Saturday, 15 August 2009

A brief multiple choice on Picasso's Monster

The female passengers in the boat are:

a) In terror of the monster?
b) Calming / taming the monster?
c) Encouraging and inviting the monster?
d) Having enjoyed the company of the monster are sorrowfully beseeching it to stay?
e) Welcoming a visit from their mother?

I think it is quite important which, though it is possible that they are doing all five at once, or that the five states are constantly switching very fast between each other.

It is, I can't help noting, a fully breasted monster. However... What's the song? Sometimes it's hard to be a woman... Not so easy being a man either.

Given the boat. Given the sea. Given the weather. Given the tiny raft on which the monster is sitting and which seems very likely to tip over at any moment.


Mark Granier said...

You've got me thinking again George (which cannot be a bad thing after all). I was going to reply to your earlier post on this etching, but you move far too quickly for me. This will be a mite lengthy, perhaps too lengthy for a comments column. But here goes.

All four of the females are looking elsewhere (though the Sphinx's raft is in front of their boat, its head appears to be behind the first female's), so according to the natural laws of the universe/perspective, etc., it would have to be e (or f: Indifferent to the Sphinx). But of course, those laws probably don't apply here. The first three (from left to right) have similar expressions; as you said earlier, classical: suggesting a kind of regal or noble fortitude in the face of horror/terror. These three graces are presumably older/adult, young women. The fourth, though, is a child, and she is the only one who appears somewhat animated, possibly attempting to ward off the monster (she reminds me of the floating head in the right half of Guernica). The whole fits together yet doesn't. There is a stark contrast between the monster and the four females, as if they inhabited two different universes. The monster appears to be morphing out of furious hairy lines, similar to its background: the plated, fish-scale sky, whereas the females have a dark (calmer?) background and their flag is dark, heavy and tactile (rather like a mermaid's tail), too heavy to fly. Perhaps the reason the four females don't "see" the Sphinx is because the monster is more of the realms of metaphor and symbol (perhaps what they fear is an actual storm at sea, or soldiers kicking down the door, a drunken father etc.). But again, this is probably reading too much into something which should in no way be taken "literally". It seems more likely to be a stark portrayal of endurance: a clashing of opposite natures: the fearful-but-calm outfacing (or facing into) the absurdly, outlandishly, surreally terrifying: I'm reminded of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley and her 'Alien'. Picasso is a magician, supremely brilliant at reconciling opposites (or anyway essentially different textures/objects/colours/traditions etc.), as in his sculptures: the monkey with the toy car face and the beautiful 'Bull's Head', 1943, whose simplicity, grandeur and gale-force laughter flattens anything that Duchamp, Warhol (or Hirst and the YBAs) could possibly dream of.

Anyway, thanks for this etching, which I don't recall seeing before. I love Picasso's etchings; I was probably alerted to them by Berger, who talked at length about the 'artist and model' series in his 'Success and Failure of Picasso' (a book I have otherwise largely forgotten). I love Picasso's sense of line and form: "scribbled balance" is perfect. Because there is always that supreme control – in everything, even the cod-erotic phallocentric piss-takes of Greek art.

George S said...

"...the cod-erotic phallocentric piss-takes of Greek art.."
Not so much of the cod, perhaps Mark, unless we think of it as one of many Picasso cod-pieces.

You are right of course about the spatial sense and the adults v. child theme. I expect this etching echoes the child & minotaur theme of the other well known etching. ie Child conquers terror (indicating answer b). Even in technical terms they are very close.

I like the Alien image you introduce. I imagine all powerful images live through versions of themselves as archetypal confrontation, and it's nice to think of Sigourney Weaver as, say, Dora Maar.