Portraits of Picasso
October 18, 1996
There's a scene in the new Merchant-Ivory film, Surviving Picasso, in which Anthony Hopkins, in the eponymous role, tells two of his lovers that they must fight over the right to be his -- and then proceeds to paint away in bemused disregard as they slug it out. The work in progress was "Guernica," though film viewers wouldn't know it; a nasty copyright dispute prevented the filming of any of Picasso's artwork. For this sort of important detail, one has to return to the book upon which Surviving Picasso is based: Arianna Stassinopoulous Huffington's Picasso: Creator and Destroyer. Prior to the book's publication, an excerpt, also titled "Picasso: Creator and Destroyer," appeared in the June, 1988, issue of the The Atlantic Monthly.
Huffington's profile reveals an endlessly talented and intensely passionate manipulator who viewed his works not as art but rather, as Huffington put it, as weapons "against every emotion of belonging in creation, against nature, human nature and the God who created it all." Picasso's prolific creativity, Huffington argues, was fueled by his brutal candor and studied indifference to people and to social convention, traits that induced seething frustration in those who worked and lived with him.
Françoise Gilot, who first met (encountered might be a better word) Picasso in Paris in 1943, was arguably the most influential figure in Picasso's life. Picasso found in Gilot an intelligent female (forty years younger than he) who did not conform to his stereotypical view of women as either whorish or holy. The attraction was irresistible and the relationship, though at times turbulent, provided him both with creative nourishment and a measure of domestic stability.
The opening scenes of Surviving Picasso, which depict Gilot's and Picasso's first meeting in Picasso's expansive Paris studio, closely parallel the opening passages of Gilot's August, 1964, article in The Atlantic, titled "Pablo Picasso's Love: La Femme-Fleur." Much of the dialogue that ensues in the film derives from Gilot's memoir.
One of the chief successes of Surviving Picasso is that it draws attention to Picasso's very human complexities, an awareness of which affords fresh perspectives on his art.
Those whose interest in Picasso has been sparked by the film will also want to read "Picasso Speaking," Carlton Lake's account in the July, 1957, Atlantic of an exclusive interview with Picasso. How exclusive? At one point Lake quotes Picasso as saying, "I don't know what's got into me. I never talked like this to anyone in my life before." The interview is peppered with the artist's frank ruminations on everything from "Guernica" to his proud membership in the Communist Party to why an apple isn't necessarily an apple.
Whether it inspires awe, incomprehension, or both, Picasso's vast and eclectic body of work has had an obvious influence on everything from contemporary painting and sculpture to advertising and architecture. Browse the Atlantic articles we've gathered here for an inside look at the one of the twentieth century's most intriguing personalities.
See Surviving Picasso (a cartoon)
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.