A major retrospective of the work of Pablo Picasso opens today in Palazzo Reale, Milan. The exhibition will include over 200 works including paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs by the 20th century's greatest artist. Swide's Hugo Mc Cafferty explains why he loves Picasso.
I haven't been this excited about an exhibition for some time. It's not the exciting, fresh edgy bright young thing of a modern movement, it's not street art or performance art, it's not a chance to be moved by the beauty of Renaissance sculpture or marvel at the virtuosity of the Pre-Raphaelites, for me it's a chance to once again live in the presence of the greatest artist who has ever lived.
OK, that's overstating the case a little, but before you stop reading, and my research tells me that about 35% of you will have your hand hovering over the mouse ready to click away, let me clarify. He may be the greatest artist who ever lived, or he may not be.... that's a question for another day, but he is the artist whose work has made the greatest impression on me.
Goat skull, Bottle and Candle, 1952, Pablo Picasso
I can trace it back to an epiphany I had as a youngster in the Musée national Picasso, in Paris. When I first realised the scale of his achievements. I had always been familiar with his work, but mostly through the discourse and analysis of how 'important' or not he was than an actual personal relationship I had with his work. As a schoolboy I'd seen countless reproductions of his paintings in various art history texts books but it wasn't until that breathless afternoon in Paris that I finally 'got' what it was all about. Looking into Picasso's paintings was like looking into a mirror, one that cleared away the fug of perception and preconception and illuminated the truth in all its celestial beauty and all its horror, and I quaked in its presence.
La Vie, 1903, Pablo Picasso
The first reason I love Picasso is one of the things he is most criticised for. Is that he didn't paint well. I've had countless arguments with people who don't consider his work good because they were not skilled renditions of the subjects they could instantly recognise. But they miss the point; I say that he 'didn't' paint well, not that he 'couldn't' paint well. His early years as an artistic prodigy testify to his incredible skill, his Blue Period and Rose Period offered a glimpse of an emotionally sensitive and romantically minded young man, but Pablo threw it all away, he wasn't interested in painting what you could see with your eyes, in his mind, photography had made those skills obsolete, he was interested in painting what you couldn't see but what was equally real.
Guitar Player, 1910, Pablo Picasso
Picasso co-founded the Cubist movement along with Georges Braque, and although I concede, Braque was the better of the two, it is Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon that sticks in my mind as the painting that must have at the time been like a bomb going off in the art world in Paris. It still has the same effect on me now as it must have had back then.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, Pablo Picasso
My first reaction is bewilderment, then the more I give to the painting, the more I get in return, I become aware of the subjects' representations from many different perspectives, through an array of emotional depictions, I feel myself step out of my body as I imagine a hundred different viewpoints and try to take them in. His many depictions of the guitar always strikes a chord in my head, I hear music, I see planes, I find meaning where there is none, it's like a cryptic puzzle that forces you to find a solution within yourself, a solution that opens windows in your mind and changes your perspective.
And I think that is why I love Picasso, because of all the artworks I've seen, he changed me, permanently. I can never go back and unsee his work. He deconstructed the myth of symbolism and learnt semiotics in my life and challenged me to 'unlearn' what I knew about the world and put it back together in a way that made sense to me. That was a coming of age for me. He forced me to think for myself, and kicked me into adulthood.
Picasso is the father of my critical mind, again, I exaggerate, but only a little. To many, an exhibition of his work coming to town will be an event to pass the weekend with family or friends. To me, it feels like a long lost father is coming home after years at war and I know his work will have the same effect on me today as it did then.
'Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth'
– Pablo Picasso
Then there is Guernica; his depiction of the slaughter of innocents at the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. More than a political painting, Guernica is a creation that gave voice to the millions of war-ravaged Europeans and demanded, with ferocious authority, that we take responsibility to ensure that an atrocity like this never happens again. A more chaotic and powerful piece of art I can't think of, it doesn't just speak to me, it bellows.
Picasso the rock star, the father, the womaniser, the egotist, the angry young man, the revolutionary, the anonymous old man, the visionary, the Communist, the bullfighter, the musician... he was one of a kind and we'll not see his like again, at least I hope not.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty