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.