Multiple Ways of Looking at the World
by Daniel Giralt-Miracle
“A painter’s studio should be a laboratory. Our work is not about imitating, we invent. Painting is a riddle.”
A few weeks ago Antonio López, the most illustrious Spanish artist of the realist school, said, when opening an exhibition of his in the United States, “I’m sick to death of Picasso,” a categorical statement that was deserving of the front page of a large-circulation daily newspaper. However, although it may sound like a negative opinion of Picasso, deep down I believe it is rather a case of the wish to make clear the omnipresence of this artist in museums, collections, art histories, the market, magazines, bibliography, and so on. A ubiquity that may upset some, but right now—while it is true that there are those who may have exaggerated it—not only is Picasso the most outstanding creator of the twentieth century, but nobody else in the art world has managed to equal him. For his works were not just bold creations, with them he proposed radical changes that turned Western painting and the very concept of painting on their heads.
Hence Picasso cannot be understood purely aesthetically, nor can he be subjected to stylistic classifications, as so many have tried to do. Picasso has to be seen through different eyes and his contribution to art has to be appraised differently, because he made it evolve and go beyond the quest for perfection and faithfulness to ideals of beauty or academic formulae of great historical and social interest, but lacking that emotional power that characterizes primitive art.
It is no exaggeration to state that Picasso recovered for art the ability to express feelings, to move or disturb, a characteristic that he valued more than excellence. And if he managed to infuse feeling in his works it was because, like no other, he combined talent, skill and natural gifts with an innate inclination to cause rupture, innovation and confrontation in the objective world. From the most radical subjectivity, and thanks to this idiosyncrasy, he subjected his work to a series of breaks, a permanent metamorphosis. It should be pointed out, though, that his were not changes for the sake of change, to adapt himself to the latest fashions or to fall in with the ideas of some of his friends, poets or painters Each alteration or variation corresponded to the incorporation of new ideas, to a bold exploration of what he did not yet know or which was the expression of new concerns. And it was this attitude that allowed him to formulate the aesthetic option that meant a liberation of art with regard to naturalistic illusionism, namely, the most refreshing innovation in art since the work of the Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello: Cubism, on the basis of which Picasso was able to construct and destruct, recover and recompose, do and undo with exceptional freedom that used both virtuosity and deconstruction and which began a new chapter in the history of art that is still open.
Therefore, his earliest drawings, the fascinating blue period, the attractive acrobats, the change from pink to black, from analytical to synthetic Cubism, the recovery of Classicism, the fury and the passion of the minotaur or the sweet contemplation of Antibes, Vallauris, Cannes and Vauvenargues, are not just synchronic leaps on a journey through life. They are expressions of the determined struggle that he maintained with his own creativity, aware that there is always a new, different, incisive way of explaining things.
Picasso’s obsession with creation seems to have been boundless; only this way can we explain the frequent appearance of unknown works, making it impossible to present a “total Picasso”—though there are those who have tried—because they make us realise that he was the champion of multiplicity, change, variation. Yet he also promoted an analytical view that broke with archetypes to create new ones, recovering elements of classical tradition, like human forms, flowers, landscapes, portraits or still lifes, which he tackled with unheard-of solutions and procedures—disconcerting at the time—, allowing him to represent them as he saw them in his mind, not through his eyes.
And he interpreted them with any technique. Drawing, painting, engraving and modelling were activities that Picasso considered part of life. He approached the canvas, clay and paper equally, hence never assuming his art to be transcendent: “I paint like others write their autobiographies. My paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my diary and as such are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers. It is not I who have to do it”. And he worked with that naturalness evident in any of his works into which he poured his vitality, energy, pleasure, way of being and way of working, whether drawings or rough sketches, an unfinished painting or a simple divertimento.
And this way of working is very obvious in this collection of 35 works, before which we may wonder, once more, what Picasso’s sign of identity is, what are the constant elements in his work. They lead us to detect, in the face of such eclecticism, the variety of processes and ways of understanding the work of art, the unmistakeable mark of his work. Picasso himself confessed to a friend that he was a painter “without style”, and that is probably true, because if there was one thing he fought against all his life it was being constrained by a style. For this reason we reach the conclusion that what defines his work is precisely that beyond styles he was able to show us that there is not just one, but multiple ways of looking at the world and that they all attempt to get close to reality. This is what he did tirelessly throughout his life.
Published in 35 Picassos. Barcelona, 2008. Mayoral. p 5.