“It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them”
On a recent visit to Barcelona I spend some time in the Museu Picasso, a museum which holds a remarkable collection of the artist’s early work. On his death in 1973 Picasso left no will and many of the works in Barcelona were from his private collection and were used as payment of his death duties – it was an astonishingly large collection as he kept much of his work off the art markets.
I’ve not studied Picasso in any way before and was only really aware of high profile works which had beaten the $100m auction values and became topics of general news interest. Garcon a la pipe, Dora Maar au Chat and Nude, green leaves and bust are three that I have been aware of before. I had not realised that Picasso came from a very formal pictorial art background and wrongly assumed that the paintings I knew about were representative of the body of his work. It was fascinating to see the progression from his first paintings of around 1890 and how he adapted his technique to evolve from ‘classic’ pictures to cubism and beyond. One of his early paintings was The First Communion and shows his sister at that event; his use of white and light tones to create the translucency of her dress was remarkable to see in real life, although I have not found any images on line which do it justice. There were other examples of his early work which demonstrated his skill with the paintbrush and I found it fascinating to see how his delicate brush work and handling of detail was degraded over time as his progressed through his blue, rose and African periods before cubism in around 1909.
Disassembling objects and reforming them using their constituent shapes was not an area with which I felt any affinity before, but having seen how Picasso arrived at this in terms of the evolution of his art over a number of years, it started to make a little more sense to me. I actually found this surprising as I had previously regarded his later efforts as rather unattractive and random daubs, albeit of immense monetary value.
The impact of the visit and some subsequent research brought it home to me just how radical the change in his work has been from his beginnings and emphasised the evolutionary nature of individual art and how progress is a developmental continuum which can deliver us to a very different place from where we started. What I’m not sure of is how much will there has to be on the part of the artist to want to force change and development and how much is an unconscious process that evolves over time. One to think about.