( 1879-1953). Of Spanish origin, Picabia was born and died in Paris. He spent his life changing residences, friendships, ideas and styles, fighting for a cause and then against it, in favour of a new one that he abandoned in turn. An anarchist by atavism and temperament, a prolix and subversive artist, making fun of everything and of himself, fond of disparaging ideas, institutions, men, sceptical to the point of dogmatism, a lover of freedom to the point of libertarianism, much less concerned with making a career than with creating a scandal, Picabia nevertheless left his stamp on his time as an artist and, even more, as an individual. A pupil of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, he painted definitely Impressionist pictures until 1908, and then compositions influenced by Cubism. In 1911 he joined the Section d'Or group but left it the following year, to come over to an Orphic concept of painting. The same year he painted one of his best canvases, Procession in Seville.
In 1915 he came into contact with Marcel Duchamp in New York and, in co-operation with him, laid the foundations of the Dadaist rebellion. Picabia was in Barcelona in 1916 and founded there the magazine 391, which sparkled with his verve and sharp irony. The magazine appeared until 1924, irregularly to be sure, in Barcelona, then in New York, Zurich and, finally, Paris. In 1918 he joined forces with the Dada group in Switzerland. Returning to Montparnasse, he served as a link between the German Dadaists in Zurich and the French Dadaists. 'It was from this moment', noted RibemontDessaignes, who became the historian of Dadaism, 'that Dada was really born.' Picabia took part in the sensational events that scandalized the Parisian public and composed his famous 'ironical machines', which stood as a manifesto and a challenge. The baroque, the droll, the preposterous were the means he used to destroy traditional dogmas, laws and accepted formulae, the established order. He signed a tract of February 5th, 1920, as 'The Joker', and baptized one of his pamphlets The Unique Eunuch. In 1921 he quarrelled with his friends, to follow the poet André Breton when the latter founded the Surrealist movement. For the Ballets Suédois he created the settings and costumes of the ballet Relâche ( 1924), and exhibited with Miró, André Masson, Max Ernst, and Dali. Suddenly, he turned his back on Surrealism and reverted to representational art. Finally, in 1945, he took up abstract painting again, which he had been one of the very first to practise, as early as 1909 (Rubber). These erratic shifts reveal a man curious but unstable, enthusiastic but ineffective. Pursuing his researches in all directions, he indulged in the most gratuitous experiments, contradictions and provocations, cultivating, not without humour, a rhetoric of the absurd, more as a poet than as a painter. However, his gifts as a painter are incontestable, as are his high standards. Did he not destroy a portion of his work more than once? But his love for jest and his desire to astonish never left him even with age. In 1949, under the name of 'sur-irrealist' paintings, he exhibited purely abstract compositions which he entitled: You'll Never Sell It, Upside-Down, I Don't Want to Paint Any More, What Do You Call That? He was then seventy, but still as aggressive and spontaneous as a student. This is why he was surrounded by young men full of admiration for his disinterestedness, and his independence. But if he exercised an influence, it was, above all, as an animator and an inspirer. Besides, he never wanted any other title to fame.