Savage Negation

Francis Picabia-Women with Bulldog 1941-1942
Francis Picabia-Women with Bulldog 1941-1942

Francis Picabia constantly perplexes and undermines artistic expectations. A wealthy, hedonistic playboy with great personal charm, Picabia also possessed a notoriously acerbic wit and personified the savage negation at the heart of Dada.

Picabia’s career spanned many movements across continents, but is best remembered for his involvement with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Arthur Craven in the creation of New York Dada and his mechanomorphic drawings from 1915 onwards. Always on the move and with entry to every fashionable social circle, Picabia moved to Barcelona then to Zurich for the remainder of WWI. Asked to describe his impressions of the War, Picabia remarked that he was bored to hell. After WWI he moved back to Paris and participated in further Dada shenanigans with Tristan Tzara and Andre Breton, contributing ferocious manifestos for Dada events which he watched from private boxes with the mistress of the time.

With a nature both aristocratic and anarchic, Picabia rapidly lost patience with the various groups and movements and would denounce Dada and later Surrealism. From 1925 he returned to painting with a vengeance after a ten year hiatus, working on the Transparencies series which involved multiple images confusingly superimposed. Then in the forties came the nudes copied from girlie mags; astonishingly unaesthetic, these paintings are so appalling that you cannot stop looking and in a certain respect represent the culmination of Picabia’s anti-art stance.

Dada Cannibalistic Manifesto

You are all indicted, stand up! It is impossible to talk to you unless you are standing up.
Stand up as you would for the Marseillaise or God Save the King.

Stand up, as if the Flag were before you. Or as if you were in the presence of Dada, which signifies Life, and which accuses you of loving everything out of snobbery if only it is expensive enough.

One dies a hero’s death or an idiot’s death – which comes to the same thing. The only word that has more than a day-to-day value is the word Death. You love death – the death of others.

Kill them! Let them die! Only money does not die; it only goes away for a little while.

That is God! That is someone to respect: someone you can take seriously! Money is the prie-Dieu of entire families. Money for ever! Long live money! The man who has money is a man of honour.

Honour can be bought and sold like the arse. The arse, the arse, represents life like potato-chips, and all you who are serious-minded will smell worse than cow’s shit.

Dada alone does not smell: it is nothing, nothing, nothing.
It is like your hopes: nothing
like your paradise: nothing
like your idols: nothing
like your heroes: nothing
like your artists: nothing
like your religions: nothing.

Hiss, shout, kick my teeth in, so what? I shall still tell you that you are half-wits. In three months my friends and I will be selling you our pictures for a few francs.

Francis Picabia 1920

20 thoughts on “Savage Negation

  1. That is quite the rant… The arse represents life like potato chips?

    As for the nudes, they’re not all appalling but some of them do remind me of the ladies lingerie section from a vintage Sears catalogue. Do you know what I mean?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dada and Surrealist manifestos are often good fun, they knew how to rant and rail against the prevailing orthodoxies and are still quite shocking, especially Picabia who was an excellent provocateur. As for the paintings I know exactly what you mean and it is undoubtedly deliberate. Previously kitsch was a naive genre but Picabia was the ultimate sophisticate.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Picabia’s art encompasses a rather open range of style and technique and artistic freedom. Like or not it is compelling. Thank you for the the references and in depth exploration of this anarchist Mr. Cake, enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miss Heart. Picabia certainly changed style and he possessed a very subversive nature. Arch Dada. As for the paintings they are compelling in a very weird way, raising all manner of questions regarding art, aesthetics and taste. His personal charm was legendary as well as his playboy lifestyle, including his passion for opium, fast cars, yachts and of course legions of beautiful women. A fascinating character.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Obviously it is an area I care passionately for, although I am not uncritical of its excesses and absurdities. I know that it belongs in the past, which of course is a foreign country, they do things differently there, but still in speaks to me.

        Liked by 1 person

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