Summer Retrospective, Part 4

Book Review: Life With Picasso, by Françoise Gilot & Carlton Lake


Femme Fleur, 1946

Life with Picasso is a memoir of Françoise Gilot’s decade as Picasso’s partner. She is perhaps most well known from Picasso’s portrait “la femme fleur,” but the woman is much more then a of couple leaves attached to a head with boobs.
The book is worth reading for those of you with an interest in art and the post WWII time period.

The books reads so easily. I was torn between wanting to zip through it and forcing myself to stop and take notes on all the insights and characters that she has scattered throughout the book. Gilot’s portrait of Picasso and his contemporaries, such as Matisse, Giacometti, and Paul Eluard brings a human element to these monoliths of the past century.

Notable jewels are observations of Picasso’s still lifes depicting food during World War II such as Still life with Skull, Pitcher and Leeks pictured below.  Given the context of how hard food was to come by towards the end of the war, the painting becomes especially poignant.Still Life with Skull, Leeks, and Pitcher, March 14, 1945

Here are a few notable tidbits about Picasso’s art philosophy taken from the book:

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 sculptor ought to be wet. p5.

This reminds me of what art means for people who truly live, breathe and exude it.

She explains some of his theories about having paintings be slightly out of whack and the poetry of a painting.

I want it to hold itself together- but just barely. p120.

His thoughts about artists working in general:

if he is really an artist it is in his nature not to want to be admitted, because if he is admitted it can only mean he is doing something which is understood, approved and therefore old-hat worthless. Anything new, anything worth doing, can’t be recognized. People just don’t have that much vision. So this business about defending and freeing culture is absurd. One can defend culture in a broad general sense, if you mean by that the heritage of the past, but the right to free expression is something one seizes, not something one is given. It isn’t a principle one can lay down as something that should exist. p197.

This is still a tenant of the future of art today.

Gilot’s portrait of Picasso is rife with personal anecdotes and art philosophy. It shows the incredibly romantic side, the controlling side, the childish side, and the genius of Picasso. Her dedication, admiration, and her understanding of how she eventually decides to leave Picasso after bearing two children by him. Following the book’s publication, Picasso cut Gilot, and their children, out of his life entirely. I admire Gilot for her grit.

I love this book because of the brutal honesty. The book is a wonderful window into the art world at the time. Françoise Gilot has an amazing perspective on life and dedication to her craft. The book is a gift.

Gilot,Françoise & Lake, Carlton (1964). Life with Picasso. Anchor Book. ISBN 0-385-26186-1.

By the way, Gilot is still kicking it, and she seems a very charming adorable old lady! I dig this Charlie Rose interview from 2012 about a joint show she had with Picasso at the Gagosian Gallery in NYC.

Currently Reading…

Surprise, surprise.  I am reading another book by a woman painter living in the same time period as Gilot.  House of Fear and Notes from Down Below is part memoir, part short story about the life of surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington.

In15th century Britain, Carrington would have been deemed a witch. Fortunately, she was born in 1917 and could embrace her weird self. Coming from a finely established family with an Irish mother and English father, Carrington broke free from her expected life’s trajectory by moving to France as a painter and joining the surrealist movement.

It was in France that she met Max Ernst.  She was 19 at the time, he was 46, but this was fairly common for women at the time.  She and Max quickly developed a relationship and created a rich dialogue captured in their paintings at the time. The book, Down Below, details the period of time that Carringon spent in an insane asylum following her breakdown at the onset of World War II.  Max was deemed ‘undesirable’ by the nazis and was taken to a concentration camp in 1940.  The original manuscript of the book was lost, but the manuscript was re-written upon the urging of Andre Breton and other surrealist voices who held Carrington as an embodiment of ‘femme enfant.’

This book embodies the ideology of surrealism; the act of going crazy, the devolution into nonsensical madness and the eventual submission to subconscious urges.  The fact that Carrington is a woman highlights  the undercurrent of sexism that was also in play in the movement. Down Below provides a personal insight into Carrington’s madness as she tells the tale of her horrifying treatment ‘plan.’ I have read so far through the section of the book titled, “House of Fear,” and found Carrington’s short stories to be wild and intriguing. They are full of fantastical animals and rich visual imagery, often exploring power struggles between herself and her family. This book is rather expensive on amazon but is available at the Chicago Library for reading on-site. So check your library!

Those are my summer highlights from 2015! Hope you enjoyed, now lets brace ourselves as the first signs of coldness sink in. At least Trudeau is head of the north 😉


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