Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Genius of Picasso and The Curse of Convenience

The Genius of Picasso
Picasso famously said, "I find. I do not look". He also said: "Look and you will never find." Many have remarked that these two messages from the mouth of a genius are obtuse and incomprehensible. But in fact Picasso is saying something profound. Put another way, Picasso once remarked that in order to create one has to 'kill' art. In other words, if one stands before Da Vinci or Ingres or Gainsborough, one is in awe at the mastery of the painter's brush. Picasso would remark that in order to develop new ideas in art, once must forget or kill everything that one has learnt or even seen before. Let us not forget that Picasso created new art genres such as cubism (along with Braque) and all of his life, he literally pushed the boat out as far as it would go. His painting Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, with its mask-like faces looking straight ahead but with the nose painted sideways or at the wrong angle completely of a regular face, so horrified even his closest friends that they derided Picasso vigorously for creating a painting that was ugly in the extreme. Picasso frequently would get exasperated with anyone who would endlessly question his motives or inspiration in his art. To him, art was who he was. Whether what he did was good or bad, he left to the critics to decide- and there were many. But let us return to the enigmatic statements, "I find. I do not look,' and "Look and you will never find."

Picasso questioned the existence of truth. He believed that absolute truth could not in all probability exist but rather the process of doing, of being was in essence living one's truth. This concept that more recently has appeared in all manner of self-help manuals such as How to Find Mr. Right and Keep Him From Running Off With Your Best Friend. One frequently hears that one needs to live one's truth. In Picasso's day, (he died in 1973 at the age of 92), how ironic that instead of espousing theories or telling others how to live, here was a man who silently went about revolutionizing art and the process of being without seeking accolades or writing flowery prose explaining why truth is merely an interpretation of some idea, or as Picasso himself declared it, a lie. Picasso possessed an amazing vitality that many remarked upon- unsurprisingly, he fathered his last child at 67. When Picasso was not painting, he was writing, illustrating, making ceramics or sculpting. He also favoured company and maintained enduring friendships throughout his life. Picasso was famous for his conquests of the opposite sex and was never without a lover. He remarried yet again at the age of 80. Perhaps it is useful to mention that Picasso smoked a lot (and managed to live to a ripe old age). I mention all of these things, as they are proof of what is the elusive truth we all seek. I find it refreshing to be reminded of Picasso's greatness not just as a creator of unforgettable art but as a human being- flawed yet brilliant. Flawed like the rest of us but a genius too because he allowed himself to be one.

For example, when Picasso developed cubism, he was seeking to pare everything down to a simple and uncluttered state. This is achieved by reducing all the objects in a painting to geometric shapes- cubes, cylinders, spheres etc. and by so doing, depicting the very essence of the object. Cubism was a radical change from traditional painting by subsuming colour to form. Consider this, if you look at a portrait, you see a beautiful face or you see an aspect that moves you such as an evocative gaze or soulful eyes. In a cubist painting, each part is dislocated into its simplest expression. Humans too are multi-faceted and complicated beings. Cubism challenges preconceived ideas and creates a new perception, once again a pursuit for truth but a reaffirmation that truth does not exist. 

Are geniuses born? Does our disposition ever change? Would Picasso have been as prolific and revolutionary an artist had he lived the life of an aesthete suffering for an elusive belief?  Away from his more traditionally-styled early paintings, the unique view that Picasso had of the world is perhaps best seen in his paintings of women- complicated, emotional, beautiful, desirable, maternal, yet also ruthless, vindictive, jealous and possessive. In those paintings we see the whole of humanity and beyond into eons that have preceded us all. This ability to show us as we are is the accomplishment of a genius. How many of us can say who we are and what we represent? How many of us have found our truth?

 Photo copyright SvD.

The Curse of Convenience
One of my secret dirty little secrets is a desire to see how people live in their unguarded moments. From what I see at the supermarket check out, I am beginning to think this would not be such a good idea. Picture this: the frozen pizza, the ready made porridge with fruit, the endless snacks, the gallons of sugary drinks, the processed ham and plasticized cheese ready packaged for the kiddies to take to school- perhaps already digested too. I think inside those homes, not a lot goes on besides laying around prostrate staring into space. I do believe our politicians have us right where they want us- zombified into stupidity. Don’t believe me? Go and stand at the check out at any major supermarket near you.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Is this a Picasso?

