Friday, February 24, 2012

Who is Picasso?

Art After Hours is my favourite time to visit the Art Gallery of NSW. You can go during the day time and come out after the sun has set. It's like a time warp, like teleporting into a different period of time and being spat out again.

On Wednesday I went early to enjoy walking up Art Gallery Road in the midday sunshine. It's one of my favourite walks in Sydney. The tall palm trees, the sweaty joggers running past (all the while I'm enjoying a leisurely stroll) and the well manicured grass and gardens surrounding the area.

I also went during the day to avoid the crowds and attempt to get some alone time with Picasso.

The first time I ever saw Picasso was in an exhibition in Amsterdam in 2011. Better late than never. I was fascinated by his varied styles and the extensive span of his work.

This time in Sydney I put together my exhibition pack and I was ready to roll.

I should mention it's the second time I'm seeing this Picasso exhibition. The first being when it opened in November 2011, coupled with high tea in the gallery restaurant.

The exhibition space was crammed with people and in true Sydney style, I had to line up to get a decent view of each of the paintings. There was the overpowering stench in the air of lingering being forbidden because of the ten to 20 people around you trying to get a look in.

So this time my goal was to linger, breathe in, enjoy and view my favourite pieces from this exhibition once more.

The piece below is one of my favourites. The awning-like blue and white vertical stripes and the karagiozi-like quality of the male figure are both Hellenistic in essence. The drama, passion and abandon all characteristic of any classical Greek tragedy.

The Kiss (1969) photo from exhibition pamphlet

Another one of my favourites is the piece below, I fell in love with it. The photo does not do it justice. In reality it's small at 27 x 22 cm and very vibrant in colour. The colour, mood and frivolity of it makes me feel that I can jump straight into the scene and be a part of it, sitting by the water, sun kissing my skin and enjoying the French (or Spanish) summer's day with my friends.

The Bathers (1918) photo from exhibition catalogue

Photography is not permitted in the exhibition, although it is in most of the spaces in the rest of the gallery; except the Aboriginal artwork, photographic or digital pieces.

The Acrobat (1930) photo from exhibition catalogue
There are no guided tours through this exhibition, but there is an extensive printed guide and an audio guide (I was told the audio repeats what's in the written guide).

The only tour available is "Picasso's Path" which takes approximately 45-60 minutes and goes through key artworks in the gallery which relate to Picasso - either artists/movements that influenced Picasso, or artists that were influenced or inspired by Picasso.

The use of complimentary colours and the thick expressive brush strokes especially to depict the light of the candle, are reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh. We viewed a Van Gogh piece in the tour as a point of comparison.

Death of Casagemas (1901) from Picasso's blue period, image sourced from here
It was a great idea doing the tour before seeing the exhibition as the tour guide gave us some great insights into Picasso. All I was interested in was determining how many lovers he had (there were a lot of them, plus four kids from three women) and what his inspirations were, which the guide covered well.

The Reader (1932) photo from exhibition catalogue: Marie Therese-Walter, one of Picasso's many lovers

Jacqueline Roque with her hands crossed (1954) photo from exhibition catalogue: Picasso's second wife

"When I paint I feel that all the artists of the past are behind me." Pablo Picasso

It's clearly evident that Picasso does indeed draw from artists from the past. He would spend hours at the Louvre or other museums and galleries studying the work of other artists, drawing on it for inspiration and innovating to create his own, new and unique style that pushed the boundaries further.

His iconic painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, inspired by African masks Picasso saw (for the first time) at Braque's house, was extremely controversial. At the time his contemporaries and friends thought he was crazy drawing such strange shapes and images. The flattened surfaces, elongated eyes and the mere subject matter (prostitutes in a brothel) fascinated and shocked people.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) image sourced from MoMA & Wikipedia

Picasso was on to a good thing, these were the beginnings of analytical cubism which explored 3D imagery on a 2D surface. This period naturally progressed and Braque and Picasso would paint these types of images together, to the point where their work would become indistinguishable. Then synthetic cubism followed which essentially was collage. Masters at work, they were paving the pathway to greatness, creating new movements and what we now call modern art.

What strikes me in Picasso's work is that his progress, growth and experimentation is clear. He never wanted to be an abstract painter, he wanted his audience to see exactly what he painted/sculpted so they could focus on the emotion, rather than trying to figure out what the subject matter was.

photo and excerpt from exhibition catalogue

Picasso was never afraid to try new things, to be different. He was also never afraid of pleasure and indulgence or perhaps torment too, or taboo subjects such as sexuality and sex. Other themes include his identity and Spanish heritage and things still very relevant to us today such as death and the futility of war.

Bullfight, The Death of the Torero (1933) image from exhibition catalogue

There is so much information available on Picasso. I didn't want to read about him, I wanted to feel who he was through his life's work.

He was first and foremost an innovator and a lover. A mad scientist. A son, a pupil, a father, a teacher, a husband, a friend, a rival.  Perpetually growing, developing, exploring and experimenting.

And finally he was a friend to the dwarfs. This is one of my favourite Picasso paintings which I viewed in Amsterdam. Note: it does not appear at the Art Gallery of NSW exhibition.

La Nana - The Dwarf (1901) image sourced from here
I often view exhibitions, walking away and not really thinking twice about the subject matter or artist.

Picasso got under my skin. As much as there is light in his work, there is more darkness, depicting the themes and times he lived in.

As much as he fascinates me he also disturbs me, both for all the similarities and all the differences we share. We both like dwarfs and women of the night (my tendency is towards strippers, his towards prostitutes); we both explore/d our heritage and identity; we share a shady past when it comes to relationships; we like drinking; and  finally we're both afraid of death. Then for the differences: he created artwork with abandon, generating more and more pieces, created movements, pushed boundaries and exposed himself, took unimaginable risks, was a complete visionary. And I simply haven't, not to that extent.

So what I walk away with is a life lesson. I didn't realise it then in Amsterdam, or the first time here in Sydney. I realise it now, the third time I've seen his work and thinking about my life.

Picasso taught me not to be afraid of making mistakes, he taught me to enjoy and revel in life's process. To learn from the past, to honour its masters and my predecessors, and use the past to create a more meaningful and unique present.

Come to your own meaning or lesson.

For Sydneysiders, the exhibition is only open another month until 25 March 2012. Make sure to book tickets in advance, unless you're going off peak times then you can chance it and buy them at the ticket desk.

I leave you with these parting words:

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." Pablo Picasso

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