Thursday, October 7, 2010

Notes on Picasso

When I was small, in 4th and 5th grade, I took French classes. Mostly, this did not consist so much of learning the language, but learning about the culture. We presented reports on the Impressionist artists, shared French food, and watched movies with subtitles. And of course, we inevitably learned about Picasso. My blossoming creativity, at that time, was drawn towards the playful fields of bright colours, the bold black lines, and the deconstructed facial features. Eventually, my fascination waned, and, like a pop song played constantly on the radio, the more I saw Picasso’s works, the more bored I became. He morphed into the pompous Picasso who thought himself genius, the Picasso portrayed by Jon Lovitz in Saturday Night Live, sitting at a café, signing napkins and shouting “I’m Picasso!!!” and insisting his scribbled on napkins will more than pay for his café au lait.

That’s how I fell out of love with Picasso. For years I didn’t give pompous Picasso much thought. I enjoyed seeing his pieces, but it was just that: fleeting surface enjoyment. A few months ago, while at the MOMA, I saw a few of his etchings and became mesmerized by the nightmares of childhood; the hope and sadness before me. Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, opens this Friday at the Seattle Art Museum, and I knew I had to make a point to catch the preview. It opens with life-sized photographs of Picasso in his studio in 1912, and is filled with more than 150 pieces, many of them studies and unfinished pieces. There are studies for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon which I found more enticing than the finished piece (not on display), brass sculptures, etchings, drawings, and of course, paintings from the blue period to cubism.

It is not the many cubist paintings that have made themselves a temporary home on the walls at SAM for a few months that hold my attention, but the more overlooked works. La Celestina, painted over 100 years ago, portrays an older owner of a bordello, whose blind eye pierces through your flesh; Portrait of Olga in an Armchair (unfinished), painted in 1918, features Picasso’s wife, Olga, looking tired and defeated, but still possessing the grace of the ballet dancer who once was; and The Village Dance (1922), a neo-classic piece depicting a man and his wife, revolving in tranquility, untouched by the Rif war. It’s in these moments, where the brush strokes showing the subtle humanity dwelling in the cracks of harsh realities, that I fall in love with Picasso again. He may have been pompous when he said, “My mother said to me, “ ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso,” but he really was genius. 

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