In the 1970s and early '80s, the French artist Françoise Gilot took three major trips abroad: to Venice, India and Senegal. She filled sketchbooks with the scenes she observed during her travels. The drawings—many of them made during bumpy plane rides—offer an intimate glimpse into Gilot’s creative process, adding to a body of work that had already begun to take shape some three decades earlier, when the artist became romantically and intellectually linked to Pablo Picasso. Now, at the age of 96, Gilot is releasing a facsimile edition of her travel sketchbooks, reports Sarah Cascone of artnet News.
Published by Taschen, the new edition features a foldout box set and an illustrated booklet that includes a conversation with Gilot and translations of the handwritten texts in her watercolor drawings. Each sketchbook is distinct in its tone and style, drawing on the atmospheres of the places Gilot visited.
“You can call it a diary,” as Gilot tells Lauren Christensen of the New York Times. “What I draw has meaning. In my mind, I notice what I feel, and not what is there.”
The artist was initially reluctant to publish her sketchbooks; she did not think anyone would be interested in her travel drawings, which she describes as being deliberately unfinished. But Thérèse Crémieux, an actor, playwright and Gilot's friend, convinced her that readers were interested in seeing her creative process, reports Christensen.
Gilot's Venice sketchbook, which she took with her on a 1974 trip, is filled with watery blues and re-imaginings of the bridges and architecture that characterize the historic city. Gilot was also inspired by Renaissance masterpieces that hang in Venice galleries, and sketched unique interpretations of the works of Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto.
Gilot’s 1979 India sketchbook is rendered mostly in black and white. She captured bustling roadways and market scenes, paying particular attention to women draped in sarees. “The cloth is a cocoon,” she noted, according to Taschen, “and in this latent metamorphosis lies the magic of the curved line.” In 1981 in Senegal, Gilot drew vibrant sketches of plants and landscapes and, once again, of women in traditional dress.
Gilot embarked on her travels with her second husband, Jonas Salk, the virologist who developed the first effective polio vaccine. It had been many years since Gilot had split from Picasso, whom she met in 1943, when she was 21 and he was 61. Their relationship spanned about ten years, and during that time they had two children together. Picasso painted Gilot hundreds of times, according to Dodie Kazanjian of Vogue, and while some claim to see his influence in her work, Gilot, who was an artist in her own right before meeting Picasso, tells the Times’ Christensen that she does not “believe in influences.”
While the romance lasted, Gilot mingled with the likes of Georges Braque and Henri Matisse; after it ended at Gilot’s behest, an incensed Picasso “turned the Paris art world against her,” according to Christensen. But that didn’t stop Gilot from producing thousands of paintings and drawings over her decades-long career. She is also an accomplished writer. Gilot’s most famous book, 1964’s Life with Picasso, chronicles her time in the company of the famed artist.
In later years, Gilot would prove less willing to discuss their relationship. “I'm not going to talk about Picasso,” she told Kazanjian in 2012. “I have done my duty to those memories. I have had a great career as an artist myself, you know. I'm not here just because I've spent time with Picasso.”