PICASSO Pablo
(born 1881, in Malaga). Spanish painter. Although he has participated in all the adventures of French painting for half a century, Picasso has remained inalienably Spanish. The sumptuous, tragic and ponderous Spanish legacy he carries within himself, in his thought and his mood, and he squanders it without ever exhausting it. However, to find in his work, his vocabulary, his syntax and his themes solely this composite and sumptuous Spain, nourished on the myths and forms of Oriental civilizations, barbarian contributions, Greek and Gothic reminiscences, would be a vast oversimplification. In the formation of his genius it was the Spain of Góngora and Goya, of the baroque architect Gaudi, of Catalan anarchism and insurrectionism, a very special Spain, ardent, subversive, violent, passionate, that played the most important part. Be this as it may, no living foreign artist working in France has allowed himself to be less absorbed by the customs and spirit of France; no one has more asserted his loyalty to his origin. For everything is contradiction in Picasso, his life, his character, his work.
He was born of a Basque father, José Ruiz Blasco, who was a teacher of drawing, and a Majorcan mother of Genoese origin, María Picasso. At an age when most children are still playing with marbles, he had already painted pictures worthy of figuring in a museum. In 1900 he came to Paris. He admired the pictures of Van Gogh and the Montmartre scenes of Toulouse-Lautrec. The latter's influence is noticeable in the paintings he executed at the time, and also in those of the "'Blue Period'" ( 1901-1904). Poor and sick people, outcasts of life, were the objects of his attention. These themes, dear to Spain -- poverty, solitude, sadness -- he took up, but in a spirit influenced by French art and with means refined by contact with Montmartre drughtsmen. He drew single or grouped figures with increasing precision, but he elongated or narrowed them to stress their tragic expression; he painted them almost in monochrome, in a blue tonality, the blue of mystery and night. Picasso was then twenty-three, but already his name was known far beyond the narrow circle of friends who surrounded him. He established himself in the Bateau-Lavoir, 13 rue Ravignan, in Montmartre, as early as 1904, and his studio became a meetingplace where artists and writers worked out the principles of a new aesthetic doctrine. The poets Apollinaire, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Pierre Reverdy, the painters André Derain, Van Dongen and Juan Gris frequented this place or even lived there. After 1907 Georges Braque, introduced to Picasso by Apollinaire, could also be met there. Fernande Olivier has left the following striking portrait of Picasso at this time: 'Short, dark, stocky, disturbed, disturbing, with dark, deep, piercing, strange, almost immobile eyes. Awkward movements, a woman's hands, badly dressed, unkempt. A thick lock of hair, black and shiny, gashed the intelligent forehead. Half Bohemian, half PICASSO. TUMBLERS. 1905 workman in dress, he had long hair that swept the collar of his worn coat.'
With his 'Rose Period' ( 1905-1906) Picasso seemed to soften, even to mellow. Nudes, itinerant players, harlequins, circus scenes offered him the opportunity of lightening his technique, making his line more supple, accentuating distortions. His works recalled those of the Japanese painters of phantoms. They are characterized by a morbid feeling, something elusive and floating, a rather troubled charm, finally by almost flat forms, sparingly coloured and without firm foundations. But he was not long in reacting. Probably under the influence of Negro sculpture, he executed statues, drawings, pictures in which his plastic preoccupations stand out. How could he not be won over by the monstrous distortions of the African fetishes that were then being revealed to Europe? Distortions? Were they not rather invented forms, volumes charged with emotional power? Be this as it may, Picasso fell under the spell of these primitive works; he certainly admired their sensitivity, rawness, luxuriant vocabulary, and bold abstraction. And when, in 1907, in his dilapidated studio in the Bateau-Lavoir, he showed his disconcerted friends the Demoiselles d'Avignon, a page of history had been turned. The composition of this famous canvas lacks unity, the colour is hard and dry, the figures gesticulate, have no relief. But the lines, the angles, the slope of the planes, announced a new direction in modern painting. The Cubist revolution was not for off. The Demoiselles d'Avignon is not only a picture, it is also an event, a date, a starting-point, as much as were in other times the Mystic Lamb of the Van Eycks, the Battles of Uccello, Dante's Barque of Delacroix.
