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Pablo Picasso

Surrealism and Marie-Thérese

World War I and Olga Koklova

Olga Leaves

Certain of Picasso's new friends–besides Cocteau, there was also the Spanish painter Joan Miró and the French writers Louis Aragon and André Breton–began to form a new artistic group, called the Surrealists. They scorned rationality and technology and all the other values of the parental generation that led to the horror of world war, placing their faith instead in the alternate reality of chance, desire, coincidence, and dreams; the goal was to create art as "beautiful as the chance encounter, on an operating table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella." The word surrealism itself was coined in 1917 by Apollinaire to describe Parade, but it was not until a couple years later that the Surrealists became an organized avant-garde.

Picasso did not join the Surrealists; instead, they joined him. Breton, who acted as a sort of ringleader and chief manifesto-writer for the Surrealists, called Picasso "one of ours" in the fourth issue of Révolution surréaliste, in 1925; in the same year, Picasso showed some of his Cubist work at the first Surrealist group show.

Picasso never fully embraced the most characteristic technique of Surrealism– "psychic automatism in its pure state," as the first Surrealist manifesto put it, or letting the pencil or paintbrush wander over the paper without exerting conscious control, as in a hallucination, so that the image forms itself. But he was influenced by the interest that the Surrealists took in the unconscious as the mind's "dark side," filled with deep fears, inexpressible longings, and the most basic drives. While in his Analytical Cubist period Picasso had thought of the painting as a rigorous visual dissection of its subject, he now turned to a conception of painting as an expression of his unconscious, like a dream. While "The Dance," for instance, relied on a Cubist concept of space, there is nothing analytical about it; it is violently, explosively expressive. The dislocation of the joints of the frenzied bodies recalls Breton's statement that "beauty will be convulsive or not at all."

The rage of these paintings–sanctioned by the Surrealist idea of art as the dredged-up material of the unconscious, the spew of violence and eroticism that one can't express in polite society–has been linked to Picasso's frustration in his marriage to Olga. She was becoming tiresome, snobby, querulous; the two lived on separate floors of their home. Picasso's women always appear in Picasso's work, and are always represented with the utmost honesty; thus Picasso's art is also an incredibly detailed sexual autobiography. This autobiography extends through Picasso's surrealist works as well: rather than appearing as mere repeated graphic motifs, as Eva had in his Analytical Cubism phase, the women now emerged as bodies inflected, formed, and distorted by Picasso's feelings about them. During this period, Olga becomes, for Picasso, a horrid siren with a devouring maw.

Around the same period, in the late twenties, Picasso turned back to sculpture for the first time in nearly a decade. His motif, again, was the guitar, and his technique assemblage. But this time around, his choice of materials was more hostile; nails protruded aggressively from the surface and he even considered cementing razor blades into the frame of one of his works, so that any incautious touch would draw blood. But his sculpture was still conducted on a small scale, assembled like a collage; only later, with the help of the sculptor and metalworker Julio González, in what would become his most fruitful artistic collaboration since his work with Braque, was Picasso able to realize larger-scale, metal sculptures.

Meanwhile, turning away from his wife, Picasso found a new love, a girl named Marie-Thérese Walter. As she recounted later, "When I met Picasso, I was seventeen. I was an innocent child. I knew nothing–about life, about Picasso. Nothing. I had been shopping in the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me coming out of the metro. He just took me by the arm and said: 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together.'" The two fell very much in love and her presence permeated his art throughout the duration of their liaison. As one of Picasso's friends said, "At no other moment in his life was his painting so undulating, all sinuous curves, rolling arms, and swirling hair." Two portraits of Marie-Thérese as she dozes, both filled with bright, pure colors, smooth lines, and an atmosphere of serene sensuality more typical of Matisse than of Picasso, typify his work under her museship.

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