Pablo Picasso, as you may know, produced a fair few memorable works in his long lifetime. He also came up with a number of quotable quotes. “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction” has particularly stuck with me, but one does wonder what an artist who thinks this way actually does when he creates — or, rather, when he first destroys, then creates. Luckily for us, we can watch Picasso in action, in vintage footage from several different films–first, at the top of the post, in a clip from 1950’s Visite à Picasso by Belgian artist and filmmaker Paul Haesaerts (which you can watch online: part one, part two).
In it, Picasso paints on glass in front of the camera, thus enabling us to see the painter at work from, in some sense, the painting’s perspective. Just above, you can watch another, similarly filmed clip from Visite à Picasso.
Both of them show how Picasso could, without much in the way of apparent advance planning or thought, simply begin creating art, literally at a stroke — on which would follow another stroke, and another, and another. “Action is the foundational key to all success,” he once said, words even more widely applicable than the observation about creation as destruction, and here we can see his actions becoming art before our eyes.
It also happens in the clip above, though this time captured from a more standard over-the-shoulder perspective. “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” Picasso also said, and one senses something of that ablutionary ritual (and not just because of how little clothing the man has chosen to wear) in the footage below, wherein he lays down lines on a canvas the size of an entire wall. It comes from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 documentary The Mystery of Picasso, which offers a wealth of close looks at Picasso’s process.
You can watch the film online here, or see a few Picasso paintings come together in time-lapse in the trailer above. “The paintings created by Picasso in this film cannot be seen anywhere else,” the crawl at the end of the trailer informs us. “They were destroyed upon completion of the film.” So it seems that at least some acts of creation, for Picasso himself, not only began with an act of destruction, but ended with one too.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.