Fauvism was already drawing its last breath. In it the century had sown its wild oats, but had pulled itself together rather quickly, and the artist, sobered, had begun thinking. Confined in his studio, he attentively observed the objects that surrounded him, the table, the decanter, the glass, the package of tobacco, the newspaper. He observed them with so penetrating an eye that they appeared unknown to him. He entered into them as the novelist enters into his characters. He settled into them with the aid of a sympathy that was neither love nor passion but total consent and total respect. Thereupon things revealed to him their form, their structure, their top, their inside, their underside. When he represented them with his new vision, Cubism was born. Gauguin was deserted for Cézanne. The real was rediscovered and essentially, in the real, volume and space. A prey to his contradictions, Picasso saw in this transcendence of realism a means of resolving them. He countered the sensualism of the Fauves by an intellectualism that writers were undertaking to explain and encourage at the same moment. As early as 1908 he assumed leadership of the movement with Braque. The question for them was to introduce the illusion of volume on a plane surface without resorting to modelling, chiaroscuro, linear perspective and other outmoded conventions. They succeeded in doing so through the breakdown of planes and representation of the object under several angles simultaneously. From then on they painted not what they saw but what they represented to themselves through analysis. In 1911 Cubism ceased to be analytic; it renounced contemplation of Nature and drifted toward an authoritarian conceptualism. At last tamed and dismantled, the object was subordinated to forms imagined a priori. While their companions went off in other directions, Picasso and Braque exploited their discoveries. Thanks to the new manner, between 1908 and 1915 Picasso executed works that revealed an unsuspected rigour of conception.
He created objects freely, he accounted for reality, but by destroying it and substituting for it a subjective reality, autonomous, absolute. The picture became for him an object in itself. Indifferent to light, he concentrated all his faculties upon the transposed expression of forms, in order that the forms might suggest to the spectator images different from their counterparts in the world of appearances. But there came a moment when Cubism lost through its own excesses the strength it had drawn from the excesses of Fauvism. It was a prisoner of still life, of a closed room. It had not opened the door upon life. Impersonality of handling, poverty of colour, bleak and dreary materials. On the other hand, it had restored to drawing and form a necessary and sometimes tyrannical predominance. As a result, painting had returned to linear purity, geometry, exactness of proportions, rigour of composition. However, Picasso soon saw the limitations of the doctrine he had been the first to set forth and illustrate. And he who had been its most ardent instigator became its least faithful practitioner. No sooner did he see that he was followed than he took another path. The painter of angles, cubes, geometrical architectures, applied himself to the study of the old masters. This was the period when he worked for the Ballets Russes and executed settings and costumes for Parade and The Three-Cornered Hat. He resumed his old themes, acrobats, harlequins, dancers. Then, influenced by GrecoRoman art, he begot a race of giants, of heavy women, drawn and modelled in an entirely classical way. Until 1923 his production was characterized by calm, balance and an exceptional health. One would not believe the same Picasso had practised the technique of the papier collé a few years before. Nevertheless, he who had gathered together on his canvases pieces of newspaper and boxes of matches and indulged in trompe-l'œil for love of realism, could not fail to be led to paint like Ingres in moments of relaxation. On the other hand, a man so torn by different, if not opposing, needs, so sensitive to the currents of his time, so given to every kind of daring, could not remain indifferent to the explorations of Surrealism. Besides, in this insurrectional movement there was a taste for challenge and a will for destruction that could not fail to stimulate his fundamental nihilism. But Surrealist art resorted to means so poor, so worn, so unplastic that Picasso neglected them deliberately. He retained from the experience only the ferment capable of renewing his inspiration. After a short Romantic period, during which he painted folk scenes and bull-fights in the spirit of Goya ( 1923), he tried to make explicit his dreams and impulses. While his countrymen Dali and Miró were obeying the metaphysicalliterary directives of the Surrealist poet André Breton, Picasso let crop up in his pictures the madrepores and larvae that stir in the depths of the unconscious ( 1926-1935). Fantastic forms, without significance, swarmed under his brush. These forms are strongly schematized, feebly coloured, with very dense volumes, that stand out, absurd and comic, in a space without depth. Towards 1932 the straight lines disappeared in favour of long, flexible curves, the summary structures gave way to exuberant arabesque, colour took on a heavy and acid lustre. He painted the series of young girls at the seaside, whose physical rapture is transcribed by extraordinarily bold drawing.
