Picabia's Dada period

Francis Picabia. (French, 1879-1953). Dada Movement. 1919. Ink on paper, 20 1/8 x 14 1/4" (51.1 x 36.2 cm). Purchase. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Francis Picabia is known for having experimented with many styles throughout his lengthy artistic career: Impressionism, Dada
, Surrealism and later Cubism. His Dada period occurred before his move to New York where he incorporated the ideas of Dada, the revolt of this movement against form and meaning, in a series of paintings.

The Dada movement in literature, music and visual art grew out of a general collective sentiment of revulsion toward the unprecedented brutality of the First World War .

Picabia brought these ideas to New York establishing ,in effect, New York Dada between the period of 1913 and 1922. After this he abandoned Dada and explored Surrealistic themes. He leaves behind a number of works, paintings mostly of machine like forms, the legacy of New York Dada.

An early work of this period is I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie painted in 1913 in an oil medium.

This painting challenges the notion of aest
hetics in their conventional sense which was the aim of Dada, to negate all the driving forces that had guided art through its history in order to underscore the absurdity in the context of the horrors of human conflict. The title is sentimental evoking a sweet memory of a possible loved one, the image discordant. The dark tones and the malevolent appearing objects jarr the viewer out of any kind of comfort zone. There is the edge of a human face impaled by a knife and below there are images of objects with jagged edges that suggest animal traps of uncertain form. The dissonance between the title and the image cause a great sense of disquiet. The violence is clear but it is not presented in any kind of theme.

The next painting is Ici C'est Ici Stieglitz, a drawing made in 1915.

This sketch is again a challenge to artistic convention showing a
mechanical object of unspecified function. There is no shading nor any sense of meaning conveyed. The object is rendered almost like a blueprint of a machine but since the function is unclear that too is absurd, thus underlying the anti-Art stand of Dada.

The next painting is Amorous Parade, painted in Oil in 1917.

It continues in the vein of machine paintings. Its' title suggests a sensuous depiction but it again is not in keeping with the machine it represents
. There is color in this painting unlike the last viewed but it is of a strangely nonfunctional machine which has parts which are almost organic in form and not quite real. The meaning is nebulous if any is intended. In the spirit of Dada it plays with the expectations of the viewer and renders his observations individuous and not rooted in established ideas of form and aesthetics.

The next painting is La Fille Nee Sans Mere, a water color mixed with other media painted in approximately 1917.

This painting continues in the pattern of sensuous, emotional names given to paintings that are devoid of emotion or for that matter form, again presented as a machine. The title translated from French, the daughter born without mother, is quite unlike the brown and dark grey rendering of what appears to be a large wheel with a pump like addition. There is more order in this painting, the machine does not look so exotic as the others viewed. The muted browns and blacks reduce the shock and yet it too is not suggestive of beauty in the classical sense. There is a foreboding, unsettling quality to the painting .

These paintings illustrate the emotional bleakness of the New York Dada style. The aim of the Dada movement was to un-nerve the viewer, remove him from his area of comfort. This movement railed against meaning and form because it suggested in the wake of the absurd excesses of war all faith in aesthetics were in themselves rendered absurd.