked and reworked these lines until I got to something stable—the painting, let’s call it: the poem Au Palais-Royal, Paris, 2019. (As with many of my short poems these days, it’s in three versions or voices: French, English and Spanish.) So my question to myself became: How might I do something like this in my artmaking—moving from one of my quick charcoal sketches of a model to some sort of drawing or watercolor painting that I could rework and rework until it reached such a “stability”?
In Norbert Wolf’s book Expressionism I came across a reproduction of Franz Marc’s 1912 Die kleinen gelben Pferde (standard English title: The Little Yellow Horses). Wolf’s accompanying explication includes this line: Marc “never lost himself in details, and for him the animal was only one element in the whole”. Marc is quoted in translation: “We will no longer paint forests or horses in the way they appeal or appear to us, but how they really are, how a forest or a horse themselves feel, their absolute being”.
In am no neo-German-Romantic, nor seeking to elevate art into a new religion (with, say, as in Marc, each color having a symbolic meaning—blue representing “the male principle, severe and intellectual”; yellow the female, gentle, joyful, sensual . . . But, sitting outdoors—in a comfortable chair, on a lawn, near a fountain—I first made a rough (and not well drawn) version of Marc’s oil painting. And then, using some of the same tools—pastels, water-soluble color sticks, and an eraser—I made a version of one of the charcoal sketches I had done of a nude female model.
This is the “image of the week”.
Top image: Picasso, Femme nue au bras levé, 1909, Musée Picasso, Paris. Reproduction found in Hiromi Matsui, De l’apprentissage du dessin à la naissance d’une nouvelle représentation du corps humain, Colloque Revoir Picasso, 25 mars 2015. N.B.: This sketch is from 1909, not 1907, but was chosen for how my own drawing, in color (and shown again here at right), is in some dialogue with the Picasso work.
Book: Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon: Carnet de dessins, présentation par Brigitte Leal (Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1988, 1994). Published in coordination with an exhibition at the Musée Picasso in Paris, 1988.
Book: Norbert Wolf, Expressionism (Taschen, 2019).
Middle image: Franz Marc, Die kleinen gelben Pferde (The Little Yellow Horses), 1912; in the collection of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.