In 1935 the latent expressionism of Picasso reappeared, exasperated by the tragedy that was drenching his motherland with blood. The line twisted or swelled, the colour heightened, the emotion burst out and, at the climax of a pathetic crescendo, reached its paroxysm in Guernica. This large composition in black and white is certainly one of his masterpieces, if not his masterpiece. For while he expressed in it the horrors of war in apocalyptic images, for his purpose he called only upon form and contrasts of shadow and light. Instead of describing, as did Goya or Delacroix, for example, a certain military episode or scene of slaughter, Picasso succeeded, for the first time in the history of Western painting, in terrifying the spectator merely by a plastic transcription of an actual event and convicting him of guilt by combining, with shrewdness and passion, specifically pictorial values. The tragic and the burlesque, sarcasm and pity, imprecation and irony, the palpitation of life and the immobility of death, a tumult of thoughts and emotions spring from this agonizing picture with an intensity that is at the limit of human endurance. After this, Picasso explored courses he had already followed, carrying his investigations ever farther, now casting anchor in the peaceful river of Humanism, now venturing in full sail among Romantic storms. However, since 1948, that is to say since he has settled on the Mediterranean coast, near the sea that has soothed and enchanted so many bold spirits, he has been rediscovering old legends and spells, fauns, centaurs, nymphs; he has been resuming all his old themes, portrait, landscape, still life, applying himself in particular to the representation of animals: the dove, the owl, the toad, the horse, the bull; taking in turn as models his wife, his children; painting, engraving, sculpting, turning pottery, all this with his usual impetuosity and an unusual love of life. And whatever his subjects, his motifs, he always metamorphoses them, gives them a life similar to his own, an ill-restrained violence, a desperate note, something wild, troubled, disquieting. He is curious and unsatisfied, irritating and fascinating, generous and avaricious with his feelings, laden with fame and wealth, continuing nevertheless to work like a slave, the slave of his impatient genius, but also the master of his forces, of his faculties, prodigiously active, never at rest, knowing no weariness, always seeking in the world an ever-elusive joy and meeting only with anguish, doubt, fury. The age he seems to be is not his real age. He works, conceives, feels, hates and loves as at twenty. It is therefore difficult to study his production without studying his life, so inextricably are the two mixed. All the facts, all the events in which he has been an actor or a witness are registered in his various works. He has nourished his art with his loves, his contempts, his torments, his whims, revolts, his presumptions, not without complacency, not without trickery, with a sometimes embarrassing insistence. An heir of the Humanist tradition, an individualist by temperament, an anarchist by race, his actions and reactions are always unpredictable, sudden and brutal. An unbeliever, he believes only in himself. A revolutionary, he baffles his followers. Always the contradiction.
There is neither unity nor continuity nor stability in his work, as there is none in his life. Inconstant, multiple, fiery and irascible, amiable or insolent, sincere or affected, charming or uncivil, he can be one or another according to his mood or the moment, and yet remain unfailingly true to a single passion: freedom. He wants to be entirely free, free to remake the world to his liking, free to exercise his omnipotence -- no rules, no conventions, no prejudice. From Naturalism to Expressionism, from Expressionism to Classicism, from Classicism to Romanticism, then to Realism and to Abstraction, to revert to Naturalism and resume his indefatigable quest, grace alternating with horror, elegance with the monstrous, he goes to and fro, he begins again, remaining an inveterate baroque in spite of his incarnations. When he wants to be classical, he startles less and does not move. He is too individualistic, too anxious to surprise and hurt, too hostile to all restraint and to any serene vision of the universe, to put up with limitations, discipline, humilities. Freedom alone suits him, absolute freedom, even if it has to take on the forms of the bizarre, of chaos, of the hideous. Picasso is a baroque by atavism, by principle, by inclination. And as one gets used to everything, to the exceptional, to extravagance, to strangeness, even to horror, he is naturally led to outdo his previous violence; hence his immoderateness and his recklessness, but hence also the percussive force of each of his creations, his violent drawing, aggressive forms, hurried and tense composition. In this he has no rival. It is by virtue of this that he dazzles, upsets, intoxicates and convinces. Electricity runs along his line; there is dynamite in the hollow of his objects.
