"My Five Year Old Could Do That!"
Looking at art that enrages - Part 3
Maybe you’ve guessed who The Devil is. Since he was described as the “devil incarnate” in 1910 by a US critic, Picasso and his talent have drawn plenty of extreme labels. Take your pick from genius, insane, God and the Devil. Apparently he regarded himself as God – being overheard saying “I am God.” Hailed as modern art’s true genius and outrageously famous, even in his lifetime – it’s hard to be humble.
Ok so is he God or the Devil? Maybe he’s the Devil and his spell that made us all view his art so favourably is now wearing off. My mother-in-law stood in front of his work at the Tate Modern and announced, “I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.” Perhaps a weaker personality than her, I’m still buying into his talent. But it’s clear that for many his art is enraging. Am I part of that last group that can’t shake free of his satanic magic?
The Picasso phases are thrown about in everyday conversation. Culminating in the painting La Vie, his Blue Period (1901-04) produced cheerless paintings of society’s outcasts. His subjects reflected the current interest in everyday scenes, but his unique approach was laying roots: his method of conveying space was changing – moving away from perspective; and form had greater effect than colouring. The Rose Period 1904-1905 saw Picasso flex his imagination as he moved away from conventional subjects. He painted Harlequins, street entertainers and artistes inspired by his literary associates in Paris.
Of course his ground-breaking 1907 Demoiselles d’Avignon and subsequent development of Cubism is when Picasso’s innovations started to really exert their power. It’s as the Father of Cubism that he became internationally known. Not looking to directly copy Nature, his art moved further towards the black magic of his deformations, as Picasso’s biographer describes them. It’s here that his ensnared fans and his critics really part company – his critics see that all beauty is lost [dissociation and deconstruction take its place] – his followers start to glimpse moments of genius [although the subject is not shown naturalistically, the whole of it may be included; the rear and frontal view may be shown]. People will more readily believe in magic and illusion when it is grounded in tradition and reality, and this is true of Picasso’s approach. And Picasso’s true talent was how he merged two approaches: figuration (traditional, representational) and dissociation (move away from naturalistic, autonomous art). But it had to be done successfully, bringing the benefits of each into the opposing realm. Strangely his impetus was not that he was driven by progressive ideas, but that he was trying to evade the grip of traditional practices.
His Spanish roots has been noted as the reason he could not break away from tradition – belonging to a line of artists like El Greco, Goya and Velazquez, innovation had a place alongside established practices. Picasso drew from the past, while also discovering new ideas which were incorporated into his work at different stages of his life. These included: new subjects and motifs, employing evocative effects, new materials, techniques like collage, using principles of photography, and child-like symbolism. Throughout his career colour is closely linked to form. His forms still represent his subjects but there is no attempt to give an exact likeness. Picasso’s intellect and process of re-examination in his work drove his art. He was incredibly prolific producing tens of thousands of works [many still not catalogued or examined]. Together with the diversity of his techniques: sculptor, painter, graphic artist, craftsman, graphic artist and stage set designer; all this made him an unstoppable force.
From what we hear of his personal life Picasso was probably more the Devil than God. The tragic lives of those around him are well publicized – Jerry Springer would have had his hands full. The overt sexuality and nudity in many of his works shocked and further encouraged the view that he was a depraved and lecherous individual, like old Satan himself. Towards the end of his life sex was his primary subject. But this probably owed a lot to the 60s trend of seeking to break society’s taboos.
His artistic reputation probably helped him outshine Georges Braque, for although Braque and Picasso together developed Cubism, Picasso has always been credited with its invention. We put Picasso’s name up in lights so maybe the real evil lies with us. A God or Devil isn’t up to much without his followers. The embodiment of the cult of the celebrity artist, Picasso is a fine example of society’s fascination with success in the art world. A “successful” artist needs to find an audience. It has to meet the demands of its market. Picasso the Rock Star Artist therefore is in part our Frankenstein.
Many artists have been inspired to pursue devilish acts in the
name of art. A relatively recent development in art, which
enrages and astounds most people, is Body Art. Since its
beginnings in early 1960s Eastern Europe it has produced some
disturbing work. Using the body to create memorable art, has
given us works like Yves Klein’s nude imprints as well as more
Art is the means by which life reflects on, transforms and indeed creates its values; human life without it would not properly be human at all.Antony Gormley
At first he used his father’s name “Ruiz” and his mother’s maiden name “Picasso” to sign his work. After c1901 just signed “Picasso”
Been noted that the quantity of preparatory work (paintings and drawings) done by Picasso for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is unsurpassed to create a single painting
Images: The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg has kindly agreed to images from their collections accompanying this article - however the copyright reproduction fees charged by Viscopy made me balk at using such a sum for this purpose - instead some charities have benefited - the images can be readily googled and appear online at other sites. I hope you will agree that sometimes money can be better spent.
Pablo Picasso, Man with his Arms Crossed. Gouache, watercolour and tempera
Pablo Picasso, Absinthe Drinker, Oil on Canvas
Pablo Picasso, House in a Garden, Oil on Canvas