As much as I say & feel that I do not watch much television, being in Europe makes me start to suspect my assessment is a little off. This is reinforced by the amount of books that I go through away from the states. Halfway through my Parisian residency I always need to restock my bedside pile.
There are certain publishers which one can not go wrong in choosing almost anything by them such as NYRB and Green Intenger. The same goes in non fiction for certain authors. For art writing & biographies, it does not matter if you know or like the artists, anything by Jed Perl, Richard Ellman, Ross King and John Richardson is worth delving into.
To almost zero notice John Richardson passed away recently. He had become a gallerist, putting together some amazing Picasso shows, often in conjunction with the artist’s family. He wrote articles for such magazines as vanity fair. His earlier years he had sat at collector Douglas Cooper’s side, moving through (art) history, bearing witness to important events and also the behind the scenes dynamics. He wrote several fantastic books on this which shows the all too human side of great artists without ever lapsing into mere salacious gossip.
Perhaps the most important thing John Richardson did was the massive multi volume set on the life of Picasso. He was working on the fourth, final volume when he died. These volumes get into meticulous detail about the artist’s life, those around him and the times he lived in. Impressively, over the course of all the volumes Richardson manages to write without agenda, neither praising Picasso to the sky nor trying to tear him down. The artist as a talented yet imperfect man is presented.
Picasso is sometimes talked about as a magician for the protean way he seemed to conjure up new genres. He was mercurial in his ability to shift styles, often creating his own new ones before dropping them to birth a new phase. However, a point Richardson goes into and one which has become more public knowledge was that he did not spontaneously create from nothing. Picasso was a bit of a magpie. Direct contemporaries used to tell each other not to have works on display when he came to visit the studio or he would borrow ideas that he liked, making them his own. Many opted to turn unfinished canvas around to face the wall like an ill behaved child.
All artists wear masks out in public. Piccasso’s public persona was that of a sui generous, fully formed at birth. There is no disputing that the talent was there from the get go but like even the most individualized genius, he took from and was inspired by ideas from outside of himself. According to him, all his then radical ideas which freed up generations of painters were solely of his invention. There seemed to be a feeling that he would be a lesser titan were sources to be cited. Oceanic art, Matisse et al were kept hidden ingredients in his recipe book. Great trouble was taken on his part to hide or camouflage the sources not his own which he turned to gold.
To me, this always seemed oddly tragic as much time and energy was wasted on trying to cover up that which has become common knowledge. Even some of the poorer written biographies on Picasso now easily trace some of what ideas from others went into radically new and important works.
I am paraphrasing here but towards the end of the third volume it was said that he still possessed a virtuoso’s voice but with very little to say. I think part of this was that he was existing outside of the stream of life. The vitality of being in competition with his peers or if not that then at least among them at cafes, parties and studios serves as stimulation. Being surrounded by a crowd who hangs on your every word and who in one way or another are dependent upon you is not the same. On the first flush of huge fame it was more important to him that he keep his secrets. After that, that he not be wrong, corrected or not the alpha.
By comparison, artists like Renoir, Matisse, Calder and Giacometti even once famous and older, would make it a point to still put in appearances at cafes and studios to see what was new with the upcoming generations while chatting of their latest works.
All this inspired me. I would never waste any time nor effort in being secretive. If someone created an effect in one of their works which I do not know how to do, unashamed, I will ask “how?”. If anyone asks me about what equipment I use/used on a piece, i will gladly tel them. Much to my surprise, not all my peers are like this. Asking a slightly older painter how she achieved an effect, what she had used, I received a curt “watercolors”. When I politely asked for specifics it became clear she did not want to tell me. This is absurd as two people can have same recipe and ingredients yet when the dish is made they will be different from one another.
We should all feel free to ask away as none of us are Picasso.
When back in Europe I always have my painting kit & my sketch kit. Over the years the painting one is largely unchanged. A few colors added, a few taken out of the palette. My sketching kit is ever in flux. The Blackwing pencil & Kuro Toga .5 MM pencil being the two constants.
2019 Sketch Kit for the Road:
(Left to right )
Sharpener, .5 MM Kuro Toga, Staedler 2MM Lead Clutch, blender, two writing pen refills Waterman & Parker) Tombow Mono Zero eraser, two sided Faber Castell Lead extender, BlackWing Palomino w/Blackinwing Point Cap, Faber Castell 2B pencil w/Blackwing Point Cap, Faber Castell 7B w/Blackwing Point Cap, Staedler Eraser, two blenders Faber Castell HB Pencil, gum eraser, 2x 5MM Pentel Lead refills 4B & 2B, Pad of Sandpiper to custom hone Lead Clutch point, Rubber eraser (bottom)