There is a peculiarly Spanish way of living in solitude and that is by remaining aloof and above everything one does and being amused by it. Spanish solitude is profoundly frivolous. I do not mean a divine or Neronian frivolity, but on the contrary a frivolity of a very human type, fresh and primitive, delighting in the discovery of the vast and marvellous desert in the world.
A certain Castilian philosopher has spoken of Spanish Adamism. The man who appears in a desert at the birth of a world, the Spanish Adam, the Spaniard of the Altamira caves amuses himself, whatever be his age or degree of civilization. For him the world is always new born and within him the cave man still lives. It is this prehistoric man who composes the metaphors of Picasso's work, consisting of bare, simple objects, — an eye, an arrow, a bird's feather. It is a prehistoric hand which assembles the objects, combining and amalgamating them. And even the most characteristic objects of our historical times, such as a newspaper for example, a circular from a shop, the label from a bottle of apéritif, these too enter into the Altamira man's game. At times he will use these objects themselves and not merely their representations, thus producing a metaphor of the second degree, combining the terms of two absolutely different worlds, one belonging to the abstract world of art, and the other to trivial reality.
For French artists, cubism constituted the return to the discipline of intelligence, to the taste for work well done, work done for its own sake, to a more intelligent and accurate examination of the essential laws governing the technique of painting. For Picasso it was the diversion of a great civilized cave-man of Altamira, a very subtle and joyous barbarian, for whom it was as natural, as noble, as intelligent, in fact as amusing to paste pieces of paper as to paint. And why not ? That is the question posed by the Spaniard of Altamira : why not, after all ?
In dealing with Picasso we must always return to Gongora, the Prince of the Precious who also represents the civilization of Altamira with all the luxury and, we might even say, all the decadence of his preciosity; poetry for him is reduced to a play of metaphors like for the primitive, who discovers objects and does not know how to use them, scorns to use them and compares, assembles, confuses them, substituting one for another, combining them, forcing one to become another.
We find this extraordinary alacrity in the play of metaphors at every moment of Spanish culture. The writer Ramon Gomez de la Serna has called this play gregueria and has built up his philosophy of poetic life around it. He has applied to every element in the world; to things, living beings, cafés, to night, to dawn, to breasts, to lamp-posts, to love. A piece of sculpture by Picasso consisting of a glass of absinthe and a spoon, twisted like some congealed lunar architecture, is a gregueria of Ramon's, well suited to decorate the old Café de Pombo in Madrid.
In order to play this game, extraordinary attention is required, so as to fix things and extract their magic, their drollery, their action. It is also necessary to be entirely unprejudiced, disrespectful, absolutely innocent, with a natural and spontaneous sense of blasphemy. During the civil war we saw the barricades in the streets of Barcelona decorated with altar plate; this not only showed the artistic taste of the Spanish people, but also their aptitude for the metaphoric game, that is to say for assembling things which were not made to be assembled. But again, why not ? Yet other people are invariably shocked by this, because for them every object has its immutable destiny and is raised once for all to the height of an abstract concept. We, who are orderly and not Spanish, think that altar plate was made for the altar and not for barricades.
Besides, barricades should not be put up at all. For the Spaniards, who are still at the beginning of the world, things do not yet seem so congealed : they still appear as things and one can have dealings with things. These same Spaniards, in the French concentration camps used to make carvings out of soap because this happened to be the material they had at hand in the primitive desert of their camps. Soap could serve another purpose than to satisfy the primordial need of washing oneself; it satisfied their equally primordial need of playing and experimenting. The age of sculptured soap is allied to the age of split stone in these prehistoric consciences.
There are few things in the world, but these things fall under the gaze and under the hand of a naked man. He examines them intently and discovers aspects, which have nothing in common with the conventional destination allotted to them by our passing historical order. The essential disorder, which the eternally primitive Iberian recognizes in them, is much more profoundly human. For him this is always part of the great universal disorder, which can be still further decomposed to produce fresh disorder. It is always possible to refine disorder, to extract a still rarer essence of disorder, the kind which aroused Goya's rage, fantasy and caprice, and thus go on from disparates to disparates. It is even possible to be on familiar terms with the supreme disorder, which decomposes all the others, the most grinning of the disparates — death.
Death is always present in the solitudes and caprices of the Spaniards, in Gongora and in Goya and in their descendant Picasso ; and this gives an undeniably serious character to their solitudes, and their caprices, to their frivolity and their irony. Picasso's metaphors can go to the extreme of fantasy and caricature but they do not make us laugh. And yet absurdity has never been carried so far. Nothing is in its place in his work ; women have hands made of leaves, the same eye belongs to a Greek bust and to a bird's head ; when he invents something facetious he reproduces it without end. What if the air we breathed caused us to swell out like a balloon, or if our normal dimensions and proportions were suddenly upset ? What would become of Venus then?
The most impertinent and burlesque suggestions are realized, producing images which move us as much as reproductions of ordinary beauty, because we know that beauty is what she is only by a very narrow chance and that death, that supreme mistress of caprice, can change everything. But she does not conclude anything. To transform is not to create and there is never any total destruction. Reduced to skeletons or magots, decomposed in order to be reproduced in imaginary machines, or swelled by some bizarre cancer into impossible phantoms, human beings can still be reborn after this massacre and present themselves to us as valid. When he became a creator of monsters, Picasso found yet another thing to imitate, the play of life and death.
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen
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