When Picasso Put Down His Brushes and Painted With Light Instead

Gjon Mili and Pablo Picasso's amazing photographs for Life magazine

Painting. Sculpture. Printmaking. Ceramics. Design. Etching. Pablo Picasso – born Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Crispín Crispiniano María Remedios de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso – turned his hand to a huge variety of different mediums to create his revolutionary artworks. But, in 1949, a young Albanian-American photography prodigy introduced him to an entirely new one: light.

Gjon Mili arrived in the South of France in 1949. Sent on assignment from the Life magazine in New York City, Mili was given only 15 minutes to try something new with the famously surly artist.

Mili had shown Picasso his experimentations with light and movement (like his photographs of ice skater Carol Lynne with lights attached to her skates) and the pair tried out something similar, with Picasso drawing in the air with a small electric bulb in a dark room.

Picasso was fascinated by the results. After initially only agreeing to spare 15 minutes of his time, he agreed to five more sessions with Mili.

The photographs that resulted from their collaboration show Picasso creating moving artworks in the air. Mili preserved them on film using a long exposure and two cameras, one for the side view and one for the front view. Interestingly, the word ‘photography’ itself comes from the Greek words 'phōs', meaning 'light', and 'graphé', meaning ‘drawing’, together meaning ‘drawing with light’.

Picasso’s drawings of centaurs, bulls, and human figures disappeared within milliseconds over 60 years ago, but they live on in Mili’s remarkable photographs.

Words by Leonie Shinn-Morris
Credits: All media
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