And so here we are with the 7th entry in Dave Haslam’s rather marvellous Art Decades series (you’ll remember we’ve spoken previously about My Second Home, which concerned Sylvia Plath in Paris, All You Need is Dynamite, which centred largely upon the Angry Brigade, and Not All Roses, which told of the afterlife of Stone Roses’ dancer, Cressa); Adventure Everywhere uses Picasso, and his exploits as a young man in Paris in the early twentieth century as a prism through which to explore… well, all of the things that interest Dave Haslam and his legions of readers – and, as usual, it is thrilling, funny and exhilarating, as likely to have you chasing down John Richardson’s multi-volume Picasso biography to find out more as you are to buy tickets for a long weekend in Paris and chase down some of these highways yourself.
So, yes, we are principally interested in Picasso, and how he made a name for himself, and how he was something of a womaniser and could treat badly (hence all of the kind of talk that surrounds him these days about whether or not he should be ‘cancelled’ – sigh) – but we are also following, as Picasso did, in the footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec, and Manet, and… well, the list goes on. Theodore Dreiser is looking to plunge into “the noisy late-night craziness”. Jarry and Apollinaire are drinking buddies. Van Gogh has walked these same streets, as has Cezanne and Modigliani and, of course, Gertrude and Leo Stein and Hemingway… Every page is full of characters and stories, of paintings and books, of places that were once one thing and then became another and another, until you find yourself in the company not of just one Paris but many Parises – opium dens becoming brothels becoming night clubs becoming gig venues before ending their days razed to the ground and replaced by some new mecca of consumer delight.
The thinking that informs the book is, as you’d expect 6 books in, primarily counter culture. For such a short book (it clocks in at just over 60 pages), it is filled like an over stuffed suitcase with eminently quotable quotes you may not have heard before. For example:
“Baudelaire believed the modern artist should ‘set up his [sic] house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of motion, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite…”
Here is Apollinaire: “We want to give you vast and strange territories… colours never seen before…” Haslam follows this with:
“He’s talking about art like it’s a night out, an experience of ravenously seeking highs and inspiration. He’s celebrating the curious, the misfits; ‘Nous qui quêtons partout l’aventure,’ he says (‘We who seek adventure everywhere’).
You could, of course, say the same thing about Haslam himself, who haunts these pages, in a rather lovely way, towards the end, walking the same streets as he researches the book, digging up his stories, as thrilled as his readers to learn what he learns, to share what he shares.
“In 2019, I spent a month living above a sex club on the boulevard de Clichy. Directly opposite was a Monoprix supermarket in a building that now stands on the site of the demolished night club L’Enfer… I like to hold on to the thought that all of Montmartre’s past is contained somewhere in its present, that Fernande Olivier, Modigliani, Josephine Baker, Jacqueline Lamba, Apollinaire, Lee Miller, Frédé Gérard, and Johnny Thunders are partying in some dimly lit room up some steep stairs somewhere.”
As with the other books in the Art Decades series, it’s a book to be wolfed up, read in a single sitting and then returned to. I can well imagine popping this book and My Second Home in my pockets ahead of a jaunt to Paris – a long weekend in the company of these books, following in the shadow of Picasso and Plath and Haslam and all the rest would be time well spent indeed.
Any Cop?: Art Decades can just run and run for us. We love where Haslam takes us and we love the stories he unearths. He’s becoming a rather cool Sebald-like figure and we can’t wait to see where he takes us next…