The son of a Spanish father or Cuban origin and a French mother who died young, Picabia studied at the Escuela de Artes Decorativas (School of Decorative Arts), alongside Braque and Marie Laurencin. In 1899 he exhibited for the first time at the Salon des Artistes Français. From 1902 onwards, his work let the influence of Pisarro and, especially, Sisley, be felt. He then began to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne, the Salon des Indépendants and the Galerie Berthe Weil, and his success earned him a contract with Galerie Haussmann.
Between 1901 and 1914 Picabia, whose earlier style had come close to the dominant concepts of symbolism and synesthesia in late 19th century art, experimented with different “isms” in his search for a modern visual language. In his first contact with the Parisian avant-garde his friendship with Marcel Duchamp was forged. In 1913 he spent six months in New York, which he considered the quintessential Cubist city. From then on, the machine, in its different interpretations, was configured as a fundamental element in his work.
He spent the First World War between New York, Barcelona and the Caribbean. In Spain he met expatriots such as Marie Laurencin, Gleizes, Cravan and Charchoune, and began to write poetry. He enthusiastically joined the Dadaist movement, worked on its magazines and was one of the founders of 391, he participated in their meetings and scandalized the salons with his machine paintings. The golden age of Dada in 1920s Paris was thus, tutored by Tzara, Breton and Picabia. However, in 1921, Picabia abandoned Dadaism through considering that, in spite of his original criticism of the system, it was becoming in turn, another form of system.
In 1922 he moved from Paris to the suburbs of Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. That same year he exhibited his machinist paintings and his Espagnoles series at Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona. In addition to criticizing Dada, the artist also pointed out how he disagreed with surrealism. Against all this he proposed “instantaneism”, an aesthetic to which Entr’acte,a ballet with music by Satie, and Relâche, a film written by Picabia and directed by René Clair. Subsequently, the artist lived on the Côte d’Azur for twenty years, where he also achieved fame.
In the thirties he worked on a series of transparencies and, during the Second World War, his painting reflected a realistic aesthetic, no longer participating in the latest manifestations of the avant-garde. After suffering his first cerebral hemorrhage and living in Paris, he reconnected with his old friends and began a final stage in which he explored the possibilities of abstraction. In 1951, the arteriosclerosis which was paralyzing him prevented him from painting in the years before his death in 1953.
Noemi de Haro