Wednesday, 19 August 2009


I recently got a chance to offload one of my favourite anecdotes as a comment on Mike Johnston's blog. It's simply the best non-theoretical insight into the Long Debate on "representation" I know of. Here it is again:

"Just then my eye was caught by an unframed canvas standing on a shelf above Jacqueline's head and to the right. It was a portrait of a girl—Jacqueline, I would have said—in tones of green and black and white. She was shown in profile, looking off to the left, and Picasso had given the face a mildly geometrical stylization built up of triangular forms which emphasized the linear treatment but at the same time preserved the likeness. I pointed to the painting. 'How would you explain to a person whose training made him look on that as deformation, rather than formation, why you had done it that way?' I asked him.

'Let me tell you a story,' Picasso said. 'Right after the Liberation, lots of GIs came to my studio in Paris. I would show them my work, and some of them understood and admired more than others. Almost all of them, though, before they left, would show me pictures of their wives or girl friends. One day one of them who had made some kind of remark, as I showed him one of my paintings, about how 'It doesn't really look like that, though,' got to talking about his wife and he pulled out a tiny passport-size picture of her to show me. I said to him, 'But she's so tiny, your wife. I didn't realize from what you said that she was so small.' He looked at me very seriously. 'Oh, she's not really so small,' he said. 'It's just that this is a very small photograph. ' "

—Picasso, interviewed in The Atlantic, July 1957

In the best version of the story, which I've never managed to source, Picasso then turns over the photo and exclaims, "My God! You poor man! She's also completely flat!!"

Owl contemplating butterfly on cheek
Mapperton Manor, Dorset

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