Notes from The Mystery of Picasso

[This remarkable film]( shows the process of Picasso creating 20 different paintings, using a camera mounted behind the translucent canvas. You see his process of trying things out and discarding them, prototyping the work directly on the canvas. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and wanted to view this since viewing a short clip online.

It starts out a bit slow, with lots of real-time marker sketches. Still, his comfort with “just drawing”, and letting things evolve is clear and remarkable. Gradually the film speeds up, with more artistic selections of frames to summarize the process.

Around 50 minutes, he starts painting which was much more interesting. The final painting had me gasping out loud as he repeatedly changed his painting in progressively greater ways.

He continually adds detail to pieces, and then often blacks out over sections of detail he added. His detailing jumps all over the page; he builds the entire piece at once rather than sections at a time.

The story is that the paintings were all destroyed after filming–however, one of the commentators notes that this was not the case; several are known to exist still, one in the Musee Picasso in Paris.

### Notes from the film

~23:00 he starts using abstract lines and shapes and then turning them into people. It’s hard to imagine he was planning this from the start, but it’s possible. That initial grid structure, however, helps define major body shapes and also connects one body to another with shared lines.

“So, what do we do now?” “Let’s do another one. Unless you’re tired.” “I don’t mind being tired.” – 29:00

At 30:00, a remarkable 5 minute real-time scene where he paints an intricate detailed chicken and then uses that only as the shape of a human head in the end.

Unlike the 22:00 ones, other paintings he begins with much more realistic scenes and turns them into cubist pieces later. His inks tend to simplify the piece, overriding lines and blocking the piece off.

He takes less care with his sketches than I could have imagined; seemingly confident he can fix them up later in the process. Even shapes of heads, etc, are by no means realistic.

At 50:00, interesting exchange about “going deeper”…followed by much more interesting paintings using oils to “show the layers”. Five hours to do that though. (54:00) Interesting that he didn’t know how long it had been.

Collage + paint at 54:00

Realistic sketch -> cubist at 55:45. Erases the sketch to draw over it differently.

At 1:00:00, he begins the painting I saw on Google video, painting a very realistic bull and matador, then at 1:02:30 totally warping the bull into a cubist shape.

Final painting (at 1:04:30) is a real trip…he paints over the same scene dozens of times, finally becoming unsatisfied with it, using paper cutouts (again layered) to prototype different approaches, then painting over once more before deciding to start over, now that he knew what he was painting.

“I’ve never worried about the audience, and I’m not about to start now, at my age” – 1:11:45

“Now that I know where I’m going, I’ll get a new canvas and start over” – :1:13:00. And on that second one, he quickly paints exactly what he wanted. The first was apparently just for experimentation, literally throwing away the first draft.

One commentator thinks that this could be partially showmanship by Picasso, who was “very aware of his own stature in the art world”, but regardless it shows a remarkable ability to discard the past and move forward.