how would he paint?


In 1945, Pablo Picasso was invited to illustrate the elegiac Le Chant des morts, a book of poems by Pierre Reverdy that contemplates mortality after World War I. Yet when the publisher sent him a sample written in the poet’s handwriting, Picasso thought it “almost a drawing in itself.” Inspired by the shape of Reverdy’s script, Picasso crafted bright red, fanciful calligraphic images for the book, offsetting the poems’ melancholy and calling attention to the material presence of the page itself—what art historian Irene Small refers to as “a registration of painting pulled into the physical space of writing.” Picasso had long been fascinated with the correspondence between image and text; in his “papiers collés,” 1912–14, he famously collaged fragments of newspaper, inviting the viewer to read into the surface of the canvas; later, he treated newspaper pages as grids on which he composed figural drawings and paintings. Picasso also tried his hand at writing. In 1935, suffering from a bout of artist’s block, he stopped painting and, for one year, zealously wrote poems instead. (His friend and patron Gertrude Stein was not a fan.) In reconciling his personal obstacles as an artist, Picasso declared, “i will no longer paint the arrow / we see in the drop of water / trembling in the morning.” Here, he rejects not only representation (pointing where to look and how) but also signification (painting as a visual trick that portends something it is not). But without these foundations, how would he paint?

more from Stefanie Sobelle at Bookforum here.