Friday, August 15, 2008

Holiday reading

I spent a week in Wales with the family, getting well and truly rained on. Luckily, the house we were in was beautiful, and I had Volume 3 of John Richardson's incredible Picasso biography to keep me happy. I love the way this writer combines the narrative of Picasso's life with his own critical insights, and somehow avoids the trap which so many artistic biographies fall into - namely, implying that every aspect of the subject's work can be related to their life in a specific and direct way. Psychoanalytical theory run mad. When Richardson does relate the paintings to biographical specifics, it's with a sense of the way in which the art transforms those specifics, making them resonant way beyond the moment of and impulse to creation. So his knowledge of the background to the paintings informs the viewer, without diminishing our response to the work.

It also serves very nicely to blow away the romantic myth of the solitary genius which surrounds so many visual artists. We theatre-makers are often perceived as rather second-rate in the creative stakes because we collaborate (in fact I once knew a painter who actually defined art as "something you do on your own"). Picasso was himself a theatre-maker, of course - but what this book demonstrates over and above that is the way in which the artistic milieu in which he moved served to develop him. Well, of course - it's called a culture. And what a milieu it was: Diaghilev, Nijinsky and sister, Massine, Cocteau, Dali, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Braque, Apollinaire, Brassai, Eluard.... even James Joyce puts in an appearance.

Having convinced myself how important collaboration is, I go on a round of Embassies related to the Origins Festival, and meet up with Nick Yu from Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre (in London for a seminar at the Royal Court). We do lots of juggling of dates and funds. The most frustrating part of any project is this long gestation period, and at the moment we're in two of them!

My new book on Chinese theatre is out. It's co-authored with Doug Holton, and published by University of Stranmillis Press, Belfast.

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