• Francis Picabia Celui qui devient un grand homme n'est plus un homme, ca. 1920

Francis Picabia Celui qui devient un grand homme n'est plus un homme, ca. 1920

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An intriguing autograph aphorism, ca. 1920, by the Dadaist painter and poet. 1 pp. 8vo (8.25 x 10.5 inches; 21 x 27 cm). Ink on paper. In French, "Celui qui devient un grand homme n'est plus un homme." ("He who becomes a great man is no longer a man.") Rare. 

Inventor of the “machinist painting” and carrier of the Dada movement to New York and Paris, Francis Picabia was editor of the journal 391 and author of numerous books of poetry and prose, along with manifestos, aphorisms, and scenarios for ballets and films. While now better known for his paintings, Picabia was also an important Dadaist poet, though prior to the 2012 publication of a collection of his writings, most of his poetry was not available in English. “Anybody called Francis is elegant, unbalanced, and intelligent,” Gertrude Stein opined. Tristan Tzara wrote that “Picabia has destroyed ‘beauty’ and built his work with the leftovers,” while André Breton noted his “impulse toward sabotage.” Picabia himself claimed to be “an imbecile,” “a pickpocket,” and “the only complete artist.”  While better known now for his paintings, Francis Picabia was also an important poet, merging the Dadaist practice of automatic writing with the idea of the word as readymade to produce a “mechanomorphic language.” Furthermore, the disjunctiveness of Picabia’s poetry may be seen as a form of abstraction, comparable to that which would be periodically manifested in his paintings. 

"He began writing the poems collected in Fifty-Two Mirrors in 1914 but achieved a furious productivity in 1917-20, following that first book with as many as three in 1918 and two each in 1919 and 1920. Picabia’s poetic production was then sporadic through the rest of the ’20s and apparently nil for the next decade until the breakout of another war in 1939, when a second phase began that would last nearly the rest of his life.  What characterizes the poetry of Picabia’s first phase, right from the beginning, is a degree of syntactic and semantic disjunctiveness utterly unique at the time, and certainly surpassing the collagelike effects found in other formally restless French poetry of this period, whether by friends such as Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars or by figures antipathetic to Picabia, such as Pierre Reverdy, each of whom adhered in his own way to Rimbaud’s momentous call for “a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses.” Moreover, some of this work gives every indication of having been produced by techniques of automatic writing that the Surrealists liked to think had entered literature with André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s The Magnetic Fields in 1920. Picabia was really a forerunner of both Dada, the movement he joined and later rejected, and Surrealism, from which he kept his distance, yet his writing could be far more unpredictable and emotionally pungent than that of most adherents of those movements.  There has probably never been a poetry at once as massively energetic yet as coolly nonchalant as Picabia’s in this first phase. But where is the fire-breathing nihilist of legend? His verse contains as much tenderness as fury, as much lyricism and sarcasm–though undoubtedly more bitterness than joy. Breton was on the mark when he wrote to Picabia in 1920, “What always amazes me about you is precisely the opposite of how you were always described to me, that is, your rare ability to love. I told a friend, rather clumsily, that your books have been written in the language of love.” Although Picabia had been feverishly devoting himself to poetry in these years, it was of a sort that never would have been written by anyone who considered himself a poet: the poetry of a dilettante. Picabia maintained his work’s freshness prepotently by making productive use of distractedness." (Barry Schwabsky, "The Imperfectionist: Reconsidering the life and legacy of avant-garde artist and poet Francis Picabia," The Nation, October 18, 2007)