In this very small painting I’ve made use of two great Spanish painters, Velasquez and Juan Gris. Velasquez is a god and it takes cheek to borrow from him without acknowledging his magnificent way of placing characters in deep space. I can gaze at his paintings and time stops. But I’m up here in the 21st century and I need Juan Gris to confirm me in my chosen task of making this composition sparkle across the surface of the canvas. (It’s only 24 by 20 inches.)
Over a century ago when Juan Gris’s name was still – José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González Pérez – he developed a distaste for “good” painting. While still in Madrid, in a gesture of independence, he gave himself the pseudonym – John Gray – Juan Gris. All this was before he went to Paris and met Picasso and lived in Le Bateau Lavoir. He was ripe for the new esthetique that was in the air and his paintings from 1912 to 1922 remain some of my favourites of all time.
One of the things I love about Juan Gris is that, despite his distaste for “good” painting, he believed in real painting, paintings that moved him. Paintings done by masters. He would go to the Louvre and study, for instance, the French 18th century painter, Chardin. There he saw the object treated with enormous reverence and emotion. In his own cubist paintings he somehow did the equivalent. They are not motivated by mere design. It would be a huge mistake to say that his works are a product of his training in engineering. Gertrude Stein understood his emotional depths. She was able to unsettle Picasso by suggesting that Juan Gris’s paintings were more perfect than his. (Picasso is, of course, another god.)
I feel a barbarian outsider, sitting up here in 2012, borrowing from these old masters, mixing my stuff with theirs. I’m post, post, I don’t know what.