Was Picasso a Woman?

This post was contributed by Janine Freeston, a PhD student in the Department of History of Art and Screen Media.

On the warm summer evening of Friday June 7 the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and the Department of History of Art and Screen Media hosted Professor T.J. Clark’s lecture, Was Picasso a Woman?: Reflections on a Nude, Green leaves and Bust, to a packed theatre in celebration of the launch of his latest in a long line of esteemed publications, Picasso and Truth from Cubism to Guernica.

In a similar style to his 2006 book, The sight of Death: An experiment in Art Writing, in which Clark compares two paintings by Poussin, he set out to expose the myriad of complexities and revelations embedded within Picasso’s Nude, Green leaves and Bust,  juxtaposing it to its partner image Nude on a Black Sofa. This would reflect the contents of his latest book and move beyond it through a hybrid analysis. The fascinating exploration of the two portraits was woven together with deftly crafted theoretical and textual threads forming the canvas upon which Clark rendered his interpretation of their resemblances, dissimilarity and equivalents. We were transported through Picasso’s galumphing nudes, lavish still lives to the monsters, freaks and phantoms which framed the 1932 paintings of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Clark’s mediation twisted and turned from the brutal and shocking to pensive and sensual perspectives of proximity and containment, life, identity and sexuality, through the perceptive multiplicity of readings relating to the artist’s work. Citing the artist himself and a myriad of prominent commentators he identified connections and formed relationships between the artist and his environment and how it was perceived. As Clark quoted from Kahnweiler he orated with the energy and excitement of the original author’s response to Picasso’s paintings at the time of their production. His scrutiny of the elements within the work revealed layer upon layer of complexity, metaphor and provocation from the apperception of the blue face to elaborate sexual artifice, took the audience on a journey into and around the painting.

Picasso stated that artistically speaking “I am woman”, and Clark‘s examination of Picassos truths reveal the artists metaphysic. Presenting  Picasso’s  premise that depicting woman as an entity of desire could only be achieved by that depiction being as woman might desire it  reveals conditions of seeing that impact the artist’s proximity and fragmentation. Clark examined the nature of eroticism in Picasso’s art and autobiography which emanated from personal experiences. Picasso’s axiom, that man was an instrument of nature which imposes its character on him, was reflected in one of his favourite quotes from Rimbaud “I is someone else”.

Clark’s meditations through his extended viewing of Nude, Green leaves and Bus, modelled potentials for art historians to enhance investigations in the same incisive, engaging, vibrant, fluency found in his books.



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