Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I didn't use to like Picasso

Some art you enjoy immediately, some you don't. Likings are not always politically correct. I never liked Picasso much, neither his art when I visited his museum in my city the first time nor himself as an artist later, when I learnt about how he abused all the (many) women he was together with.

A couple of years ago, I found a Sunday Times interview with Françoise Gilot enlightening. She claimed to be the only woman who could truly say she had dropped Picasso.

Françoise Gilot

A few days ago I went to see Picasso's self-portraits exhibition (on at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona, until September 1st). I walked around the rooms as I usually do, going back to the paintings that caught my attention, like that in which Picasso and Junyent are sitting at a table close to a celestine (euphemism for a prostitute provider). 

It is made entirely with wax crayons, those we all have at home. It was dark, there were lines of different colours, pinks and blues and greys going across each other and you could still breath in the oppressive atmosphere. The image I am posting does not do it justice.

Quite a few of the self-portraits were drawn when Picasso (born in 1881 as one of the wardens was kind to remind me) was 19 or 20, and I found interesting the variety of techniques he used. 

But the drawings still gave me an unpleasant feeling. Picasso drew himself as tall and handsome among pretty half-naked women,

but my impression was he must have felt inadequate and out of place in their company, more like in this later work

The explanatory posters insisted Picasso used self- portrait as an artistic technique, not as a way of trying to copy reality. But I have seen lots of pictures of him and didn't buy it. I don't know if you've ever tried to draw your self-portrait but it is not an easy job. So I concluded he simply wasn't a skilled self-portraitist.

In the last gallery room I was forced to change my mind by the strength of the paintings I found there. The burial of Carles Casagemas (in Paris Musée d'Art Moderne) had recently fascinated me. Picasso painted this after his Catalan friend committed suicide. He was deeply impressed by the event. Critics say it marked the beginning of his blue period.

In that last room of the Barcelona museum, two self-portraits smashed me with the same impression of death. I learnt that Picasso painted both at the end of June 1972 at the age of 91, yes, 91, old and ill, about ten months before dying. 

Head of a man - 27 June 1972

Self-portrait - 30 June 1972
Staring at those two portraits for a while, I felt the exhibition was worth. Time is short. Go and see them if you can. 

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