October 9, 2015
Between 1954 and 1961, Pablo Picasso and André Villers united to accomplish a unique joint creative work. Together they experimented with the medium of photography in a search to surpass the semantic boundaries between photography and sculpture. They create a work collaboratively—Picasso cuts, pins, and lifts; Villers photographs, prints, and transforms offering shots, interpretations, staging, transfers, and photograms. This collaboration over a period of ten years would inform Picasso’s sculptural work of the time and would resurface in his paintings between 1960 and 1970; it became the foundation for Villers’s later photography research and experimentations.
The Villers | Picasso exhibition, which inaugurates a new ground floor space at Gagosian Gallery in Geneva, brings out the dialogue and the friendship between the two artists by presenting a body of photographic works, as well as works on paper and metal cutout sculptures, and finally allowing all of this to confront a selection of Picasso’s major pictorial work.
In 1954, Picasso said to me: “We should do something together. I’ll cut out little characters and you can photograph them. With the sun, you can give shadows their importance. You must make thousands of pictures!”
Each time I went to visit Picasso, I brought fifteen or twenty portraits of himself; but I would also add two or three photos to the bunch that seemed to lack something, or that left room to fill. Often, without me asking him to participate in the completion of these images, he would say upon seeing them: “You know, right now I don’t have time. But, you’ll see, we’ll do something together.”
One day he cut out a little faun and said: “See what you can do with that.” I took many photos of this faun superimposed upon landscapes, trees, faces, etc. Picasso was very interested. “If I make a hole, will it be black?” he said. “Will you let me cut up a few of your photos?”
A few days later, Jacqueline [Roque] was very happy when I arrived. “Pablo has been working a lot for you,” she announced. On the dinner table in his studio were strewn many cut-up or modified photos. Picasso asked: “Do you think this will work? You see, I added tracing paper to make it gray. I attached it with a clip so that you can take it off if you want. Now it’s your turn to work!” Among these cutouts, there were, glued to a piece of stationery, four little forms: a round head, a bird, a character, and a bull. Together, they become a face. I made many prints of this face, always in large format (30 × 40 cm). Around it I would arrange grapes, all sorts of pasta (spaghetti, ravioli, vermicelli, shells), parsley, salt, sugar, herbs, and so on. When I suggested that he do so, Picasso cut up these photos and made heads out of them. I made them for that purpose. He also made many other cutouts…
In October 1959, I had to do another stint at the sanatorium. Once again, I was totally bedridden for three months. In order to keep busy, I also did some cutouts, of heads from fashion magazines: heads, clothes, vegetables, beaches, etc. I was very influenced by Arcimboldo.
Upon my release from the sanatorium, I went to work again with Picasso, and I used the same procedure—that is, I chose among my old negatives and, under the enlarger, after exposing my subject upon the light-sensitive paper, I interposed one of Picasso’s cutouts for a certain amount of time, which allowed me to introduce into the heads, into Picasso’s forms, images of clothes, plants, skin, etc.
Immediately, Picasso said: “We must make a book!” The next day, the publisher [Heinz] Berggruen came to Paris. He is the one who published Diurnes. Jacques Prévert, who wrote a text for this book in response to selected images, said: “We’ll call it Diurnes. We’ve had enough of Nocturnes!”
For this book, I made two or three hundred prints that were left at Picasso’s villa in Cannes. We chose thirty, no more. Upon the publication of the book, many critics didn’t understand. They couldn’t see that, in the photos, the image within Picasso’s shapes extends into the border surrounding it, which shows the freedom that Picasso granted me to interpret his cutouts.
"Villers | Picasso" is on view at Gagosian Gallery Geneva through December 19, 2015.