Art of the 20th Century




A Revolution in the Arts




 





Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 


 

 

 

 
 

 
 


Pablo Picasso



The Image of the Artist  1881-1973
The Making of a Genius  1890-1898
The Art of Youth  1898-1901
The Blue Period  1901- 1904
The Rose Period  1904-1906
In the Laboratory of Art  1906-1907
Analytical Cubism  1907- 1912
Synthetic Cubism  1912-1915
The Camera and the Classicist  1916-1924
A Juggler with Form  1925-1936
War, Art and "Guernica"  1937
The Picasso Style  1937-1943
Politics and Art  1943-1953
The Presence of the Past  1954- 1963
The Case of "Las Meninas"  1957
The Old Savage  1963-1973
The Legend of the Artist



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appendix:

Pablo Picasso - Erotic Drawings 1968-1972
Pablo Picasso and his Women
 

 
 

 

 

 



The Old Savage
 
1963-1973



 

 

In September 1958 Picasso bought the chateau at Vauvenargues. Increasingly it became a refuge from an inquisitive public that veritably besieged La Californie. The 14th-century chateau was near Aix-en-Provence at the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire, featured in many of Cezanne's paintings. Then in June 1961 Picasso moved into Notre-Dame-de-Vie, a villa near the village of Mougins, in the hills above Cannes. It was to be his last residence and place of work. He had long been a classic of modern art, but still attempted to influence the public reception of his work. For instance, when the Museu Picasso in Barcelona was opened in 1970, prominent members of the Franco regime tried to use the occasion as a means of legitimation. However, their plans for a state ceremony were brought to nothing by Picasso, who vetoed all such ideas, wary of affording political enemies any purchase.

Picasso had long taken a special interest in the work of the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar. In the Fifties, Nesjar had engraved Picasso studies in concrete with the help of a sand-blaster. Now, in the 1960s, he developed a method of making immense concrete casts of Picasso's sculptures. For Picasso it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream - ever since the Twenties he had been fired by ideas for large-scale sculptural work. From 1962 to 1964, commissioned by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, an American architectural firm, he designed the maquette for a 20-metre sculpture. As in the 1928 memorial for Apollinaire, Picasso established an interplay of volume and surface in this "civic" work, and created linear effects by using wires. The final work was done in Corten steel and installed at the Chicago Civic Centre in 1967.

The art scene had undergone a complete change. The Sixties were a period of great upheaval and transition in the Western world, not least in the visual arts. The total international hegemony of abstract art waned, as its shortcomings became increasingly, painfully apparent. Everywhere, voices were raised in opposition to a non-representational art felt to be sterile, uncommitted, escapist. The new departure of the Sixties was dominated by Pop Art and the New Realism. Both schools made uninhibited use of every conceivable visual idiom, particularly advertising and comic strips.
 


Portrait of Jacgueline
1965

 

 

The continued evolution of classical Modernism played a decisive part in this. Assemblages, collages and ready-mades were now being used to expose social taboos and brand societal mistakes. Thus everyday objects such as soup cans or washpowder boxes became icons of mass society's consume-and-dispose mentality. They were made in series format, or presented in monumental autonomy. The best-known works are those of the American Pop artists Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg, whose assemblages and other artefacts matched what French artists such as Arman and Cesar had been doing. The new departure also constituted an end to creative one-sidedness - even the actionist legacy of Surrealism was continued in new socially critical forms such as the happening. And in the train of such developments came conceptual art.

Picasso's attitude to contemporary art was divided. Most of its formal repertoire had been familiar to him for years - indeed, he had invented some of the techniques himself. Time seemed to be coming full circle in the oddest of ways. Picasso, who had at one time set out to revolutionize art and articulate the contradictions inherent in the creative act, found himself viewed as the Establishment and bracketed with Salon artists such as Bernard Buffet, who appropriated the achievements of Modernism to manufacture snappy arts and crafts. Thus Picasso, at the end of his life, was squeezed right out to the periphery. On the one hand media acclaim, on the other withdrawal from public life; old age and its physical frailty, an art scene that made uninhibited demands on him and his art - he was facing formidable challenges. And to capitulate would have been tantamount to throwing in the towel for good.

Instead, he riposted with an art of revolt. The art of Picasso's old age articulates the will to survive. From 1963 on, conflicts within and without became ever more visible in his work. He did several hundred studies and paintings on his old subject of "The Artist and His Model". An intense, indeed obsessive preoccupation with the subject of the artist's identity followed; this was not new in Picasso, but the single-mindedness and energy with which he pursued his subject was unusual even for him. Contemporaries were staggered by the sheer bulk of his production, and the statistics are indeed astounding. For example, from 16 March to 5 October 1968 he did 347 etchings, from January 1969 to the end of January 1970 no fewer than 167 paintings, and from 15 December 1969 to 12 January 1971 194 drawings. 156 etchings followed from January 1970 to March 1972, 172 drawings from 21 November 1971 to 18 August 1972, and a further 201 paintings from 25 September 1970 to 1 June 1972. These figures represent only the works published to date. And all this by a man aged 87 to 91!

 

This formidable productiveness is obviously eloquent of fantastic vitality. The public was amazed at the world's most famous artist's undiminished activity. But behind that amazement lay a damningverdict: logically, it implied that productivity itself was being ranked above quality, as if the aged Picasso's heroic performance required the astonished applause that might greet a circus act. The reason for this lay in the work itself. If we consider the endless portrayals of the painter and model scene, of nudes, of sex, or the portraits and so forth, we are confronted with an art plainly at odds with aesthetic ideals of creating beauty. Overhasty painting, blotches and dribbles, mock-primitive figures dismembered beyond recognition, colours that can be genuinely painful to look at, all guarantee that these pictures come as a shock. The praise they earned for the physical endurance they attested was no more than an expression of helplessness before their formal character.

