‘How did it get so late so soon?’
‘It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?’
(Dr Seuss, easily one of my favourite people I’ll never meet).
This quote perfectly sums up how I currently feel- obviously the speed of light and the rapidness of time is completely out of my hands, but it wont stop whizzing by and suddenly, the Christmas tree is up in Galerie’s Lafayette.
How on earth did that happen, I continue to wonder?
On Friday I visited the Musée Picasso in the 3rd Arrondissement which is a favourite place of mine, not just for the collection, but also the magnificent chateau in which the collection is housed. Each time I wander past I have to stop and take a big, deep breath- it is simply beautiful.
Currently the collection on view is Année Erotique, a celebration of 1932 – an event that reports a complete year through a chronological presentation of Picasso’s work and archives. The focus is on Picasso as a painter and also as a man, with so many of the works about his subjects and also his involvement with the subject in each picture.
Following this exceptional collation of works, I continued to the second floor where I found an extension of his ‘mirror portraits’ in further works featuring his usual suspects, Dora Maar, Marié Therese and of course, Olga, the Russian ballerina who he met on the set of a ballet (for which he was the costume and set designer) and who later became his wife and mother of their son, Paulo.
In 1937 Picasso set up his studio in the 6th arrondissement, just a few doors down from my tiny Parisian home. Most days I meander past the huge iron gates at number 7 and imagine the names littered throughout my art history papers of almost two decades ago, smoking cigarettes and lulling about on armchairs during German occupation (and until Picasso was finally evicted in the late 1960’s).
Today, it’s hard to imagine Paris during occupation where rations were in place, the treatment of Jewish people abhorrent and, for a city so famous for its light, to fall silent and dark between the hours of 9pm and 5am as a result of strict curfews. The crackling music on the radio was replaced by enemy propaganda and it was throughout this period that Picasso began the drafts for (arguably) his most famous work, Guernica.
The confinement Picasso experienced during occupation (as he could not return to his home in Francoist Spain) is echoed in the figure of the imprisoned woman in her chair as if confined in a narrow space, hence the ‘armchair’ portraits of this time.
Dora Maar, a talented photographer, became Picasso’s companion from 1936 – 1944 and it is said that Picasso’s obsession with Dora inspired the ‘women in armchairs’ series which were created throughout occupation. All just down the road from where I now live.
By 1944, his works were distorted and their colours muted, bearing the scars of occupation.
Friday’s visit to the Musée Picasso was, as always, a reminder of the artist’s complicated relationship that he had with women. He either revered them or abused them and typically had relationships ongoing with several women at the same time. His sexuality fueled his art and, in an age where we continue to read about the complexities of men as (some) continue to take advantage of women- revisiting the works of a man so revered (but in his death, held to account in more recent journals), was a reminder of a master and also, a monster.
As I headed home Michael Jackson flung the doors open to the metro, sweating as he secured his money pouch around his tiny waist before moonwalking down the train. He held a leather cap in his outstretched hand and the backing music to ‘Don’t stop til you get enough’ played on his abandoned speaker set in the doorway. Some people nodded to the beat while others scrolled through their phones, headphones in their ears – oblivious to this performance. I could smell stale booze as faux MJ made his way back to his music station before changing the song on a pink iPhone tangled in endless cables connected to the speakers.
Jumping off at Châtelet before changing lines I hummed ‘Heal the World’ as I bustled to the next train. Once on board I found a boy growing his first beard playing ‘Blue Moon’ on his clarinet, pausing to welcome everyone aboard before wishing us a bon voyage as he grappled for his mouthpiece. It is a joyous thing, the music on the metro and I am always grateful for the weird and wonderful types who entertain me on otherwise rather mundane journeys where grey faces stare ahead atop swaying bodies, decked out in navy suits.
So much to contemplate and so much to take in.
Paris is a mind game, and through my life here I am continuously challenged, my beliefs are questioned and my judgements often feel hollow and flawed. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because each day I learn something new about myself and my surrounds.
As I type this, those clanging bells toll outside signalling another hour, just as they did more than 70 years ago when the city fell dark. I wish I could silence them and stop the clock, if only for a moment.
Pictured: Dora in her armchair, just next door.