Prodigious as his vitality may be, Picasso does not express happiness, hope, or joy of living, but mostly an incurable disquiet, the drama of man at grips with Nature, of man in revolt against his destiny -- his own drama. When he is playful or facetious, when he wants to please or to charm, it is rare that the mask succeeds in concealing entirely the wan face of Death. His laugh is more like a sneer, his exultations sound like blasphemies, his banter like sarcasm. Wisdom, renunciation, serenity, naturalness, he has none of these in him. It is with his resources alone that he wants to substitute for the world of permanence his personal and therefore fragile, everthreatened world. Picasso is an individual who strives to extend the borders of his empire in order to go farther, ever farther; who tends to absorb everything, no doubt because he needs to be absorbed himself. Is there today in artist more profoundly an innovator, more determined to reject the fictions and forms of the past? Who has attacked more intrepidly the courters of tradition, all those who live punily on formulas, recipes, convention? The weapon he brandishes is the very weapon forged by the adversary: the outdated Humanism that has to be destroyed, the Humanism that, with Picasso, has borrowed its extreme form from obsession or frenzy. Picasso is, in fact, the last representative, the most passionate, the most terrible, of the Greco-Latin tradition. He is the prodigal descendant of Goya, Velazquez, Michelangelo, Uccello. One will, then, perhaps understand why this paradox should have resounded with such painful echoes in a body of work with which no other can be compared.
This body of work is immense. It has to be accepted as it is, with its failings, its lightningflashes, its imperfections, its grandeurs. In it one can count many sketches, experiments without conclusion, but also ardent confessions, incontestable successes. It is not a question of masterpieces; Picasso has never been concerned with producing eternal masterpieces. As a result, he has always appeared indifferent to the materials he employed. He draws and paints on anything: a paper tablecloth, cardboard, wood or plywood, fibrocement. He does not concern himself with the preparation of his canvases, the quality of his colours, the improvement of his tools. As a sculptor he uses earth, wood, cloth, broken pieces of hardware, which he often covers with wide strokes of the brush. But the waste of his abundant production can be forgotten for his having been capable of creating works like Ma Jolie, Young Girl with Mandolin, Woman in Green, among the high spots of Cubism; like Guernica, War and Peace, in which Expressionism attains an unbelievable perfection; Still Life with Antique Head and Still Life with Enamel Saucepan, in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Add to these the large paintings in the Antibes Museum, in which Picasso has not only displayed his inventive power but also, to an unusual degree, work, patience, reflection. Never has technique been for him an end in itself, despite his fabulous dexterity. But never has such dexterity stopped him from exploring new paths, nor has his boldness ever given way to virtuosity. He does not scorn effect, but to obtain it he commits himself entirely, with his sincerity and his guile, his resolution and his uncertainty, his confessions and his malice, his discoveries and his artifices -- all of him.
His finds have often been taken up by the new generation. It is certainly easy to discern here and there in contemporary painting a sign, a form, a technique that bears his stamp. But these are superficial borrowings, fragmented and unassimilated imitations. For art, like Picasso's individuality, is autonomous, incommunicable, intransmissible, a closed world. 'I do not search, I find', he once announced. His person cannot serve as a model, his life as an example, or his work as a lesson. Picassos are not born in every century. And who does not feel that without him our century would have been flatter, duller, less worth living in? We must be grateful for his boldness and inventiveness, and the shocks he administers to sluggish ways of thinking and seeing. He is the most original creative genius of our time.
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