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P1000885 2

Nick’s Guitar  oil on canvas . 60 x80 cm


















1  My son Nick said to me “I’d love a cubist painting of my guitar ” I always wanted to do a cubist guitar picture, I thought – (at one time I saw myself myself as a sort of cubist). “Why not?” I said, “send me pictures of your guitars.”  I was a bit stuck at the time: doing something entirely different might get me going again – which it did.

2  Nick spends a lot of his time in Benalmadena, near Malaga, in a block of flats which makes homage to adobe. The outside is rough earth colour, the floors are red-tiled, and the balcony interior walls, from which you look out to the sea, are painted bright yellow.

DP Braque Guitars penci

3  A paradoxical reflection: Cubism seeks to reconcile three dimensional objects with a two dimensional surface, But unlike the sensuous curving surfaces of an acoustic guitar, this particular one of Nick’s is electric, and flat! “2D, meet 2D”.

dp picasso guitar pencil


4  The advantage of a commission is that the end-product is determined. You know roughly speaking what sort of thing should emerge. Un-commissioned, in spite of attempts to pin things down, I don’t know what I’ll end up with. Ok, I can do all sorts of roughs, then preliminary drawings which try to preserve the energy and parsimony of the roughs, then more careful drawings – or more roughs. By the time I start painting, anyhow, I should know my way round the shapes, know what I’m setting out to do – but I can’t be sure: drastic changes may happen, the idea may turn out to be mistaken, muddled or weak, and the work abandoned. Terry Frost said the number of failures didn’t get lower with age: I’m with him there.

Guit folded rough

5  Cubism: I think of a project called “Translation and Transcription,” we used to set students on the Communication Design Degree Course (at what was then called the North East London Polytechnic). Its aim was to sensitise students to the way in which all communication systems are rule-bound. They were required to re-write a Nursery Rhyme as a Daily Mirror front page article (headlines and all), and to rejig Botticelli’s ‘Venus Rising from the Waves’ as a pop art poster. (obviously doing this in reverse would need much higher skills). Then at the crit. we would read, and look at, the works, to see if really convincing transitions had taken place. Does it look & sound like a real Daily Mirror article? Does it look like a convincing Pop art poster? The crucial question was: have you identified the rules?


6  Synthetic cubism rejects linear perspectival pictorial space: Braque condemned it with scornful phrases like ‘eye-fooling devices’. In a cubist work an object, or any constituent part of it can be presented in any version or distortion, but cumulatively stand for the totality. Like “All hands on deck!” where the hands stand for the whole seaman. The surface of a cubist work must always remain the picture plane, the two dimensions it actually consists of.

No object is allowed to create an illusion of space: each establishes its position on its own plane, parallel to, and not far behind the picture plane itself; devices like counterchange and pattern (visual rhyme) mitigate against intrusions of space…..



Well, that’s a start on the rules, but there could be pages of them. In the early days of computing it took a long set of instructions to the computer to tell it how to draw a table in perspective: it had to be told where lines weren’t to be drawn because you could not see through the table-top. Then the computer took about half an hour to draw the table, using small ink pens, on a piece of paper! Not long ago: only the ‘seventies. Normally we intuit these multitudinous rules, but when we aren’t getting the right sort of result we have to dig them out, examine them, and re-programme.


7   Braqueian cubism never uses perspectival space, except ironically – as in a nail casting a shadow or the like. Picasso is less purist: if a bit of aerial perspective might help, he’s willing to drag it in, with a bit of a crunch. But the space remains shallow. Those extraordinary bathers sit or run across the beach but the horizon is a line on a backdrop, the whole a cabinet event in memory of the Diaghilev stage. But once Picasso tries to harness an even flatter version of this representational system to outside objectives, it fails him. Icarus, in his Unesco mural, can only slither down the plane of sea/sky, like jam being tested on a saucer. Icarus cannot fall, through pride, through that immensity of space, into the depths of the ocean, because Picasso’s pictorial system cannot represent it. It’s not just suffering that the old masters were never wrong about.

Braque deploys his cubist representation system marvellously for his still lives. It is much less successful at dealing with landscape. Somehow Giorgio Morandi’s simpler system works far better – but hey, come to that, so did Cezanne’s rule-breaks and ambiguities. The stronger the system, it seems, the more is shut out.





8  What did I get from doing the commission? Some energy. Because the job had to be finished before I could move on. Satisfaction from closure. Another look at counterchange.  Some more understanding,  But no revelations, just as making a same-size copy of a Matisse didn’t blow my mind when I tried that exercise. All you can do is follow the beardy master, ‘en suivant son petit sensation.’  The man the Gods loved for not drawing straight. We don’t do what we would; we only do what we can.

26 10 2017

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