Picasso with his daughter Maya
I would like to deliver a family secret…My grandfather used a cotton with excrement produced by his daughter Maya (my mother), then aged three, to make an apple in a Still Life, dated 1938. According to him, excrement from an infant breast-fed by its mother had a unique texture and ochre colour.
Picasso had already told André Breton in 1933 that he wanted to use real, dried excrement for one of his still life paintings, specifically those inimitable turds that he happened to notice in the countryside when children ate cherries without bothering to spit out their pits. The revulsion that this material might provoke is instead transformed into amazement as we grasp the full imagination of the artist.
This work reminds us of the radical gesture he used in Still Life with Chair Caning dated 1912, which consists of the integration of a foreign body in a painting. At a conference in 2003 about stercoral matter, Jean Clair recounted an anecdote about Picasso: “There is a long history of shit in art. We say that when someone asked Picasso, ‘Maître, what would you do if you were in prison, with nothing?”’, he answered, ‘I would paint with my shit’.”
• Excerpt from 100 Secrets of the Art World, edited by Thomas Girst and Magnus Resch, published by Koenig Books