Until September 23; Dean Gallery, Edinburgh
Picasso: Fired with Passion
Until October 28; National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Never before has there been a major Picasso exhibition in Scotland,
and like buses, suddenly two have come along at once. With the Spanish
artists ceramics on show at the National Museum of Scotland,
and his graphic works at the Dean Gallery, were spoilt for choice.
The choice, in fact, is pretty clear. While the museums show
gets points for variety, and for its refreshing exhibition design,
it does little to interpret Picassos art, and focuses instead
on the easier topic of his love-life. All around, overblown photographs
attempt to pad out the relatively limited quantity of ceramics actually
Meanwhile, the Deans exhibition is packed with high quality
prints and drawings, and enough information to guide you through the
jungle of Picassos creative mind. People who try to explain
pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree, said Picasso
once, but while it might not be possible to explain his art, it helps
a great deal to flesh out the details.
Picasso was always one step ahead of art historians, and even since
his death in 1973, he has kept them on the run. Capable as a child
of drawing like Raphael, he would soon move into his Blue Period,
followed by the Rose Period. Just as collectors were enjoying his
wistful pink paintings, he invented Cubism. And as that movements
popularity took hold, he would (to the disgust of some) rediscover
the joys of classical art.
This pattern continued for the rest of Picassos life, and many
of his countless styles though instantly recognisable
are just too slippery to classify. I am probably a painter without
style, said the man himself. I always thrash about rather
wildly. I am a bit of a tramp. You can see me at this moment, but
I have already changed, I am already somewhere else.
This constant exploration of new territory is an ever-present theme
in both exhibitions; Picasso discovered ceramics at the age of 65,
and immediately started turning all the rules upside down. Enjoying
a life-long passion for print-making also without any formal
training he ricocheted from one technique to another, always
inventing new processes to the bafflement of the experts.
He looked, he listened, he did the opposite of what he learnt,
and it worked, marvelled Fernand Mourlot, the lithographer whose
close collaboration with Picasso resulted in 400 prints. In the Madoura
pottery where Picasso discovered his love for ceramics, the professional
potters would joke about how irritating it was to work with someone
whose crazy experiments always turned out so successfully.
Making top-heavy pots which should have collapsed, and using nail-varnish,
suet and petrol in his printing processes not to mention hosing
down his linocuts in the shower Picasso was always on the look
out for new shapes and textures. And just as quickly as he would pick
up the habit of etching, or lithography, or lino cut, he would drop
it for something new.
Its impossible to disentangle Picassos creative life from
his love life, and both exhibitions acknowledge that fact, pointing
out the sudden changes in media and style which new lovers would usher
Picasso on Paper spans 70 years of the artists career, in which
time, its pointed out, Picasso took six lovers or wives and
a similar number of printing techniques. He tired of each in turn,
moving on to conquer new frontiers. If you know exactly what
youre going to do, said Picasso, whats the
good of doing it? Since you know, the exercise is pointless. It is
better to do something else.
The museums exhibition concentrates largely on one woman, Françoise
Gilot, whose time with Picasso coincided with his passion for ceramics.
Gilot, an independent-minded artist 40 years his junior, had been
resisting Picassos advances since 1943. He was tiring of his
photographer partner Dora Maar, and by 1946, when he first visited
Vallauris, he had successfully supplanted Maar with Gilot.
Vallauris, a small town in the South of France, had been famous for
its pottery since Roman times, and Picasso found himself attracted
to the classical shapes of the Madoura pottery in particular. On his
first visit he was encouraged to decorate a few blank plates, and
the following year he returned with enthusiasm, and lots of drawings.
The next few years were a time of great contentment for Picasso and
Gilot, who settled in the area and had two children, Claude and Paloma.
Picassos ceramics reflect this happiness. The many blanks he
decorated in 1947 are full of exuberant child's play: simple fish,
still lifes and faces splashed on with a few quick brushstrokes of
slips and oxides.
The artist then took to adapting the shape of the pottery itself,
transforming functional vessels into bizarre concoctions, and delighting
in decorating them as birds, or demure women with flowing tresses.
Seen beside the work of his professional contemporaries at Vallauris,
many of Picassos ceramics retain that childish freshness which
he prized so highly, but a handful of the exhibits demonstrate an
His red earthenware vase of 1950, borrowed from the Centre Pompidou,
marries classical pottery with the artists own vigorous vision
of naked beauty: the incised figures are a mix of front and back views
allowing all the most voluptuous parts to be seen at once.
Other impressive vases and plates from the 1950s depict the artist
at his easel, and numerous bullfighting scenes, in Picassos
dynamic, calligraphic brushwork.
While the artists passion for ceramics didnt start until
his mid-sixties, legend has it that Picassos very first words
were to ask for a pencil with which to draw. During the course of
his long life, the artist made over 2200 prints (largely etchings,
lithographs and linocuts), and so many drawings that no-one has ever
successfully counted them all. In fact, the Deans exhibition
brings to light an early drawing not previously known to Picasso scholars,
lurking in Edinburgh Universitys collection.
Of the 125 prints and drawings in the show, nearly 100 are from one
of the worlds best collections of Picassos graphics, at
the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Every kind of style is represented in
this show, Picasso changing his habits with bewildering frequency.
One motif which recurs throughout is that of the minotaur, a sexually
charged creature who is said to represent Picasso himself. In Minotaur
Caressing The Hand Of A Sleeping Woman With His Head, the artist successfully
combines areas of densely worked drypoint with clean, bright, outlined
passages to heighten the physical and emotional drama of the piece.
Four years later, Picasso made the classic Weeping Woman I, closely
related to the development of his famous painting, Guernica. Dora
Maar is depicted, her face a bulbous concoction of misplaced features,
twisted in anguish. Picasso had mastered many techniques by this time,
and his complex combination of these comes together in a strong, unforgettable
The most arresting section of the whole Dean show is a series of 11
lithographs of a bull, made over seven weeks in 1945/6. The same image
was repeatedly reworked, and every few days an impression was made.
The result is a fascinating development from naturalistic portrayal,
to geometric reduction, stage by stage. This is the closest you will
ever get if youre brave enough to being inside
Black, Sunday Herald 15.07.07