I had a busy day today- Mondays, you know. Setting up meetings, a stack of scripts to read for a contest, a residency proposal to write, asking friends if they’d let me give their names as references- normal playwright activities. So when the day is finished, when I’ve stopped the activities and the dinner dishes are done and I’ve talked to my boyfriend, I settle down to watch Simon Schama on Channel 13. I like Schama on TV- I always learn something and never feel like it’s hard labor. But it’s Schama on Picasso. I certainly have painters that I love, that I look at over and over again, but I really don’t much like Picasso. Most of Picasso I feel about like I feel about most of Egon Schiele- the narcissism leaps off the paintings in waves, and there’s often misogyny in there, too. Plenty of craft, sure, but I don’t like what they’re saying.
But Mr. Schama had beat me to it; he described Picasso’s “sad, thirty year decline… as a poster boy for Stalin.” The centerpiece of the TV show was “Guernica,” which in some ways is so unlike Picasso I can forget that he painted it. The first time I came to New York, I was a senior in high school. My parents brought me to audition for the acting program at SUNY Purchase (I would’ve gone to school with Edie Falco- imagine that!). We went to MoMA, and I saw “Guernica.” After that, every time I came to New York, I’d go to see that painting until it was sent back to the Prado. There was a bench in front of it, and I would sit on the bench and stare at it, sometimes for an hour, just trying to take it all in. Every time that I’d leave it, I knew I’d missed something in the painting. But it’s never left me.
I’ve written speeches in plays about it, which I invariably wind up cutting, because it’s too much me and not enough about the character. My latest attempt was in a play about two Hungarian immigrants who fought in the 1956 revolution, and then fled to Austria (very loosely based on the life of a friend of mine). In “Geography,” the sister (Katinka) wants to become an actress, and the brother (Brown) wants to make films. They’re telling each other about their new lives in New York in 1957, and he says to her:
“I go to Museum of Modern Art. I see Picasso "Guernica". Lucky there is bench by painting. My knees tremble, I cannot stand. I read in books about shaking knees, but I never can feel it until that day. So much- so much in painting. As much as in a film.”