- Like so many of the other inventors of Dadaism, Picabia is double: not satisfied with only being an artist – he made himself a poet. Picabia was a poet of difference, as he was a painter rejecting painting, an artist unsatisfied with art. What drove him was a great desire to leave all acquired ideas behind him. He refused stability of all sorts. He was as numerous as his minutes. He became a poet in moments of crisis; his written work was subject to eclipse. It appeared suddenly, soared high, and then disappeared from the literary radar.
- This attitude is not only due to the casual frivolity that is his common practice; Picabia was drawn to darkness and sinking in the void, nothingness. His writing is the worst of mockery, but even as a de-stabilizing insinuation he never stops from taking it to the realm of the impossible. In his rise towards Dada, Picabia, inspired by Mallarmé and Nietzsche, established himself as a poet of rupture. A contemporary and intimate friend of both Apollinaire and Duchamp, yet motivated and urged on by a spirit of competition, Picabia gave the most audacious poetic version of the facts and non-facts, personal and unanimous, revealed and chaotically organized from his dreams and fantasies. Such are the Cinquante-deux miroirs, poems with a new tone and rhythm, compensating metaphysics with banality, eroticism with ethics, equilibrist composition with the cough of a vandal’s laugh, all written between 1914 and 1917 during his sojourns in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Gstaad, and published in Barcelona in 1917 – the first book by the author. Dada is anticipated, joined, justified.
- Thus Picabia’s trajectory began. The war, a fiery ambiance felt in the creative centers through which he passed, his tendency to become depressed, his near collapse, his moral and physical dilapidation, his profound reconsideration of expression in general, and of art in particular, are many of the reasons that pushed Picabia towards a fertile and fervent poetic activity. He folded back on himself (retreating to hotels or rest centers) and composed his most cutting-edge collections primarily in Switzerland (the last two, in Paris), bringing incongruity and disillusion to their realization, crossing revelation and obliteration. With a sustained rhythm, he wrote and published again and again the marvel that constitutes the Poèmes et dessins de la fille née sans mère, the purity of the dream that is L'Ilot du Beau-Séjour dans le conton de nudité, an invigorating succession of five songs, L'Athlète des pompes funèbres, digressions or confessions in prose both truly and falsely automatic, Râteliers platoniques, the round of truths that don’t neglect drowsiness that is Poésie ron-ron, the hilarious guarantee against seriousness, and the voluptuous denunciation of banality of Pensées sans langage, the tumbling of words that chase each other across the page, throughout the linguistic self-portrait that is Unique Eunuque, and the final swerve, a philosophical album constructed like a poetic account, both serious and burlesque, Jésus-Christ Rastaquouère. These are the contents of the resolutely Dadaist part of Picabia’s poetry, a sum of nine books (if one includes, as one must, the Cinquante-deux miroirs) that complete various diatribes in reviews, as well as combat thoughts and articles. It is a work in itself, a strange unity for such a tenant of incoherence. Picabia succeeded during this period of melancholy turned into derision the tour de force of never readopting the same poetics, inventing in each attempt a new method and a manner. The whole world – neither physical nor metaphysical reality escaping this subjugation – was taken in hand, at least in words, and according to the logic of surprise. Picabia did not present same mask twice in a row. Still, one must measure the enormity of avowal that hides behind such masks, altogether and alternatively bright and dull. The poetic participation of Picabia in Dadaism involved more of a twisting of meaning, an endless game with words and a frenzy of montage, than a descent towards the primitive center of sound or words. Here, Picabia was closer to Arp, Duchamp, Tzara or Pansaers than to Hausmann or Schwitters. He believed in a melody of melancholy cut by humor, disjointed poetry, a non-abstraction of the poem duly put in a whirl. He preferred transformation to decomposition. The word was for him unsurpassable, but not sound; he took pleasure in using it for assonance. He enjoyed displaying a counter-taste that gave precedence to the immediate, a slovenliness that shocked those who valued the craft, and a certain inappropriateness for morals and rules.
- Such was the surprising poetic path of a Dada artist who logically placed this self-citation as the epigraph to Unique Eunuque: "All conviction is a sickness." Finding inspiration, without pausing too long, and preferring above all to live and create. Picabia hated straight lines and enjoyed meandering as much in his art as in his poetry. He was an artist at least equal to the poet he was.
- TEXT CREDITS
Yves Peyré, 'Francis Picabia / Writings', translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 794-797. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 76-77 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].
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