Dessin puriste (1925)

This is another response to an individual work, a copy of which can be found in Krauss’ book, The Picasso Papers.

Before I get to this, though, let me offer some quick notes to the essay, “The Circulation of Signs.” Krauss brought up an interesting issue in the introductory essay, while discussing Picasso’s work in general: if the meaning expressed in a given work which is abstract is self-referential, the meaning can be without value. (Please see All signs lead to Picasso.) Because this is in the introductory essay, I thought she would spend the length of the book addressing its main concern. She does somewhat, and I’ve included what I found useful in my post, Violin (1912); however, she spends most of her time discussing how several different works refer to ongoing political concerns during the time that the works were created. (So the works refer to issues that lie beyond the work, and issues very specific to a time and place, and thus, they are not self-referential.)

I am a little disappointed. To address the issue in her introductory essay, I can again only offer my own opinion, and that is that if a given work has good form, it has something of value. OTOH, art is inherently a social medium; IE, it is made with an audience in mind. It doesn’t have to be political, but the more it comments/engages with issues that lie beyond the work, the more it engages with its audience on a level that is beyond form itself.

Okay, moving onto the work I am responding to. I thought it was by Picasso but it’s  actually by Amedee Ozenfant. It can be found in the section entitled Picasso-Pistache.

Krauss goes on at length about how Picasso was criticized for creating pastiches of works/styles which were created/used by his contemporaries. I have not finished the essay, so I can only say that thus far she offers two responses: one which is critical and one which seems to justify what Picasso did by saying that he took the style of a given artist and then did more.

Today, we seem to allow this but call it “appropriating” the style of another artist while “making it one’s own.”


Ozenfant’s Dessin puriste (1925) may seem to look like a pastiche of Picasso’s work in that it is a flat representation of the objects, and the contour of one object may share the same lines of the contour of another object. But Ozenfant does something that does not make me think of Picasso, and that is how the picture is scored horizontally and vertically by how the contours of certain objects run along what would be one of two grids, one which divides the picture into thirds and the other into quarters. This does not happen with all the lines, but it happens so often that it looks intentional. It creates some interesting visual rhythm which is not very obvious.

What it fails to do which Picasso does so well in his cubist work is create tension between the flatness of the work and the illusion of dimension. This is because there are no vanishing points. You can compare this to Landscape with Posters (1912), which has multiple vanishing points. It is only flat and thus less engaging.


I tried to do this by eye, but eventually I had to use a grid, because so much of what is effective of this drawing depends on how well certain lines match up with other lines.



When I was done with the pencil version, I simply added ink using a ball-point pen.


I only wanted to make sure I had smooth lines (so I compulsively went over the lines until they “flowed” well). However, looking at the finished version, I think the variation of thicknesses in the lines creates some illusion of depth and thus creates some tension between the illusion of depth and the flatness of the drawing.

In short, it doesn’t look as flat as the original, which I guess is neither better nor worse, as the effectiveness of the original was achieved, in part, by its flatness. Either way, it was interesting to see the drawing move in another direction by merely changing the quality of line. 


Landscape with Posters (1912) Part 2


This is continued from the previous post, Landscape with Posters (1912).

Seeing the finished work can be overwhelming, and I think that’s part of its appeal. You can get lost in it. So while making a copy, I was pleasantly surprised to see the picture open up to me. In order to find a starting point, my eyes followed the horizontal lines, and I noticed that they scored the picture regularly.

While drawing diagonal lines, I noticed two were set apart from each other but parallel, so they framed a part of the picture at an angle.


I then noticed other parts designated by lines that are parallel to each other, which intersect each other. These spaces are where you can focus your gaze; you can get lost in them.


The variety of angles or perspectives or vanishing points, or however you would like to describe the lines which create these spaces, create a kind of ebb and flow, while the visual rhythm of the horizontal lines unify the picture as a whole.

The process was very simple. I copied it by eye, first in pencil.


I then added ink.

