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Pablo Picasso in his Cannes studio, 1965. Photograph: Arnold Newman/Getty Images

Like many other artists (and many of them female), I take a detached and ironic stance with Picasso. There’s no arguing his impact on the trajectory of contemporary art. But thanks to the compelling book, Old Masters and Young Genuises by David W. Galenson, I have a better defined container in which to hold that eternally wild, narcissistic, thrashing entity we still feel writhing about even though his body has been dead for decades.

I plan to write more about Galenson’s book, but a very long and richly anectodal article about Picasso caught my eye. Some of this is just too good to not share, and if you like what you read here you can access the entire article from the link below.

From Peter Conrad, in the Guardian:

“Picasso,” the surrealist poet Paul Eluard said, “paints like God or the devil.” Picasso favoured the first option. “I am God,” he was once heard telling himself. He muttered the mantra three times, boasting of his power to animate and enliven the visible world. Any line drawn by his hand pulsed with vitality; when he looked at it, a bicycle seat and its handlebar could suddenly turn into the horned head of a bull. But he also took a diabolical pleasure in warping appearances, deforming faces and twisting bodies, subjecting reality to a tormenting inquisition.

Picasso’s behaviour was equally dualistic. In my recent conversations with people who knew him, I heard him compared to a saint, and was startled when a former model took him at his word and equated him with God. His biographer John Richardson, who lived near him in Provence during the 1950s, told me about the warmth and rollicking conviviality of the man: the genius was also genial. Others described a predator who gobbled up visual stimuli and wolfed down friends, employees and lovers.

***

Genius, for Picasso, was lecherous adolescence recovered at will… “By the end of his life, he knew he couldn’t compete with the avant-garde. Americans had taken over, bringing back the abstraction that he always despised. But he turned the studio in his last house into a microcosm, projected slides sent from the Louvre on the walls, and shut himself away to cannibalise the entire history of art. It was a triumphant end to his career, not a falling-off.”

I couldn’t help comparing the clutter of Picasso’s working space, strewn with relics, fetishes, props for his dressing-up games and the dung of his pet goat, with the gilded trophies and pedestalled neoclassical busts in Richardson’s princely pad at the bottom end of Fifth Avenue. The artist, working like a cyclone, throve in chaos; his biographer, with a tidier mind, is slowly imposing order on Picasso’s rackety life and refuses to rush to judgment before his knowledge of the subject is complete. I hope the tortoise catches up with the hare at the finishing line.

***

More than 50 years after she first posed for Picasso, Angela Rosengart recalled with an excited shudder the raking scrutiny of those eyes. “They burned,” she said. “He ate me with his eyes; you could feel him swallowing whatever he looked at. It was terrifying, exhausting, to sit there for two hours being looked at in that way, as if he were shooting arrows into me. I only really understood it much later when I read in John Richardson’s book about the mirada fuerte.”

Richardson, I noted, calls that unblinking gaze “an ocular rape”.

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