Picasso with Centaur by Gjon Mili, 1949

“Why not have him draw in the dark, with a light instead of a pencil?” mused the photographer Gjon Mili as he was on his way to the Riviera to photograph the painter Pablo Picasso.

Mili, then working for LIFE magazine was a pioneer in lighting and in the use of stroboscopic instruments to capture a sequence of actions in one photograph. Mili showed Picasso some of his photographs of ice skaters with tiny lights affixed to their skates, jumping in the dark, which were published in LIFE and Picture Post a few years earlier (LIFE, 26 Mar 1945; Picture Post, 29th September 1945).

Picasso was transfixed instantly. LIFE wrote: “Picasso gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature. Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space.”

The above photo of Picasso drawing a centaur at Madoura Pottery was the most well-known of their collaboration. “This spectacular ‘space drawing’ is a momentary happening inscribed in thin air with a flashlight in the dark – an illumination of Picasso’s brilliance set off by the spur of the moment,’ wrote Mili in “Picasso’s Third Dimension”. 

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