ode to Saltimbanque

Starting a blog is brave.  Continuing to blog is Revolutionary.  Okay, i know .… that’s extreme but it could be…maybe…if you wanted but I’m just drawing here.   It was unclear where ‘pencil with oil’ would take me but here I am with a realization that the writing is taking over and referencing other artists has kept the blog safe.   Looking back, there were a couple of post’s that were last minute and suffered for it.  I want to repair July 2011 (Saltimbanque) and November 2010 (goodbye okra.. what was I thinking?).    The July ‘Saltimbanque’ was my interpretation of ‘The boy with a pipe’ by Picasso which like I said earlier “was last minute”.  Sometimes, I can insist and find my way but for ‘The boy with a pipe’ I had little to offer.  Instead I have here a jester inspired from William Merrit Chase  ‘Keying up’.

I just finished reading ‘The Dwarf’ by Par Laqerkvist.  Piccoline was a sad sinister dwarf  obsessed with war and  I imagined him to resemble this Jester.   It occurred to me that a jester would be a more appropriate subject for a post titled Saltimbanque.

I hope to update ‘goodbye okra’ soon, then maybe after that put on some armor, grab a sword and brave my way through more original works (finding my own models).  My  Saltimbanque story below is the unchanged July copy so to escape the boredom for anyone here again, I included a video for entertainment.

story from July 2011 post.      It was just another really hot day in DC.  With no car and only my two legs to get around, I ventured to the National Gallery of Art with the looming deficit tied to my ankle.  If only there were no air conditioning in the congressional hearings…maybe this deficit issue would be solved…if not from heat exhaustion at least they would save on electricity.  While it’s great that all of the Smithsonian Museums are free, I would gladly pay $5. to visit each one for US debt relief (maybe ages 12 and under $2).

The National Gallery Art is a magnificent building.  I started in the east wing –spacious and modern….went through the flashing tunnel toward the west wing and eventually found  ‘The Chester Dale Collection’ on the ground floor.  It was a gathering of major works by big players….Modigliani, Cassatt, Cezanne, DEGAS, Renoir, Whistler, Lautrec, Manet, Braque, Chase, Bellows, and to my attention in the finale was ‘The Family of Saltimbanque’s’ by Picasso.   I knew a little of Picasso but not much of this painting.   At the age of  4, Picasso became a child prodigy with a father who taught drawing in the art schools of Barcelona and Malaga.  As a result of his father’s teaching and structure, Picasso attained the highest honors from art academia by the age of 14.  By age 16, he wanted more from art than the discipline of tradition and began to investigate new ideas from the local expressionist who emphasized emotion, atmosphere and mood rather than literal description.  Picasso was inspired by the new modernism: a movement blending ideological, literary and artistic symbolism.  His father was devastated with this defiance and cut off funding for Picasso’s avant-garde behavior.  Picasso moved to Paris and began to break with classicism by painting the circus performers of Montmartre that were considered the margins of society.  This was a way for Picasso to define a new subject other than upper middle class or high society.  He befriended the Circus performers using their life as the theme in his paintings.  The circus was a spectacle of energy with colorful antics and personalities.  They were a family-like troupe at odds with the mainstream yet parallel to his life as an artist.

‘The Family of Saltimbanque’s’ was painted after the blue period when Picasso tried to absorb all of the pain around him and it was the beginning of the rose period.  The Family of Saltimbanque’s was the largest canvas endeavor up to that time and not a commission.   This painting consumed time and money when both were scarce.  Why was this painting so important?  According to Picasso “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols.  Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words!  The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” …..and so here is my interpretation…….


family of saltimbaques

The youngest boy in the painting seems to be enlightened with almost a halo of light around his head…this, for me, is a young Picasso, an art prodigy who loved the circus and the bullfights with a family who adored his innocence and talent (no doubt, a special time in his life).  As he grew he carried the burden of art on his shoulder to please and obey his father‘s direction (the teenage trapeze artist with the barrel on his shoulder represents that time for Picasso).  The man in red is his father, strong and intense but with one leg as if handicapped by his son’s success.  As Picassos first teacher, his father had the claws of a dead pigeon nailed to the wall, and made little Picasso draw them until he could reproduce the shape exactly. The man in red also carries the weight of art.  Then there is his mother in the lower right of the painting, another enlightened figure that seems to be a source of life for Picasso.  While his father was always pushing for higher artistic endeavors, I imagine that Picasso’s mother always assured him of her support and most likely sent clandestine monies after his move to Paris.  There must have been a feeling of isolation from his mother since his father had full control of his schedules.  His father was ubiquitous in Picasso’s life, both at home and at school which would have created the separation shown from his mother in ‘The Family Saltimbanque’.  Picasso began as a child signing his paintings using his father’s surname ‘Pablo Ruiz’ but later adapted only ‘Picasso’, from his mother’s maiden name.   Finally there is the jester that represents who Picasso is now…standing with Conchita, his sister who died at the age of 7 from Diphtheria.  Picasso was devastated by her death and I’m sure he thought of her often.   Conchita and Picasso  are looking at his past, maybe because he always felt that she was with him.   Like a jester, Picasso was an entertainer who was the clown of his cast of friends.  He enjoyed impressing everyone and considered himself the ringleader of ‘la bande a Picasso’ (The Picasso Gang).   I think (and this only my opinion) that the traveling circus helped Picasso put himself together.

That is my version of the story.  Be it right or wrong…that is how Picasso left it…up to me.

“Damn everything but the circus”  Corita Kent


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