Friday, 1 May 2009
Picasso / Richter (Picasso)
Picasso, 'Seated Woman', 1920
She is thinking, and so am I, and quite possibly we are both thinking about Picasso - she, because she is his lover and is being depicted by him, I because I am looking at her knowing that without being too concerned with the knowledge. When it comes to artists I seem to prefer art to biography. Crazy, I know. There is a decent set of pictures from the current exhibition available here.
What am I thinking? I am thinking that Picasso is a genius draughtsman and a poor painter, by which I mean he has no great feeling for paint and is utterly indifferent to colour beyond a certain narrow range. All he is interested in is form and pattern and line, and in that respect he is quite magnificent. The colours are generally OK while they remain sombre but once beyond his safe palette of earth-colours plus the odd blue and green, he is just slapping the stuff on. In almost every case his drawings and prints are better than the paintings. The etchings especially are out of this world.
His formal sense consumes and recreates everything he comes across: Rembrandt, Velasquez, Delacroix... anyone. His daring and control are astonishing. His figures are composed of what appear to be inessential lines, a bulge here, an abbreviation there, a blitz of lines somewhere else, and yet they remain in energetic tension. - That surprisingly suggests that the essential is not the obvious, that the spine's relation to the sacrum for example is not simply an anatomical given in art, but a set of forms, a pattern that registers as energy. Surprise, surprise!
This is the work I sat down and stared at for some fifteen minutes and still only took in part of it:
It is one of the variations on Velasquez. It has such brio and humour. It is, in effect, an overt piece of visual metatext, metatext (working around another work) being something that appeals more and more to me as time goes on. And this example is so whole-hearted and delighted with both the original and itself, it makes me laugh inside so I feel stronger and happier in some way. It is as if the world were a furious array of languages, languages as dense as evolution itself, and that one could stand at the centre of these languages, as at the eye of the storm, and simply laugh at the fecundity.
For sheer lyrical beauty I go for the prints, the Vollard suite in particular, the gorgeous, decorative, luxuriant, meditative, dreamlike, erotic play of them but the black and white work in any medium is also full of life. As is the sculpture.
On the subject of erotic play, blah, blah, or vaguely so, I note a remark on one of those ever-annoying captions and bits of official commentary that talks of Picasso's fear of women. Fear? Well, maybe... But, give or take the occasional suggestion of the classic vagina dentata, it strikes me that for someone so frightened he seemed to return time and again to the root of his fear, both in art and life. And that he did so with a certain relish; that he was, in fact, clearly having a whale of a time. (A nice, and possibly not inappropriate, way of putting it?)
It reminds me of the occasion of Ana Maria Pacheco's exhibition at the Gas Hall, Birmingham some years ago, when the female curator looked me in the eye and said, 'Of course, what she shows is that men find women frightening.' To which I replied with just a slight widening of the eyes, 'Utterly terrifying.' She didn't quite know how to take this and conversation stopped for a second. Was I being ironic? I myself don't know, I only know I didn't want to be confronted with the latest platitude, one so certain of itself. The only possible response was to destabilise it.
And that is what most official state gallery information is. The latest platitude. That includes the recorded material they give you to listen to as you go round. To reverse Ben Jonson on his picture left in Scotland ("...And all these [his unattractive physical features] through her eyes have blocked her ears [to his pleas]...") - the commentary works through your ears to block your eyes. You can't be allowed just to look in case you get the wrong idea. You may not be presumed to possess eyes or intelligence. That intelligence, you are given to understand, is the possession of the very few who can speak the right language.
One notes that a great many people look longer at the labels than they do at the work. One supposes that what they really want is to be told what to say about a work. Been there, seen it, said the right thing.
Somewhere in there is an emperor in search of clothes. Sometimes, of course - just to be fair about this - it's a real emperor.