Friday, 13 February 2009
Picabia and romantic mechanics
Francis Picabia Movimento DADA 1919
I have a real affection for such drawings by Picabia in his DADA period, as also for some of the more mechanical drawings of Ernst and Malevich and, of course Tatlin. So Picabia, the son of a wealthy diplomat, is in Zürich in 1916 where he meets Tristan Tzara and thinks: This is the most exciting thing that has happened to me !" He already knows Duchamp. Being a natural troublemaker ("Like many of the upper-class / He liked the sound of breaking glass" - Belloc, of someone else) he later falls out, first with the Dadaists, then, three years later, in 1924, with the Surrealists. After 1925 he returns to figurative painting, and during the war starts painting deliberately cheap-looking nudie pictures as in glamour magazines, going on, eventually, to decorate brothels. It's a life. Perhaps if I work very hard at getting rich and louche and fighting drunk there might still be time for me to emulate him. Picabia as Toad of Toad Hall.
But there is something beautiful, playful, a little subversive and strangely romantic about his machine drawings. It is as if art were discovering the geometry of the machine but couldn't help scribbling on it, or pretending it was an angel or a vision of some sort. Picabia in this mood is less Toad of Toad Hall, more Heath Robinson, but without the jokes and everything more-or-less clean. It's all very graceful. Art and the machine do a brief delicate dance. If you pull this lever, it makes that wheel go round, which drives that piston, which then releases that chain that sets off the pulley, and, see, we have made this neat comical-erotic language that tickles the eyes.
And I do find it delightful, and light, and quite heroic in its own frail way. It is certainly more poetry than prose.