Friday, January 07, 2011

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child"

I want to tell you about Picasso.

Three months ago, Jer and I stood outside the Musée National Picasso in Paris. We knew it was closed; we stumbled onto the building during our Marais adventure. I remember we were both exhausted after exploring Versailles in the morning and it was drizzling. Someday, I said to myself, I sure would like to see Picasso's work in person.

As luck would have it, when we returned to Seattle the Picasso exhibit was underway at the Seattle Art Museum. Yesterday was first Thursday, which means tickets were half-off, so I made my reservations and picked up my ticket at will-call.

My previous visit to the museum I saw the special Impressionism exhibit. Crowd funneling was worse in this one, as they had us empty into a small room with tiny frames and audio guide instructions.

But that was minor. Art is personal. And I can tell you I loved it. The way that man saw the world, how he communicated his perceptions, was genius. One of the comments on the audio guide was that in those paintings where there's a eye on a cheek, and a sideways nose... he was painting what he saw when he kissed a woman. He was thinking about what is actually seen, not just idealizing a face. Mixed up and all.

And his sculptures. There was one staggered set of six stick figures that especially impressed me -- the audio guide said they were meant to be his version of Velázquez's "Las Meninas."

The Picasso version distilled the little girl, her maids and the artist's self-portrait to shapes and space. I'm not even sure how to describe it. Using sculpture as an extension of painting. Bringing the images off the canvas and giving them substance in space. For me, understanding its background made the work stronger and linked it to the original, like a puzzle. At first I was thinking, what is this? But then when I saw it and heard the description, it was like, ah, right. I see it.

A painting/sculptural equivalent of the bird/duck optical illusion.

This is a man who played. They showed several looping films, home videos and promotional, and I watched all of them. In one, Picasso painted on a sheet of glass in front of the camera. Bold, sure strokes that ended with suggestions of goat, woman, man playing the lute. Then the screen showed other versions of the same work. He had a vision and then would exhaust it with experimentation...

In another scene, a vase was set in front of him, fresh off the potter's wheel. He pinched the top, smoothed bits, squeezed the end, added some nicks and notches and there was a duck. People who see the world in a different way, people who have retained their sense of play, wow, those are the people I'm most interested in.

Image at top, "Portrait of Olga in the Armchair," 1917, from The Current.

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