Ask renowned artist Francoise Gilot her age, and she quickly answers she’s 81 going on 19.
“As an artist, I’m getting younger,” said Gilot, whose paintings are being exhibited at the Vanier Galleries, 7106 E. Main St. in Scottsdale, through March 3.
She’s serious, too.
“My latest work reflects the younger me,” said Gilot, who recently fell and fractured her hip but was determined to walk in the sunshine along Gallery Row in Old Town Scottsdale — without using a cane.
Gilot, who began painting as a teenager in her native Paris and whose life has been documented in several books and a Hollywood movie, is now a New Yorker, living and painting in her studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
She began exhibiting her paintings in Scottsdale in the 1970s, and her work is found in galleries worldwide.
Her latest paintings at Vanier Galleries have a common theme: The wanderer.
“I think this world is filled with wanderers — people who leave their homes and wander around, looking for a new life,” Gilot said.
“As for me, I’m not a wanderer. I’m focused. Yes, I’m very centered, and I have always known where I am going.”
Her exhibit of 40 watercolor and oil paintings, including India ink washes, is titled “Wanderings and Wonderings of the Imagination.”
Gilot’s life, meanwhile, is as compelling as many of her paintings.
For 10 years, she lived with Pablo Picasso, and they had two children. She left the famous painter and later married Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. Salk died in 1995, and Gilot said she was unable to paint for six months afterward.
Salk “was a lovable man,” Gilot said. “He was sensitive and very human.”
Her life with Picasso, who had many loves and several marriages, was another matter.
“I don’t want to talk about (Picasso),” Gilot said flatly.
Her 1964 memoir, "Life With Picasso," was made into the 1996 movie “Surviving Picasso,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the Spanish artist and Natascha McElhone as Gilot.
“(Hollywood) stole from my book to make that movie,” Gilot said. “And the movie was stupid!”
The movie portrays Picasso as a woman-hating, self-centered man willing to ruin the lives of others for his own pleasure, including his wives and female companions.
Mel Yoakum, curator for Gilot, said the artist has produced more than 5,000 paintings and has gone through 12 major themes, including the latest that focuses on wanderers.
“Despite the different themes, there is always one thing that stands out in all of her paintings,” Yoakum said. “Hope. There is always hope. She’s very positive.”