I really liked the idea of applying ink to only one set of parallel lines; EG, all the horizontal lines. However, I wanted to see if I could do more. Interestingly, adding ink to all the lines seemed to be too much, so I considered using different colored inks, so that you could see the ebb and flow more easily. However, doing so took away from the unity of the original. I eventually settled on using a variety of thicknesses.

For the below, I simply went over the lines in pencil with a black ball point pen.


For the final version, the vertical lines were left only in ball point pen. The horizontal lines have black gel pen over the ball point pen. For the diagonal lines, I applied blue gel pen over the black ball point pen and then a black gel pen over the blue gel pen.


I then added shadows which mimicked the variety of tones in the black and white digital copy of the original offered in the book. This further added greater depth and contrast between the spaces.

Landscape with Posters (1912)

This is a post relating to the book, The Picasso Papers, by Rosalind E. Krauss. Please see my two previous posts: Violin (1912) and All signs lead to Picasso.


Here are some notes on Landscape with Posters (1912).


When looking at any scene, all the lines are at a variety of angles, but Picasso allows himself to draw some lines parallel which should not be parallel. This creates multiple vanishing points and more visual rhythm than what the original may have had.

Visual rhythm is always nice, but when each element being expressed rhythmically has meaning (IE, it signifies something), the meaning itself becomes manifold and the experience of viewing the work becomes more substantive. For example, the lines denoting a variety of ground levels is the idea of the ground expressed in avariety of contexts. It isn’t only the rhythm of lines but the rhythm of the earth or any other idea associated with the ground.

You also have the rhythm of doorways (notice there are two) and the rhythm of walls. And then you have the occasional “poster,”which breaks up what Picasso might’ve thought was monotonous and which gives a viewer a few places to focus one’s attention.

There are also some really nice moves: EG, the bottom of a wall receding beyond the opening of a door, which is made more interesting with the rectangle surrounding the door which depicts a building. It’s not stated in the picture, but seeing a door to a building and not just what would be an archway is associated with experiences of when you may have wondered about what’s inside a place. You don’t see what’s inside, and this invites you to wonder what could be.


Violin (1912)

Krauss, The Picasso PapersThe Picasso Papers, by Rosalind E. Krauss. Continued from All Signs Lead to Picasso.

In her first essay, “Circulation of Signs,”Krauss offers responses to individual works. So, likewise, I’ve decided to offer my own thoughts on Picasso’s Violin (1912), along with a couple of Krauss’ ideas which I found technically useful. 

Violin (1912) as a whole is an amalgam of surfaces, and yet you get a sense of the  “thingness” of the object, but in a way which makes us conscious of the elements which express themselves otherwise naturally and are often received somewhat subconsciously.

The three dimensional quality is expressed in only what is essential to express a three dimensional object, which is much less than what a photo of a violin expresses. There is no shared “horizon,” into which everything “vanishes.” There are only shadows and all parts of the violin, seen from different angles, can be seen all at once.

A violin is a complex object. The way it plays with the light is beautiful, and Picasso conveys this with the stark contrast of light and dark areas. Using newspaper print, he also conveys what Krauss calls “atmosphere.” She discusses how he makes use of positive and negative space, as an example of how the meaning of the signs used are internal and relative to each other. IE, the contour of one element is the contour of another and either can be signifier (of a violin or part of a violin) and background.


Only when finishing the drawing did I realize how important the use of collage is to this work. When I only used pencil, it fell flat.


I think there is so much going on in the newspaper that it stands out as a different surface. The image of individual letters lined across the columns, which create visual rhythm, are enough to make its audience see it (even as part of a digital image, which is then printed into a book and then photographed for this blog) as a different surface, and thus lends itself to the illusion of depth.


Maybe if I simply make the gray areas more busy. Here is the original side by side with either version.

I think the unevenness of the second version creates the illusion of more depth than the first version. It appears more airy and recedes further back into the picture than the spaces filled in with charcoal. The spaces filled in with pencil in the first version seem to share and compete with the spaces of charcoal, because they are too similar. When the surfaces are more varied, there is more complexity of depth overall.