Ekphrasis and Homage: “Untitled”

A Picasso print inspired this ekphrasis. It was one of several hundred artist and model images he created. I didn’t include it here because it’s probably copyrighted until eternity. I saw it in ‘The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze’ by K. L. Kleinfelder, a fine book i’ve read several times

The artist and model images are self portraits, psychologically; so the artists in them don’t look like Picasso, nor do they show how he worked. He worked the theme throughout his life. He did a big batch of them as the sculptor prints of the ‘Suite Vollard,’ which was published when he was in his late 50s and at the height of his fame. 15 yrs on he did another batch, ‘The Human Comedy,’ done after he was dumped by his much younger lover. The theme came up again, even more erotically this time, in some of the “347” prints he did in the fall of 1968. He was in his upper 80s, wow.

This one’s an odd little aquatint/etching/drypoint. It is untitled, but dated Dec. 19 1966, kinda between the themed batches.  It’s a dark rectangle where the aquatint brush blocks out white spaces for etched/drypoint lines to be. The typical easel in profile divides the scene in half. On the artist’s side, the white aquatint shapes define the artist and the etched/drypointed lines are mere textures.  But on the model/muse’s side the white shapes are less representative and the lines define the figures. Does this mean something? The lines and shapes are together on each side, but they play differently. Are they male or female, aggressive or passive, art or life?

The artist is alone on his side. He is a warrior who boldly paints with brush as sword, and palette as shield. But not on the canvas; he ‘paints’ over it, reaching to the other side. And the model/muse also has a brush; she reaches up and over as well, their brushes almost touch. An up-beat image of the process of art is well as life/love which is strange for Picasso at this time of his life. The other deity shown–Eros, love/lust/desire personified–active in his selfish pursuit of the model/muse, also makes art, he’s sketching the air with his arrow.

But it’s not totally upbeat. There are two more self portraits on the model/muse’s side, but they are not warriors, they are old men. The larger of the two, on whose submissive back the model/muse sits, has, instead of a brush, an invalid’s cane. The littler man strikes a dominant, assertive pose, quite the opposite of the larger fellow. But it’s a cruel joke, his posing is made ironic by his size.

So how is my homage different? My artist–a variation on Picasso’s first self portrait–is off stage, you can only see an arm and a bit  of leg. He’s not a warrior, but a spy. He still interacts with the model/muse, but it’s not his and hers flirting brushes here. The model/muse controls the only brush and she allows the artist to touch it only ‘at her pleasure.’ Their roles are the reverse of the traditional artist and model ones; he’s become a means to her end, what ever that is.

Nor is the model/muse, as in the Picasso, a hired model, nude at his command. Her drapery denies the artist the pleasure–use, inspiration, whatever–of his model/muse in this homage; he’s denied the sight of her flesh. But the little god cab sneak a peek–with permission it seems–of what is denied the artist. The artist becomes a voyeur of a voyeur, an second-hand observer of love/lust/desire.

Her denying drape also covers the larger old man. He’s number two of Picasso’s three self portraits. Her drape by which Eros controls the scene–who and who doesn’t see–is a shroud for the old man. He’s unseen and unseeing, leaning on the easel for support. The easel replaces the phallic cane of the Picasso, so does art replace sex?

And what about the third of Picasso’s self portraits, the pretentious little man, the joke, posturing for an unseen audience? He, I’ve replaced with a painting. We see, now, what the artist saw; we see what he could and couldn’t touch. But does this painting in a painting remain a joke? Is this ‘art’–this posting of an ‘artist’ reflecting on an artist reflecting– an homage to an art of an artist arting, Art? Or is it an absurd mise en abyme?