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Light Painting and Life with Pablo Picasso

On the occasion of Picasso's birthday, we celebrate the many art methods the modernist painter was known for. These rare photos by LIFE magazine’s Gjon Mili show Picasso at his home and studio dabbling in pottery, sculpting, and—a technique Lomographers love—light painting! See more of the artist at work below.

On October 25, 1881, he who would become one of the most influential artists of the 20th century was born. Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, better known as Pablo Picasso, was most known for his ingenious paintings and pioneering the Cubist movement. But did you know that he was also a sculptor, stage designer, potter, printmaker, and “light drawer?”

In 1949, LIFE magazine staff photographer Gjon Mili visited Picasso at his Southern France home and workspace. Being an innovator himself, Mili told Picasso about one of his photography techniques: by attaching little lights to ice skating blades and shooting figure skaters as they danced in the dark, graceful streaks of light were captured onto the image. Naturally, the multifaceted artist was intrigued.

“Picasso” LIFE magazine reported at the time, “gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature. Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space.”

This series of photographs, known ever since as Picasso’s “light drawings,” were made with a small electric light in a darkened room; in effect, the images vanished as soon as they were created — and yet they still live, six decades later, in Mili’s playful, hypnotic images. Many of them were also put on display in early 1950 in a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The chance meeting of the Spanish expatriate painter and Albanian-American photographer proved to be one of the most enthralling and inspiring artist collaborations of the past. Mili visited several more times, documenting Picasso’s process and personal life.

Above is a photo of the handwritten note authorizing Mili to use the images containing Picasso’s work, as well as the aforementioned photos featuring his paintings, sculptures and ceramics.

Here, you’ll see artist and author Françoise Gilot (Picasso’s long-time lover and muse) with his son Claude. Next, flowers and framed photos of Picasso with his second wife, Jacqueline Roque. Lastly, a photo of the artist in 1967, the year of his passing.

Picasso certainly led a colorful life, having molded modern art more than any other individual, and we have glimpses of his creative consciousness thanks to these eye-opening photographs by Gjon Mili.

Visit Picasso and Gjon Mili for more artist info. See the full stories “Pablo Picasso ‘Draws’ with Light” and “Life with Picasso 1949-1967” on LIFE.com.

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written by denisesanjose

3 comments

  1. digitaljunk

    Thanks for this article; I really enjoyed looking at the photos of Picasso’s light painting. You can tell that the decades of mastering freehand drawing on large canvases translated directly onto his light paintings. While most of us make do with random swirls with a torch, his light paintings show a fluidity that is free, yet controlled, working extremely quickly. The last photo is my favourite.

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  2. denisesanjose

    denisesanjose

    @digitaljunk Those were my thoughts exactly! His technique is truly unique and his consistency in creating them--even in a medium as fleeting as light painting--is remarkable.

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  3. epfencer

    epfencer

    great article!

    about 1 year ago · report as spam

Read this article in another language

This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 日本語, Italiano, 中文(繁體版), 中文(繁體版), 中文(简体版), Русский & Deutsch.