Saying No to Picasso – Francoise Gilot’s Life in Art

Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in November 2016

“When you open yourself to risk, you will also experience bad things, but mostly you will learn a lot and live and understand more and more. Most importantly, you will not be bored. The very worst thing is to be bored.” – Francoise Gilot

At the age of 94, Francoise Gilot wakes up every morning and paints. Throughout her life, Gilot was known for her relationships with legends of twentieth century including Picasso and Matisse. She was also married to Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, for twenty five years. Not satisfied to merely play the role of muse, Gilot was, from an early age, an accomplished painter whose paintings and drawings found their way into private collections and public museums worldwide. In Malte Herwig’s new book about Gilot, she shares with the author her stories and wisdom gleaned from a lifetime creating and interacting with art.

Precocious and bright from an early age, she began to study painting by the age of five, and by six she’d read her way through the Greek myths. By the age of twelve she’d read Baudelaire, Poe and Alfred Jarry. After graduating from the Sorbonne and Cambridge University, she made her way as a painter with her first exhibit in Paris in 1943.

Pablo Picasso called Francois Gilot “The Woman Who Says No” because she was the first woman to defy him. After 10 turbulent years together during which she bore two children, Claude and Paloma, Gilot left Picasso “to find her ‘I’ again.” Herwig describes Gilot as a “… philosopher of joy, who can find laughter even in the darkest moments of the tragicomedy of her life.” She found in painting the metaphors for a life well lived. All things have their place, and light becomes more radiant in contrast to darkness. A courageous life, Gilot believes, like a well-executed painting, will have joys and sorrows and even mistakes reworked into a new intentionality. An interesting path becomes more important than a lack of mistakes. Having completed more than 5,000 drawings and 1,600 paintings in her lifetime, Francois Gilot, muse and artist, remains true to herself through her philosophy of creation and reinvention. “No matter how old you are, you must behave like the ocean. Watch the movement of the waves, the coming and going of the tides. All life has movement, rhythm, a momentum you must seize like a dancer, and if you allow this movement to flow through you, then you become one with the rhythm of life.”

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