Fifty-eight years ago this week, Pablo Picasso began work in a third-floor room of a chateau which the city of Antibes had converted into a museum. Until the weather turned cold in November, he arrived each afternoon to paint until late in the evening, using light from two large projectors. He donated much of the art he created there to the city, as well as some later work, all of it now displayed in the chateau, which was renamed the Picasso Museum, the first in the world to feature his art.
The room that was his studio now displays “Ulysses and the Sirens,” a 12-foot high work representing Ulysses tied to the mast of his ship to withstand the song of the Sirens. The painting’s blues and greens evoke the Mediterranean, and the face of the hero centers the scene, round and pale like a full moon, the eyes wide and the mouth seemingly sewn shut as a torrent of sea archetypes swirls around it. Picasso’s satyr-like energy left me unable to stand for long in front of the paintings. Instead, I was drawn to the windows. I watched the sea surge and withdraw from the rocks. I watched a woman in a flowing red skirt look up from the plaza. I watched a pigeon feather flutter in the breeze, stuck to the sill by a daub of dung. “Of course I can,” I sensed from somewhere indisputable. It seemed as if, looking out Picasso’s window, I could see my own work before me: obvious, necessary, and freed from doubt. Later in the gift shop, I bought a poster of “White Faun Playing the Diaulus,” because the serene and horny guy playing his music with his eyes closed looked like how I felt at Antibes. I also bought the cap, the t-shirt, the postcards, and a fat biography by Patrick O’Brien. Back home at Boulevard Carnot, I still can feel it: Of course I can!