Executed in the artist’s signature inverted style, Ma Jolie II (2000) is an exquisite example of Georg Baselitz’s Remix Paintings. Through thin, lyrical washes of pale colour and delicate strands of ink, the work presents a gentle vision of a young boy falling asleep to music. Created late in his career, Baselitz’s Remix Paintings revisit works from his previous output, transforming them into hazy, watery reflections of their precursors. Recalling the artist’s 1998 composition Little Boys II, the work is simultaneously a homage to Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece Ma Jolie of 1911-12. Rendered with deliberately thinned paint, in contrast to the thick impasto of his earlier oeuvre, the present work radically reworks the composition and surface of its predecessors. The whitewashes are laid on the canvas as outbreaks of light colours in contrast to black drips of ink, which dissolve and disintegrate into tiny dots across the canvas, creating an almost musical rhythm that appears to lull the child into slumber.
‘Ma Jolie’ was not only the nickname that Picasso used to address his beloved Marcelle Humbert, but also the name of a popular song which the French artist frequently listened to at a Parisian music hall. In the painting, this musical reference is emphasised through a treble clef situated next to the stencilled letters. Picasso’s Ma Jolie II is far from a conventional portrait of an artist’s lover, but there are hints of the female figure. The central bulk subtly evokes the silhouette of a woman’s head and physique; in the lower centre of the painting six vertical lines suggest the strings of a guitar. Picasso combines language with symbols; similarly Baselitz’s Ma Jolie II reclaims the musical motif by joining calligraphic letters and a metaphorical allusion to music through drops of ink, thus creating an internal dialogue between music and colour in memory of Picasso’s masterpiece.
Baselitz’s Remix Paintings, begun in the early 2000s, challenge his own artistic language by revisiting key moments in its development. From the 1960s, his technique of painting upside-down had aimed to challenge the traditional unity of form and content by purposely disrupting the legibility of his subjects: a new form of pictorial representation to address a world terminally ruptured by the horrors of World War II. As the artist explained, ‘There are no ideals today. I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I’d seen enough of so-called order’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in ‘Goth to Dance: Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Donald Kuspit’ , in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p.242). In Ma Jolie II, the physical features of the child are not only overturned, but slowly dissolve in swift, irregular strokes, nearly consumed by nervous, dripping lines of ink. As Baselitz himself noted, ‘An important aspect of my work is a sort of uncontrolled frenzy … It always seemed to me that repeating my own things would be fatal. But now I have a concept and can legitimize what I’m doing … I take photographs of my own paintings and then paint them once again. Of course to do it better. It’s a form of protest’ (G. Baselitz quoted, in ‘Painting Was Never Dead, It Was Prohibited: Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Thomas Wagner’ , in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p.308).