I first saw Picasso’s “Woman in a Chemise” in André Breton’s surrealist book Nadja (1928) way back in 1996 when I was still in university. Breton’s work would be a major influence in my writing, particularly in the novel I was writing at the time; however, Picasso’s painting – muddily printed in my copy of Nadja – would have a much greater impact.
I wouldn’t see a color version of the painting until I came to Poland, and even today, looking at it again, I’m always surprised by the colors, particularly the way the blue surrounds the woman in the image. Colors aside, it’s her profile that really gets me, the sharpness of the nose, the sleepy quality exhibited in the eyes, the way the ears stretch, the slight snarl in the lips, the lankiness of the body; she’s simultaneously worldly and otherworldly.
There’s a mystery here wanting to be solved.
When I look at it, I remember those sunny university days, beer on my breath and books in my bag. The way the music on my CD player felt so important and heavy. The way the highlighted passages in my books felt like they were written for me personally. I remember laying on the grass, the coolness of the dirt against the back of my head, knowing that it was time for class but not wanting to go, thinking every thing in my life was written and unable to understand it was all still unwritten.
I have a feeling the “Woman in a Chemise” already knew this.