Finally summer is here: the season of seaside, vacations, restful breaks and relaxing sceneries. The interesting thing is that summer comes for everybody, for artists too! Has Keith Haring ever burnt on the beach? And what kind of eccentric speedos could ever Salvador Dalí wear? And did Pablo Picasso know how to swim? And what about Mark Rothko‘s blue paintings, do they take inspiration from the ocean? And where did Willem de Kooning go to the beach?
We’ve sneaked around the family albums of some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century to look for curiosities and anecdotes on their everyday life: beyond the social events, their most famous works of art, when they didn’t strike a pose, or read a prepared speech, did they enjoy a summer on the beach?
As we know he’s been one of the most original exponents of the pop culture. In the eighties Keith Haring began to work on the streets of New York, where he met the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, both of them become later great friends of him.
In 1980 he took part at the Times Square Show, the first exhibition on the American underground art, with other street artists as Lee Quinones and Futura 2000. Here, inspired by the urban scene, he decided to intervene on the empty advertising spaces of the New York subway.
“I kept seeing more and more of these black spaces, and I drew on them whenever I saw one. Because they were so fragile, people left them alone and respected them; they didn’t rub them out or try to mess them up. It gave them this other power. It was this chalk-white fragile thing in the middle of all this power and tension and violence that the subway was. People were completely enthralled.”
Here starts his fast and brief artistic and commercial success: in 1986 Keith Haring opened the Pop shop in SoHO, New York, a shop-studio where people could purchase gadgets and look at him while he was working. He died in New York in 1990 because of some complications to the AIDS: he was only 31 years old.
Keith Haring by Andy Warhol, 1984
A long list just to try to define Dalí: Spanish painter, sculptor, writer, photographer, director, designer and scriptwriter, but above all surrealist. His full name? Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech.
Thanks to his eccentric dandy nature, we found very odd curiosities about him. When he was five, he was led to the grave of his brother by his parents, who made him believe to be his reincarnation, fact that stroke him. At six, Dalí wanted to become a chef: the dream didn’t come true, but in 1973 he published an enormous book of recipes, above all aphrodisiac, titled Les dîners de Gala.
In 1955 he arrived in Paris with his Rolls Royce Phantom white II with more than 500 kilos of cauliflowers. The reasoning behind that was simply that “all ends in the cauliflower!” Later he told to the journalist Mike Wallace that he had always been deeply attracted by the “logarithmic curve” of that vegetable.
Instead of a “common” cat, in the sixties, Dalí decided to buy an American leopard, called Babou, that the artist kept on a leash. Once, in a restaurant, he said that it was a simple cat gone out of one of his paintings to calm down a worried client.
When he met his beloved wife Gala, she was still married with a good friend of Dalí, the French poet Paul Éluard. Éluard himself ended, very diplomatically, to be one of their wedding witnesses.
Dalí refused to pay his secretaries, instead of money he gave them sketches and others works that at that time didn’t value so that much, but after his death his secretaries became millionaires.
Dalí eating a sea urchin on a boat, October 11 1959, Cap de Creus
During a visit to the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, the African masks exposed stroke Picasso very much: they could generate such different feelings, fear, terror, amusement, making Picasso desire to transmit the same with his works of art. That is the “behind the scenes” of one of his most important piece, Les Demoiselles of Avignon, emblematic not only for his artistic research but also for XX century history of art.
Another well known work by Picasso is Guernica, created in 1937 for The Universal exposure to Paris and become a symbol of the fight against Fascism. The title is taken from the name of the Basque city was just bombarded by Germany, causing a lot of civil victims, people intent doing the shopping at the market. When the nazi soldiers, together with the German ambassador in Paris, asked to Picasso while staring at Guernica “Have you made this horror, maestro?”, he answered “No, you made it.”
A legend reports also that the first word pronounced by the little Pablo hasn’t been the traditional “mom”, but “Piz!”, from “lapiz”, that’s Spanish for “pencil”. His friends told also that the painter had peniaphobia, that is to say he had fear of poverty.
While Dalì had a leopard, Picasso had “only” a dachshund dog named Lump.
Pablo Picasso by Willy Rizzo, around 1960
Rothko is born in Russia, but at the age of 10 years he moved to America with his family. About his artistic research, after various attempts to free from the figure, he finds a new language made only of big paintings with color blocks, through which he express all his strong existential sensibility, that’s why he’s classified as an abstract expressionist.
In 1958 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe commissioned to Rothko a series of murales for the restaurant Four Seasons at the Seagram Building in New York. Once completed the work, that lasted more than one year, Rothko wasn’t satisfied to see his paintings as background in a dining room. So he sent nine of those to the Tate Gallery, where there’s still a permanent installation designed by Rothko himself.
Rothko knew little success till 1960, making a living by teaching art, before at the Brooklyn Jewish Academy Centre and then at the California School of Fine Arts, in San Francisco. But after his death -he took his own life in 1970- the success of critic and public started growing more and more, until becoming one of the most paid artists in the world. In 2014 No.6 (Violet, Green and Red) broke all the records: the Russian magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the painting for 186 million dollars!
Christoper Rothko, called Topher, seated on the lap of his father Mark Rothko in the summer of 1964 in Sag Harbor, New York. Picture by family album of Peter Selz, MoMa painting and sculpture curator from 1958 to 1965.