And yet it is impossible to ignore the evocativeness of that character. Picasso forces us to enter into a dialogue with his art; and, true to himself, he does so with consistent, unremitting logic. If his work now dispenses with subtlety, casts nuanced colours to the winds, and is brutally unambiguous in form and content, it does most certainly prompt unmistakable reactions. There is nothing  monolithic about this last phase in Picasso's work, though. True, the 1963 series of artist and model paintings makes a homogeneous impression on first inspection, consisting of slight variations on a repeated constant in terms of the group composition and motifs. All the paintings look spontaneous, as if the artist had deliberately avoided pausing for thought and the whole meaning resided in a spur-of-the-moment quality. But paintings such as these, several of which might often be done in a single day, were accompanied by others that might be worked on in several stages, sometimes with month-long interruptions.

 

In 1964, working with great concentration over a number of days, Picasso painted a portrait of his wife Jacqueline. In preliminary works he had tried out effects of colour blocks, paint and line. Now, in the portrait, he combined the principles he had gleaned from those experiments. Then in May he took the painting as a point of departure for a variation in which he played off painting and draughtsmanlike elements more contrastively against each other. Both procedures - rapidly painting a spontaneous artist and model scene, or patiently evolving and adapting a composition - were typical of Picasso's lifelong method of working. But now he intensified his labours in a way that went far beyond his norm.

 


Jacqueline, Seated with Her Cat
1964

 


Jacqueline, Seated with Her Cat
1964

 

 

On 30 March 1963, for example, he painted an artist at work. From 10 to 24 October 1964 he then did 29 variations on the theme, changing the artist's headgear or facial features, making him bearded or wrinkled, old or young, in a broad range of transformations. In these revisions of a single subject, the point of departure always remained clearly in sight. It is, in fact, always the same picture: he was using 29 original-size reproductions of his own oil of 30 March 1963 which a French publisher had sent him. In overpainting in this way, he was emphasizing the contingent, temporary status of an individual work.

This repeated work on a reproduction highlights the heart of Picasso's concerns in his late work: he was out to destroy the concept of the finished work. Series were no longer intended as attesting evolution towards a work, as his extremely sketchy oils of male faces indicate. Here, he was performing an equivalent to the over-painting of reproductions: it was only the context of a sequence that produced meaning in an individual work. The constituents underwent little variation but their juxtaposition changed, underlining the infinite possible ways of combining formal fundamentals (left and above). These pictures are not finished products; they merely document the basic options available to creative work. Alluding directly to the textbook character of the series principle, Picasso uses rudimentary, indeed childlike forms of expression. The pictures seem the kind of scrawl that anyone could do. Technique has been pared to a minimum; caprice reigns triumphant. We are witnessing a creative spirit free of technical constraint and asserting that the traditional concept of art is null and void.

Consistently enough, Picasso does not communicate content in his pictures now. There is no narrative or representational statement; his art has become a kind of performance. The questionable status of form is in the foreground (as it had been for years). Thus an irregular line may zigzag down the bridge and ridge of the nose, the upper lip, the mouth and the chin. The line may be an unnatural green, but it is in the right place. Then it is joined by a similar, yellow line which implies a relation with the physical human face but does not coincide with its natural lines. The overpaintings of reproductions proceed similarly. On 30 March 1963 Picasso painted a male face, economically established with a few generous brush-strokes in blue and white, seen simultaneously from the front and in profile. With so Spartan a starting point, there was ample scope for variation. What counted was the act of painting itself. The surface area, after all, could be obliterated and repeopled with altogether different figures. Thus the oils done in the late Sixties and early Seventies, too, were merely variations on a few elementary motifs, stripped of technical sophistication.

 


The Artist and His Model
1964

 


 


The Artist and His Model
1964

 


The Artist and His Model
1964

 


The Sculptor
1964

 


The Artist
1963

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 


The Artist
1964

 

 

However, the principle of metamorphosis and costume transformation is illustrated, especially in paintings from 1963 and 1969. In "Rembrandt and Saskia" (13/14 March 1963). Picasso has done the lower part of the male figure two-dimension-ally, providing a strong block of black in the centre of the painting. On 18 and 19 February 1969 he varied the same pose in two paintings showing men smoking, with a small Cupid (pp. 654 and 655). The brushwork has undergone radical change. In the 18 February picture, linearity of form is foregrounded, and the colour blocks are therefore filled with broad brushstrokes. In that of 19 February, the blocks of colour are themselves stressed once again - though with the crucial difference that now the act of painting, the imprecise movement of the hand, is being emphasized. The two paintings are complementary. While the motifs in that of 18 February are linear and the colours of secondary importance, Picasso proceeds in that of 19 February in exactly the contrary fashion. He fills the canvas with undefined bright colours, then, the good draughtsman, indicates forms that translate the colour composition into a figural painting. The vigorous brush-work and the seemingly expressive style are masks, to deceive us: they are there to confuse, to subvert perception. There is next to no systematic orchestration of colour aimed at heightening of impact. Instead, paint squeezed straight from the tube onto the canvas has triumphed. Indeed, Picasso's use of paint is distinctly sloppy, leaving blotches and inchoate breaches wherever we look.

 

 


Musketeer and Cupid
1969

 

 


Rembrandtesque Figure and Cupid
1969

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