Pablo Picasso born 25 Oct. 1881, died 08 Apr. 1973; its been 40 years almost to the day since PB passed over. Pablo Picasso was probably, well for a time at least the most famous painter the world has known. Perhaps even more famous that Michelangelo or Da Vinci some might offer, I’m not sure but he certainly is up there with the greats so far as I’m concerned.
His full name to be accurate is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso and honors a number of Catholic Saints.
He was a relatively poor student to start, but never-the-less Picasso demonstrated a fantastic talent for drawing from a very early age unhampered by his humble beginnings. According to myth (probably started by Picasso himself) , his first words were “piz, piz,” a childish attempt at lápiz, the Spanish word for pencil. By the time he had turned 13 years old Picasso was a more accomplished drafts person than his father.
Picasso’s family moved around during his formative years but by the time he was 16 years old he was in Madrid, enrolled at the Royal Academy of St Fernando. He was not a good student, often skipping class, wandering into the City and drawing whatever he saw and took his fancy, mostly gypsies, beggars and prostitutes.
At the turn of the 20th Century Picasso was in Paris, the centre of the Art world at the time. At this time he was in his “Blue Period” which lasted till about 1904. The blue period reflected a time of depression for Picasso but by 1905 he had met and fallen in love with a model; Fernande Olivier, he was also newly prosperous thanks to the generous patronage of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard He had every reason to be happy and this was reflected in his artistic output now known as the “Rose Period”.
In 1907, he made a painting unlike anything he or any other artist had ever painted before, a piece that would change for ever the direction of art in the 20th century: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, an awkward depiction of five beige figures, prostitutes, distorted with sharp geometric features and stark blotches of blues, greens and grays. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the precursor and inspiration for Cubism.
Cubism shocked, appalled and fascinated in equal measure. The French writer and critic Max Jacob reflected, “It was really the harbinger comet of the new century.” but this was not to last, the outbreak of war saw Picasso return for a short period of sombre realism. But by 1927 Picasso had moved on to Surrealism and this brought the world Guernica. Perhaps the greatest painting the world has ever seen.
Completed in 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The picture deals with the destruction of war; on April 26, 1937, German bombers supporting Franco’s Nationalist forces, carried out a devastating aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica. Picasso was outraged and horrified painting the picture in mono-tones of black and grey.
Following the war Picasso became politically motivated and joined the communist party and was even twice honored by being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize; firstly in 1950 then again in 1961. By contrast to his communist sympathies, Picasso was now also an international celebrity, the worlds most famous living artist ever. His painting took a further turn in his later years becoming simpler, crude almost. Upon passing a group of school children in his later years Picasso remarked, “when I was as old as these children, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them.”
The epitome of his later work is his Self Portrait “Facing Death“, drawn in pencil and wax crayon just a year before he passed away. Its an autobiographical subject, who appears as something between a human and an ape, with a green face and pink hair, its drawn with the crude technique of a child. Yet the expression in the eyes, captures a lifetime of wisdom, fear and uncertainty, it is the unmistakable work of a master at the height of his powers.
Picasso had two wives during his lifetime but he was an incorrigible womanizer who had countless relationships with girlfriends, mistresses, muses and prostitutes over the course of his long life.
His technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy marked Picasso out as a revolutionary artist. Picasso endlessly reinvented himself, switching between styles so radically different that his life’s work seems the product of five or six great artists rather than just one. The diversity of his work, the result of freshly evaluating for each piece the form and technique best suited to achieve the desired effects. “Whenever I wanted to say something, I said it the way I believed I should,” Picasso said. “Different themes inevitably require different methods of expression. This does not imply either evolution or progress; it is a matter of following the idea one wants to express and the way in which one wants to express it.”
40 years after Pablo Picasso passed and we still celebrate his life, his contribution. I grew up longing to be an artist inspired by Pablo Picasso. One day I may (un)learn to draw as a child.