I was in the south of France in April 2011, staying with friends, and for the first time I visited the Picasso museum in Antibes. After, I was going on about how amazing Picasso was when Kristine, my host, said, “Yes , but all he had to do was paint. He had women to wait on his every need.”
This statement percolated in my head for some weeks until this idea emerged: I would imagine Picasso as a truly modern artist, a liberated man, and I would make him do housework. Misogynist becomes feminist.
With the intention of creating pieces in Picasso’s many styles, I started with one of his self portraits, reversed it and made him dry a bowl. A small gesture, but after it came an avalanche of ideas.
In his twenties Picasso did recognizable self portraits but in his later work he made himself iconic, appearing as the bearded sculptor, the minotaur, even a water pitcher. My domestic Picasso is based on his self portraits, on photos of him and on my own cartoonish versions made from whole cloth (canvas). I’ve had to conduct an intensive study of both his art and his life, and my amazement at his achievements has only been enhanced by examining the work so closely. I am making fun of him, but my respect for the artist is overwhelming.
Still, as a painter living in the time after “painting has died,” I can’t help but feel that Picasso was a major force in the acceleration of “isms” that led to painting’s demise (and now its slow and confused resurrection). In some sense this work is about taking Picasso down a peg, taking revenge on him for setting the bar so high, for appropriating so much territory through genius and theft. I’m making fun of Picasso by making him do housework. The title piece, “Domestic Picasso,” sums it up. Picasso is in an apron, in a kitchen. I’ve given him stainless steel appliances, a fridge and stove. He is naked except for a harlequin patterned apron. He does not look amused. In fact if he could get at me, he’d beat me senseless with his wooden spoon.
These works are acts of irreverence and blasphemy that are also reverent and worshipful.
Though painting is exploited as fashion and/or investment, at heart it is magic. Think of Picasso’s strange totem assemblages that he kept in his own collection all his life. Applying pigment to a surface to bring something to life is a magical act. It makes something from nothing.
PICASSO HELPS THE NEIGHBOUR LADIES HANG CURTAINS
The canvas of “Les demoiselles d’Avignon,” all eight feet almost square of it, is lined. John Richardson, Picasso’s epic biographer, suggests that the canvas was too thin and that he had to double it in order for it to stand up to the amount of painting he wanted to do, but he doesn’t really know. Perhaps Picasso lined it to make it less bouncy. Maybe the original canvas was torn. Did Picasso stretch his own canvases? I know he briefly had an assistant and in later years he sent Jacqueline to Cannes to pick up supplies. I want to know how and why he created what he did. Very few books on artists talk in a credible way about how the artist did the work. My reworked “Desmoiselles” is unlined. I’ve made it half the size of the original, and completely square, which left me with a bit more horizontal room. Clothing the figures has reduced their “in your face” quality, which in the original is also enhanced by all that orange. My ladies aren’t meant to be confrontational. Picasso is the man, willing to help out with his large, cordless drill. It’s a Dewalt, a good professional tool. The woman down front is turned around from the original and, in her manly shirt and slacks, she’s pouring tea. It’s time to stop work and have a cuppa.
Picasso appears in his Minotaur alter ego. He tenderly cradles his baby, readying himself to offer the bottle. Father and son don’t look much alike but the baby does have bumps on his head, so I suppose he will grow horns and get hairy with time. Or is it that he’ll grow hair and get horny with time?
The model has taken her sheet and left. The only trace of her is the picture on the wall, a scary bald many-toothed creature about to swallow a large sardine. Picasso is giving the chair a good vacuuming. He likes this chair. At first he was much more amoeba-like and very pink and naked, with a little cock and balls. I relented and gave him shorts. Then I regretted relenting and I did a second painting like the first version, only more intense.
This is another piece like “Red Armchair.” The model has finished her bath and the water has been emptied from the tub, which is tipped upright in front of the bureau. Picasso is busy making the bed.
PICASSO DOES THE VACUUMING
and PICASSO DOES THE VACUUMING IN A CUBIST STYLE
These two are based on the same drawing. The latter was my first foray into cubism. It was difficult to know where to start, looking at cubist pieces analytical through synthetic, trying to get the hang of what they are about, especially the pieces that look like a pile of facets with only a few little hints of image. A hundred years later, I’m not sure what all the fuss was about. Cubism seems pretty silly. In its time I guess it was revolutionary. I know it’s heresy, but I never really cared for Cezanne. There I’ve said it: so stone me.
PICASSO TAKES OUT THE GARBAGE
This one is for Doug Boutilier, my fellow artist, now resident of Nova Scotia, who for six years hosted the Drinking and Drawing Club of Utica in his high-ceilinged studio. He ran away to escape from us all. When I tell artist friends about the Domestic Picasso concept, they love to jam on it too, and Doug wanted Picasso to take out the garbage.
My first sketch featured trash cans and a discarded canvas. I think it was by Jackson Pollock or maybe Picasso was trying out drip painting in private. In the final version, Picasso is the Dryad carrying a couple of plastic garbage bags. Maybe I should do the first idea too.
