Gjon Mili’s Portrait of Picasso

On his way to the Riviera to photograph the painter Pablo Picasso, Gjon Mili talked in Paris with Picasso’s nephew, the young painter Javier Vilato, who quoted his uncle: “If you want to draw, you must shut your eyes and sing.”

“I deliberated,” Mili has written. “Why not have him draw in the dark, with a light instead of a pencil?” Later Mili met Picasso on the beach.

“I am a photographer, and I would like to do your portrait.”

“Oh? Go ahead,” Picasso answered, making a face.

“No, serious. Serious,” replied Mili.

“At that point,” as Mili tells it, “I confronted him with a photograph, taken in darkness but showing a skater’s leap traced with lights attached to the skates. Picasso reacted instantly. Intrigued, he began drawing with his finger in the thin air.” They arranged to meet at a pottery in Vallauris. In the dark, after Mili fired his flash, Picasso sketched a centaur in the air. Even though he neglected to put his signature on the drawing, there can be scant suspicion of a forgery.

From LIFE Classic Photographs John Loengard, 1988, Little, Brown and Company

The image is of artist Pablo Picasso drawing a centaur in the air with a flashlight at Madoura Pottery. Mili visited Picasso twice – eighteen years apart – and on both occasions, while assigned to photograph the artist, he found himself involved in totally unforeseen creative experiences. One result of the first meeting, at Vallauris in 1949, is the photograph of Picasso drawing the Centaur with a “light pencil.” This spectacular “space drawing” is a momentary happening inscribed in thin air with a flashlight in the dark – an illumination of Picasso’s brilliance set off by the spur of the moment. It was during this first visit in 1949 that Mili showed Picasso some of his photographs of light patterns formed by a skater’s leaps – obtained by affixing tiny lights on the points of the skates. Picasso reacted instantly. Before Mili could utter a word of explanation, Picasso, sparkling with excitement, started tracing through the air one intriguing shape after another with his bare finger. It is interesting to note the affinity between Picasso’s first light image, the Centaur, and the shape of his own crouched body as he starts to draw. Significant, too, is the course of his action as the image progresses from beginning to end. He first describes a small hook and swings upward to delineate the left arm, then the head and horns, the right arm and then the spine; at frantic speed – which is shown by the thinness of the line – he scribbles two wavering hind legs before he slows down, almost to a stop, while drawing the soft curve of the underbelly. As if he suddenly remembers there is more to do, he swiftly shoots straight up to fill in the facial structures and without breaking the flow, signs off with a flourish. The photographic effect was created by opening the camera’s shutter while Picasso was in the dark, crouched over to begin his instant masterpiece – this static pose captured by a momentary flash. Again in darkness after this instantaneous flash of light, Picasso quickly draws his signature image in the air with a “light pencil.” This light drawing is an “instant Picasso” vanishing no sooner than born, except for what the camera captures. Not unlike a doodle in appearance, this rendering is an unimpeded expression of the artist’s inner vision, and as instinctive as one’s gesticulations in trying to make a point. This “space drawing” highlights better than anything in clay, wood, metal, or paint the automatic link between hand and brain which is basic to Picasso’s creative thrust. (Text adapted from “Picasso’s Third Dimension” by Gjon Mili, published by Triton Press; 1970.)

Fast forward… first Mili and Picasso, now PikaPikaPikaPika static images: http://flickr.com/photos/tochka/sets/72157603127035810/

But they do more than that – You’ve seen the TV commercials – light painting in that manner has come full circle. PikaPika are also the folks responsible for the Sprint ads from a couple years ago – Check this out: http://tochka.jp/pikapika/

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