Can we still love the work of artists and musicians who treated the women in their lives like trash? It’s a question of whether separating art and artist is truly possible and if so, whether it should be encouraged. Either way, here are five culture-changing creatives, whose impact on the history of art and music can only be matched by their disgusting behaviour towards women. These are by no means the only examples of this very particular category of trash men.
“He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas”. Not the best press, and especially not from your granddaughter. Marina Picasso’s memoir looks at Picasso for what he was – a genius, yes, but a misogynist? Double yes. Picasso is one of the Greats, but while he changed the face of art, he was also busy treating women pretty terribly. He was abusive to various romantic significant others including Dora Maar and Françoise Gilot, and had a series of flings with significantly younger women. He met one of his muses Marie-Thérèse Walter when she was just 17 and he was 46, saying that “it was perfect – I was in my prime, she was in her prime.” No she wasn’t, Picasso. The artist spoke about how each time he remarries he should “burn the last [wife], that way I’d be rid of them …. You kill the woman and you wipe out the past she represents”. We can appreciate the ground-breaking work Picasso made, but simultaneous hate that women were forced to be collateral damage along the way.
John Lennon’s quick temper and violent streak has long been known about, and was something he himself admitted. Using Paul McCartney as a conduit, Lennon sang “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved”. This was likely about his behaviour in his first marriage to Cynthia Powell Lennon, the mother of his first son Julian, who John treated poorly too. Although John repented for his actions, saying “I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face how I treated women as a youngster” a lot of people put this change of character down to the influence of Yoko Ono. Lennon is a classic example of the love-the-output-hate-the-person dichotomy – The White Album is earth-shattering, but Lennon was not a gent. What fact wins?
Gaugin treated his first wife Mette Gad poorly, and then travelled around the globe to pass on syphilis to three new wives (one aged 13, the others 14) in Tahiti. While in Tahiti he painted the women there in a voyeuristic, innacurate manner – painting them naked, rather than the full-length dresses they actually wore which were given to them by missionaries. Gaugin’s art communicated a fetishised, hyper-sexualised depiction of young WOC to his European audience, the damaging effects of which are still felt today by black, brown, and Asian women.
Elvis famously met his wife Priscilla when she was 14, back in 1959. But he also dated a series of under-16s. Sandy Ferra, also 14, dated ‘The King’ and her mother was asked by Elvis whether Sandy could be permitted to move into his home with him, with the promise of him one day marrying her. Sandy’s father said no, but luckily Elvis still had Priscilla on his waiting list: Priscilla’s parents agreed to the exact same offer given to Sandy’s parents, and Priscilla moved to Graceland, and went to school at a convent school. Elvis had a complicated relationship with sex, and often went no further than heavy-petting. However, he did take polaroid pictures of Priscilla in ‘Sexy Schoolgirl’ uniforms, or with him acting as her scolding teacher. Elvis began to give Priscilla amphetamines to keep her up at night, causing her addiction. He was eventually forced to marry Priscilla by his manager, despite the fact that he had proposed to another young girlfriend already. Two years after his and Priscilla’s split in 1972, he dated 14-year-old Reeca Smith. Elvis’ 1955 hit ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ captured his infantilising fascination and desire for control of girls: “I’d rather see you dead, little girl – than be with another man.” Ten years later, these lyrics would be sung again by another musical superstar – John Lennon.
Anyone who’s read about Dalí, or seen his paintings, would quickly infer that he was peculiar. His life-long fears about castration and vaginas lie deeper beneath the surface. He was documented as having sadomasochistic tendencies from a young age, teasing girls with the promise of sex and then pulling away, “trampling” a girl at 29 until she bled because she spoke about his bare feet. The Surrealists took great interest in the psychoanalysis of their day, particularly from Freud. Freud had some pretty unsavoury views on women and sex – and naturally these feelings became deeply ingrained in the Surrealist code. Into his old age Dalí was obsessive about his wife Gala, and broke two of her ribs in one of his physical attacks on her. “An elegant woman is a woman who despises you and has no hair under her arms” – sigh.