Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Girl before a mirror

Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror informs me that the artist understood women very, very well.

How did Pablo Picasso know women so well? Perhaps it was because he loved so many of them. From his wives to numerous mistresses (some say hundreds), Picasso certainly seemed to fall under a female spell. He was as passionate about women as he was his art (and that's putting it nicely -- I would argue Picasso's sexual appetite was irrepressible).    

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the Spanish master. I absolutely adore the man's work. I cried when I visited the Museu Picasso in Barcelona (I don't think any other artist has brought me to tears the way Picasso has through his brushstrokes). His paintings help me express what I cannot do with words. But the man himself? He has always struck me as equal parts intoxicating and egomaniacal. Both tender and tyrannical. How are you to feel about an artistic genius who called all women goddesses or doormats and drove his lovers to despair (two were driven to mental breakdowns and two committed suicide)?   

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon portrays five nude prostitutes from a brothel on Carrer d'Aviyo in Barcelona.

Oh, Pablo. How you loved and loathed us. 

My favorite of Picasso's work is Girl Before a Mirror. The painting shows one of his favorite mistresses Marie-Therese Walter, who was just 17 when she met a 46-year-old Picasso. I identify with the woman in this painting, both loving and hating myself, depending on my life stage. I look back on photos taken during my 20s and wonder why I was so unforgiving. This, when I could eat whatever I wanted and actually had an enviable waistline. Then in my 30s and two children later, my body morphed. Childbirth left me feeling distorted, sometimes grotesque. Much like how Marie-Therese confronted her mortality, I faced what I was now left with -- a softer, squishier me.  

But now, as I head into my 40s I'm finding grace is good medicine for vanity and seeking perfection is an imperfect way to live. Finding charm in the unexpected is what I have always loved about Picasso's work. It took me a while, but I'm now starting to apply that perspective to my own body. Which is a work of art.