Landscape As A Metaphor Of Human Coupling


Francis Picabia, “Idyll”, 1925

We see here representation of urbanistic-industrial way of life inside man’s head and even neck (as if, growing out of his spine brain) – man’s mind awakens with the drive to manipulate the space for the sake of his survival. We also see the determination of man’s attempts to transform/modify life to unite with eternal femininity (moon, quietness, silent lake and boat with virginal sails) for a trip not in space, but in time, in the company of feminine eternity enveloped in the blanket of blissful silence. Picabia delineates man’s space and woman’s time as different metaphysical realms – man’s movement and woman’s existence, man’s strain and woman’s still, man’s action and woman’s consummation of it.

The man grasps the woman’s gloved hand (embellished by pattern) a bit predatorily – her hand for a moment looks as a decorative revolver squeezed between man’s thumb and index finger feeling the trigger – is Picabia hinting here that gun becomes part of established life – marriage or at least solemn togetherness, with the necessity to protect the value of the sacred mutuality? The man is looking at the woman, but we don’t see his eyes – it seems that for Picabia there is nothing important about his eyes except the very function of seeing, so he drops the topic of man’s eyes with matter-of-factly certainty. We also don’t see his face. May be, it’s also superfluous – the urbanistic-industrial contents of his brain function are, probably, sufficient justification for this ellipsis too. Can it be that for Picabia in “Idyll” the presence of man’s face in general is pure excess if to consider man’s instrumental orientation in life? Indeed, what is really important for a serious man is his job, career, work, success, profit and woman. Why a male person should have a face or eyes as a “mirror of the soul”? It couldn’t be practical, it even would be not rational, even wasteful for nature to “work hard” to provide something like face and eyes to male’s body and brains.

But Picabia in his “Idyll” makes the female face super-expressive. The woman has four eyes and four lips! While his man’s face is monotonous except the pictorial brightness of the content of his brains (urbanistic landscape and settlement), woman’s face includes pink, white and “blond” colors, not to mention red and dark-red lips. Her upper pair of eyes look overburdened by the necessity not to lose attention on the various men around who can be her future suiters, in case they will be needed. As we see, even now, when her hand is squeezed by a man, whose nose almost touching her forehead, she cannot relax her permanent search, as we today with our need for multiple jobs. Her lower pair of eyes, contrary to the higher pair, is looking – not at her actual suitor but in relation to his closeness – her gaze is concentrated on emotional contact with the man, not on him. The fact that her right eye is moving towards her nose – crossing, tells us that she is really focused on relationship which is already happening, already under hand. The task of woman’s upper pair of lips, it seems, is to advertise the richness and promising fullness of her kisses, while her low pair of lips is preparing for and offering the kiss.

Francis Picabia is an example of extraordinary painters working in the period between two European wars in the 20th century and soon after WWII. During this time some artists could allow themselves creative risk of heaving meaning in their works of art on top of their artistic talent. They had the courage to do what today artists poisoned by extreme financial orientation as a raison d’etre of our epoch cannot dare to do – they nurtured their ability to elaborate their criticism of human life not in simplistic images but through rich metaphors capable to characterize real problems with profundity, details and contexts. By studying their work we learn not only aesthetic tools of cultural expressiveness but what they considered as their sacred obligation – to tell the truth about the conditions of human life. In comparison, many artists today are addicted to the flat images, like the viewers today don’t need to concentrate and analyze what they see in art expositions.