PICASSO WATERS THE FLOWERS
There are relatively few flowers in the Picasso oeuvre. Jacqueline is a flower in a later piece and there are palm trees out windows but very few blooms. After I did the piece, I read in Richardson about how Picasso loved the philodendron, and how Marie Therese was associated with the plant. Then I found a Picasso painting with a philodendron in it. In my painting there is only a spider plant. Richardson tells the story of Picasso going away and leaving the philodendron in the bath tub. When he got back it had grown down the drain and he had to call a plumber. Sounds far-fetched to me. If you put a houseplant in the tub because you’re going away, you put the plug in, so the inch of water you’ve set the plant in won’t run out. For a short guy Picasso told a lot of tall tales.
It’s a gross job but somebody’s got to do it. I’d be very surprised if it was something Picasso ever did. My kids went to a co-op daycare where parents did shifts. Being in “Babies” and having to change other people’s kids’ shitty diapers, especially after the kitchen fed them garlic chick peas? You haven’t lived. So here’s Picasso holding up his baby’s leg and getting set with the wipes. I know what I’m talking about. The inspiration for Picasso’s head is the figure on the left in “The Dance” with that strange psychotic-looking head, but the angle was all wrong so I had to make it up. The wallpaper is similar though. The baby comes from an early mother, father and baby picture by Picasso. He’s drawn the mother and father badly, but the baby has a nice connected vibe. It might not be recognizable now. After I go over a Picasso drawing a few times, it ceases to be a Picasso drawing and starts to be mine. And I ain’t no Picasso.
TARTE TATIN – CUBIST STYLE
I think I followed the rules, at least for cubism at one point in time: see things from many sides and over a passage of time.
So the apples are peeled, then sliced into the frying pan on top of the caramelized sugar, and the dough is rolled out and the oven is up to temperature and the various connecting spaces become architectural features and table legs become ladies’ legs and titles are rolled into the pastry and rolling pins come with directional info.
I stuck in Ma Jolie for Picassophiles.
It was a picky painting, Those little dashes that are all though Picasso’s cubist pieces take time to do. Picasso did the work. His pieces are very rarely banged off. Given his output, the care he took with individual pieces is mindboggling.
YOUNG PABLO CUTS THE GRASS
He’s a teenager and he’s cutting Gertrude’s lawn in front of her grand, columned residence. She’s overseeing his work from her rocker on the verandah. Alice has left her high-backed chair to retrieve something. Perhaps Gertrude has asked her to fetch pen and paper so she can record one of her wisdoms. The piece is anachronistic but it speaks to deeper truths, and it’s based on a self-portrait that Picasso never wanted to part with. It doesn’t look like him but the figure does look young. Maybe it worked like the portrait of Dorian Gray, as a youth totem. She’ll probably under-pay him. He’ll take his revenge when he paints her portrait. “For me it is I.” says Gertrude, but when you get there there’s no there there. Still a rose is a rose is a rose.
This was Robert Wiens’s addition to the project. He wanted Picasso to be peeling a potato but unable to resist carving it. Of course Picasso’s sculptures of Marie Therese look remarkably like potatoes.
To enhance the engorgement of that relationship, I have included the amaryllis on the window ledge and manhandled the pot handle. The sink faucet is in a more reposed mood. It was a surprise to me that this piece turned out so pastel. What does that mean?
DINNER IS RUINED ( AND OLGA WILL BE HOME ANY MINUTE)
Of course this is “ Weeping woman with handkerchief” recast as weeping Picasso with an oven mitt. He must have got distracted and now dinner has burned. Panic.
PICASSO TAKES THE KIDS TO DAYCARE — VERSION ONE & VERSION TWO
After I did the first I realized that Picasso never allowed half a figure to run off the page. Furthermore, he would have made the background much more interesting and wouldn’t have used areas of solid colour, especially grass green. His colours would have been less primary. In the second version, I added the house and the water, a boat and gates and trees. I made the colours more subtle. Later I went back to the first painting and made the kids more sculptural and added a tree and a rainbow. I thought about making the kids in version two more defined but I chickened out.
One of Picasso’s alter egos is the bearded painter/sculptor. Here he is painting the toenails of a young lovely sitting naked on the couch. She came from a newspaper clipping of a Picasso painting that someone had stuck in one of my reference books. Originally, she was in a group of ladies having her hair brushed. It was a happy coincidence that both figures were in the same scale. I drew in the couch and his footstool, put in a hardwood floor and a rug and hung a large ornately framed painting on the wall. The painting is of a Roman soldier with a whip commanding slaves and oxen as they build an aqueduct.
After I was done I wondered what Freud (not Lucien) would have made of all this. Perhaps the toenail painter is enslaved by his passion, willingly serving at her feet, and the master/slave relationship is reinforced by the soldier/slave painting. As Mick would disclaim, “I’ll never be your beast of burden,” but then goes on, confusingly, to ask why his love object wants nothing to do with him (“ain’t I rich enough?”).
So this silly painting has a lot to say about the relationship between the sexes and the nature of compromise. For there to be equality, the master must take a turn as slave. Equality requires the ones in control to relinquish power to those being ruled. It’s a great challenge for the future of mankind. Domination and subservience are much easier concepts to implement. Compromise requires much more work and constant vigilance.