Unreal Nature

October 5, 2015

The Circle Never Closes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… For Picasso there is no fixed center; the circle never closes, and the second beat is never struck.

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… Caricature was Picasso’s mother tongue. His first recorded drawings are all caricatures. (In this case, the codices are textbooks that he doodled in during dull hours at school.) The notebooks of his early years in Barcelona are filled, alive, with caricature.

… The absolute division between what you were allowed to do in a notebook and what you were allowed to do on an easel must have seemed to Picasso genuinely peculiar.

Picasso’s deeply idiosyncratic use of primitive art — for he alone turns the schematized codes of primitive art into a language of likeness, a language used to define particular individuals — was in one respect a way of bringing the latent potential of the caricature into vanguard art. The search for likeness in the grotesque and unfamiliar that had long been embedded in the caricature tradition could be integrated into Picasso’s finished portraits only after it had first been reimagined as primitivism.

… A vocabulary of primitive form is first absorbed and then transformed into a new language of likeness. In a masterpiece like the self-portrait of 1907, Picasso created a new kind of monumental caricature in which the firm contours and quick sure insights of the notebook jokes are given a new weight and unforgettable plastic intensity.

Picasso_self_portrait1907
Self-Portrait, 1907

… what Picasso was doing was, in one sense simply a brilliant extension of the tradition that we have chronicled: searching an unfamiliar vocabulary of seemingly non-mimetic form, he found a new and startling kind of mimesis. What Picasso found in his own notebooks wasn’t a style so much as a way of proceeding, an instruction to look at stylized, exotic form and make it real. That instruction, as we’ve seen again and again, that way of proceeding, is exactly what the caricature tradition has always insisted on — that process, that injunction is, in a sense, all that caricature is.

… By orchestrating a very complicated set of effects — by taking up totally unfamiliar stylizations, like those of “Iberian” art, that were exotic but also in some ways oddly classical, by infusing graphic caricatural elements into otherwise “painterly” pictures — Picasso showed that you could take up the strategies of caricature without being forced into the “marginal case” logic of humor. Are these faces masks? “Platonic” truths about the sitters, or journalistic ones? Aggressive or generous gestures?

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Caricature had in the past really been a two-beat process: first, surprise at the strange equivalence, then reintegrating laughter as we put it in its provisional place — the strange equivalences discovered on the margins of art at once expanding our horizons and reaffirming the normality of the center. “Laughter,” Bergson once wrote, “appears to stand in need of an echo. … It can travel within as wide a circle as you please; the circle nonetheless remains a closed one.” For Picasso there is no fixed center; the circle never closes, and the second beat is never struck.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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