Trying to Unweave Picasso’s Creative Intuition – Appropriation of the Bridegroom by the Bride into the Wedding/Marriage/Family Life

Pablo Picasso, “Embrace”, 1971

A Still from Elia Kazan/Tennessee Williams film “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

The reason we decided to combine the still from Elia Kazan’s courageously truthful film “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Picasso’ incredible in its uniqueness painting is that on the level of “plot” the still from the movie and the painting are both dedicated to woman’s embrace of a man (the point here is not mutual embrace, mutual love and sex between them, but exactly the embrace of man by woman). We wanted to give an opportunity to the readers and viewers to compare these two representations of feminine embrace in order to probe deeper the issues touched by Picasso’s painting. Stella’s embrace of Stanley in “A Streetcar…” has a locking quality, considered by human simplemindedness as a proof of love (as both heroes of the film themselves, for sure, understand and feel). Isn’t Picasso sarcastically exaggerating in his “Embrace” a similar point? Picasso’s painting is (hyperbolical) caricature on pop-concept of love and sex.

Analyzing the painting we’ll try to grasp how Picasso’s intuition characterizes the symbolic connotations of the very embrace of the man by woman in symbiotic love which is psychologically based on secreting an emotional “glue” of common identity when “two persons become one” in love, marriage, life together and worldview. Symbiotic love is not satisfied with possession of the beloved as such, but in creating similarity between the two – as if, this similarity makes possession guaranteed – as if, becoming identical in behavioral reactions and worldview makes beloveds more psychologically understandable, “available” and “reliable” for each other.

Let’s first pay attention to the visual background of the “Embrace”, not so much – as a realistic space backing up the embrace of the protagonists of Picasso’s imagination, but represented by him as densities of energy originating in the very vitalistic emanation of the couple and mixing with spontaneous energies of nature, more fluid around woman-man (woman and man in embrace) and more stable under it/them (as a place of sitting together) – as a fundament of their settling in mutual life.

We will analyze the bizarre transformation of the two faces “gravitating” towards becoming one, after addressing the pantomime of the unification of our couple’s bodies. The first paradoxical accent Picasso allows himself while following his creative unconscious is that the woman in “Embrace” is not in front of the man – as object of his concentration and his bodily flowering – as a nurturing environment of his psycho-biological settling. Instead she is… behind him. Not to become confused by Picasso’s virtuoso combinatorics of details, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we see the left part of the woman’s body on the right part of the canvass. The second paradox of Picasso’s “Embrace” is that the two hands we see can both belong to the woman – her left hand is completely hers, but her the right one is, somehow, a hybrid between her hand and the man’s. It is, as if, the embracing woman and the man’s right hands became unified (and thickened in the process) a bit quicker than the rest of their bodies. The woman’s left hand (which is completely hers) is partially covered by her breasts. The right hand which we see on the left part of the canvas, the hand of marriage – of unity between the couple, is with the thread around the wrist used by the woman to keep her spouse on the leash (as a part of the embrace).* The ball of thread is the semantic motif characterizing the presence of a controlling intention inside the “embracing relationship”.

So, the man’s body, as much as it‘s not yet completely unified with the woman’s, is located between her hands (one which is completely hers and the other one which, as if, belongs to both spouses, when a woman’s function is through the thread to keep her man on the leash). The man’s body in the process of unification into “one body” – is shown as being engulfed by the woman’s body. We see that the man only has his right leg not yet “united” and still connected with his sexual organs in a form of a reversed crown (crown looking downward) – you can bet, the crown will be soon victoriously up. Symmetrically, the left leg seen on the canvass still belongs to the woman’s body and is framing her sexual appeal represented by Picasso’s as still tightly closed jaws. The viewers can silently notice the dark dot underneath, with appreciation of the fact that it looks like already being united (belongs to one unified body of Biblical dream).

Now we can return to not yet united heads which are in the process of merging into one – woman’s on the right side of the painting, and man’s on the left side but still keeping his manly centrality of being located right in the middle of the painting. In spite of the fact of the separateness of man and woman’s heads they already look as two halves of a head – dynamism of transformation into one body is obviously in motion. The left part of the man’s head (or, more exactly, of the man’s semi-head), which is close to the woman’s semi-head, is, as if, impaired by the nearing/invading heavy power (of woman’s semi-head) – deformed by it into a ravaged piece of wood. It seems, it is formed to match the woman’s semi-face-head (which is victoriously ready to unite with that of the man). The man and woman’s noses are already similar. Man’s right eye has a frightened expression; woman’s – enlarged, as if, greedy for visual information. Man’s nose is, as if, in the process of being displaced by woman’s in a “plastic surgery” of becoming one.

We hope that sarcastic motifs of Picasso’s joke on the topic of embrace between sexes will not be perceived as his disrespect for or animosity towards human love and sexuality. Human nature can afford to take jokes without feeling of being insulted and humiliated.

This innocent Biblical moralistic metaphor of becoming, through love and loyalty, “one body” is really no different from other examples of aesthetic monstrosity of the imagery used in public parables – like that of making a woman from man’s rib, or the immaculate conception (La Concepcion) itself (Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his film “Hail Mary”, 1983, to the analysis of this particular idea). Human psyches have already for almost several thousand years been traumatized by artistic indulgences made by the good intentions of those who feel themselves blissfully carrying their responsibility of being in charge of other people’s lives and destinies.

Picasso’s sometimes kind and sometimes caustic sarcasm addresses itself not only to the proclivity of the culturally illiterate people ideologically absolutize their innocent and harmful megalomania, but also to the universal cultural prejudices including those which were and are the very fundament of human civilization limping to the future by stumbling on human corpses.

*This kind of semantically meaningful little miracles – painterly tricks, like misattribution of human limbs to “wrong” protagonists – like here problematizing the “natural” certainty of which hand belongs to whom, Picasso practices in other paintings too. For example, in his “Fatherhood” (also painted in 1971) the left hand of the child is, as if, a hybrid of the father’s right hand, while father’s left hand plays the flute. The child’s left hand is “distorted”, as if, “imitating” the father’s right hand, it painterly “mixed” with it.