Dear art sleuths,

In 2011 I visited a Norwegian friend with whom I was at university. Her husband had in the house this piece of art and he told me the story of how he had come to have it in his possession: he had inherited it from his uncle. My Norwegian friend has always been convinced that this is indeed a piece created by Picasso and in his family it was always referred to as such but there is little hard evidence to support it. I sent photos of the piece to the Picasso Administration in Paris but they stated that based on the facts I had conveyed to them, it was unlikely that it was a work by Picasso.

Here it is. Ceramic and metal.

Have a go and let me know your thoughts!

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 98

All of these mushrooms were within a stretch of 300 yards or so in the woods. There are hundreds of different types of mushrooms growing wild in British woods- perhaps as many as 400! Our current spell of mild weather during the day has resulted in prolific growth. If you are an avid mushroom hunter, please be sure that you know what you are doing. Just identifying these mushrooms- all of which are poisonous- took me over an hour clutching my Mushrooms of Europe Guide (Collins). I've been foolish enough to eat mushrooms I found in the woods without knowing whether they were poisonous of not- I did that once but will pass on tempting fate again. By the grace of God go I, that's for sure. So please don't follow my silly example!!!

One of my favourite memories involves hunting for cèpes (boletus) every October in France. How I loved finding a cèpe, bringing it home and sautéeing it in butter with loads of garlic and sprinkled generously with chopped parsley. The tradition in Bordeaux, where I lived, is to eat the cèpes with an entrecôte- a massive piece of beef also cooked in butter. My dear friend, Madame Bué, taught me how to find mushrooms and I will love her always for that. She died almost 30 years ago, and after a long and unhappy life some of which was spent in occupied Paris where she watched her husband killed by the Nazis and where the only food she could find was abandoned cats. We do not realise how lucky we are.
 Mycena fagetorum- poisonous
Clitocybe dealbata- poisonous (these two mushrooms clutching each other are rather sweet- but deadly)
Clitocybe gibba- poisonous - these were growing in a semi circle
Clitocybe gibba- poisonous - close up

Heterobadision annosum- poisonous - note how the mushroom has grown into the groove of the wood and looks like a mouth
Photos copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 97

Wild mushroom on autumn leaf

The Mighty Beech

All roads lead to Rome.

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Making sense of getting old

This is me today, writing about life and getting older.

Photos copyright SvD.

Things I saw in the woods today, part 96


Photos copyright SvD.

PS I have deliberately left out any description of these photos- perhaps viewers would like to test their knowledge of what they see...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

I'm not 18 anymore

There I was today at the famous Wong Kei retaurant in London's Soho, a place I first visited when I was 18. In those days, the waiters only spoke Chinese and the menu was also in Chinese only. How I managed to order anything then remains a mystery but it is an enduring memory of my youth. I was 18 a long time ago and the Wong Kei has hardly changed its decor in all those years- still anti everything, the waiters remain surly as they direct diners to the communal tables, covered in uninviting plastic tablecloths. That's the fun of this old establishment which traditionally was the preferred eatery of the Chinese community in Soho. A pot of green tea is provided free of charge and the meal arrives within minutes from the basement kitchen drawn up by a dumb waiter. I ate my favourite- a huge plate of boiled rice and sweet and sour pork. Dean Street, famous for its cinema and media companies and The Groucho Club, is just up the road. Everyone and from all walks of life can be found eating at the Wong Kei- it stays open straight into the early morning too so ideal for inebriated partygoers falling out of the nearby clubs. I shared my table today with a nurse heading home after a marathon 18 hour shift. She ate her bowl of noodles and soup without wanting to really chat. Some things never change- the Wong Kei resolutely refuses to be hip, fashionable or remotely special. It has steadfastly remained an old-style eating house with no frills. And remember- cash only.

London's Soho at dusk and The Wong Kei.
Photos copyright SvD.