In Francis Picabia’s Selfishness (1947-48), colorful rounds of saturated paint surround a large, crudely rendered phallic shape. This relatively simple composition is energized by heavily encrusted impasto and gestural paint-handling. Built-up ridges of oil paint score the surface, giving the work a dramatic, almost frenzied topography. This sense of substrate activity speaks to Picabia’s ongoing play with surfaces, which here takes the form of accumulation and opacity. The material thickening on display in Selfishness was an artistic strategy shared by others in postwar Paris. Participants in the turn to abstraction known as Art Informel also created works with heavily textured surfaces, and they, too valued direct expression. This work’s erotic imagery finds its echo in Picabia’s contemporaneous illustrated letters, which were an important element of his artistic practice.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art as Part of the Exhibit, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
The frightening central figure in this painting by Francis Picabia is taken from a Surrealist photograph by the young photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The source image in The Adoration of The Calf (1941-42), which was reproduced in the Paris press in 1938, features the head of a dead calf posed atop a classical torso draped with fabric, and possibly refers to Hitler. To Blumenfeld’s composition, Picabia added a series of dramatically lit, expressionistically painted hands, many of which are splayed open in gestures of entreaty. They seem to emerge from the bottom of the canvas, suggesting the presence of bodies just out of sight. Although Picabia was a resolutely apolitical artist, it is difficult not to read this painting, and its cynical vision of the worship of false idols, as an engagement with contemporary politics.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Exhibit Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
The predominant hue of this sentimental postcard composition is an intense azure blue, typical of skies on the French Riviera, overlaid with bright greens, pinks, reds, yellows, whites and lines of black. The transparency of the two figures makes literal what Francis Picabia (1879 – 1953) described as the “empty” character of Cannes high society. They have no substance to speak of, their bodies merging with the surrounding landscape in a painted version of superimposition, a technique more commonly associated with avant-garde photography and film. Idyll (1925 – 27) is displayed in its original goatskin frame, built by the frame-maker and bookbinder Pierre Legrain. The frame highlights Picabia’s abiding interest in the decorative, a category often considered antithetical to “serious” art.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as Part of the Exhibit, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, Up Through March 19th, 2017.