Domestic Picasso

Domestic Picasso

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.

Picasso Dries the Dishes

Picas­so Dries the Dish­es 22″ × 28″

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.

Domestic Picasso

Domes­tic Picas­so 30″ × 60″

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 neightbour 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.

Feeding the baby


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?

Left: The Red Arm­chair 1  24″ × 36″ Right: The Red Arm­chair 2  24″ × 36″

Left: The Red Arm­chair 1 24″ × 36″ Right: The Red Arm­chair 2 24″ × 36″


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.

Tidying Up


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.

Left: Picasso does the vacuuming  18″ × 36″  Right: Picasso does the vac­u­um­ing (cubist) 25″ × 40″ (oval)

Left:Picasso does the vac­u­um­ing 18″ × 36″ Right: Picas­so does the vac­u­um­ing (cubist) 25″ × 40″ (oval)


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.

Changing Baby


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)

16″ dia.


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

Young Pablo cuts the grass 24″ × 36″


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.

Picasso peels the potatoes

Peel­ing Pota­toes 24″ × 36″


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


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 1Picasso takes the kids to daycare 2


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.

Toenail Painting


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.