As Time Magazine's respected art critic, Robert Hughes illuminates 'What Picasso is validates what he does: he has so long been saddled (not unwillingly) with the task of being the vitality-image or phallus of the West that every sketch, painting or dish tends to be greeted with the same ritually stupefied reverence.'
Picasso himself constructed the image. The artist in his early Blue and Rose periods employed the allegory of himself as a harlequin. As his fame and celebrity grew, with the rise of the modernist movement, he became the matador, or the bull and finally as Hughes describes him in his final years: 'The old man with the monkey face and the black, insatiable eyes squats at the center of this reputation, proclaimed and hidden by its coils: the archetypal Minotaur in his maze.'
Self-reflexive and self realized, Picasso himself was a progressive, pervasive allegory in his work.
By the end of his life, April of 1973, Picasso had created a staggering 22 000 works of art in a huge variety of mediums. His oeuvre covered everything from painting to sculpture, ceramics, mosaics, stage design and graphic arts.
The Guinness Book of World Records names Picasso as the most prolific painter to have ever lived. Interesting to note that he was also dyslexic. Today his lesser works fetch prices of greater than 100 million US Dollars. Posthumously the value of his work has exploded exponentially, despite frequent art critic predictions of re-appraisal and re-evaluation of his legacy. Picasso was also the first artist to achieve global fame and fortune in his own lifetime.
As Hughes describes so well: 'Picasso's wealth created a flamboyant archetype of success that has affected every creative life for the worse, though nobody expects to be as rich as Picasso.'
While past masters owed their success and support to monarchs and patrons - or in the case of Vincent Van Gogh and countless others, died impoverished - Picasso became the prototype of the modern artist. Riding and representing the bloated conflagration of human progress of the 20 th century. Like many other famous and fabulously wealthy immortals his rise was the result of a confluence of natural talent, tenacity and intelligence coupled with the knack or luck of being in the right place at the right time.
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso (as his birth certificate calls him) was born October 25, 1881 in Malaga, Spain, to Don José Ruiz Blasco and Doña Maria Picasso y Lopez. His Father, Don Jose was an artist and resident art teacher in La Coruna. According to Picasso's mother, the prodigy's first word was 'piz'. Baby talk for 'lapiz' - a pencil. Artistically he was a child prodigy, almost as remarkable as young Mozart in his abilities. His father ensured that the young Picasso had a firm grounding in classical techniques, and was responsible for instructing his young prodigal son in rigorous and detailed studies of form. By the age of 15 Picasso was admitted to the advanced classes at the Royal Academy of Art in Barcelona at 15. He did not complete the course, but as Juan Eduardo Cirlot, in his book 1972 book, Picasso: birth of a genius , explains that by 1893 (aged 14) the juvenile quality of his earliest work had fallen away and by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. 'When I was twelve,' the artist boasted later, 'I could draw like Raphael.'
'He could not.' Retorts Hughes. 'But when he was 15, he had already exhausted the limits of academic teaching, as is amply shown in The Altar Boy, 1896.'
It is around this time that it is said that Don Jose turned over his own brushes and paints to his child, confessing that young Pablo had already surpassed him as a painter and that he thus could work no longer.
As Hughes puts it: ' This Oedipal story (the child castrating the father) crops up often in the legends of genius, but it is possibly true of Picasso.' Interestingly he took the name of his mother.
' That sense of prodigy never left him.' Hughes continues. 'It is central to his imagination. "Painting is stronger than me; it makes me do what it wants," Picasso has said. His experience of self is predicated on that sensation of bearing, in the literal sense, "a gift," for gifts come from outside, and the artist is their medium. Prodigy is analogous to the divine right of kings-always present, a force beyond argument or development.'
Picasso, already a prolific and dedicated artist, finished his studentship at the end of the 19 th century in Madrid and Barcelona. His precocious talent is evident in his Blue and Rose period work. Which are really his defining canvases, in which the young artist discovered his style. By the turn of the century, Picasso visited Paris - the bustling heart of the European art world. Although he had the desire to move there, he could not until he had completed his Spanish military service.
In January 1901 he returned to his birth place, Malaga, in the hope of persuading his uncle Salvador (the family patriarch) to sponsor him the 1200 pesetas he needed to buy his way out of his military service. He was accompanied by his close friend Casagemas, a writer and a rogue. They didn't do much persuading, at least not of Uncle Salvador. Instead they spent the time visiting brothels and drinking excessively. A few months later a love sick Casegemas shoots and kills himself in a Paris restaurant. A year later, on the verge of his call up, uncle Salvador relented and gave young Pablo the money needed to escape the military. Soon after, Picasso packed his belongings and left for Paris.
In the September of 1901, autumn, Picasso began his Blue period. So called because the colours on his palette were dominated by subdued blues and greens and his subject matter dealt with the impoverished and lowly characters he mingled with in Barcelona and Paris. 'It was thinking about Casagemas... that got me started painting in blue.' Picasso said later.
Soon after his arrival in Paris, Picasso started to receive critical acclaim, although wealth was much slower to follow. Symbolist poet Charles Morice wrote of Picasso in the Mercure de France in 1902 'the extraordinary, sterile sadness that weighs upon the whole of this very young man's work - a body of work that is already beyond counting. Picasso, who was painting before he learned to read, seems to have been given the mission of expressing everything that exists, and of expressing it with his brush. It might be said that he is a young god who wants to refashion the world. But a gloomy god. The hundreds of faces that he has painted all grimace. Never a single smile. One could no more live in his world than in his leprous, scaling houses. And his own painting is shut in. Hopelessly so? There is no telling. But undoubtedly it has power, ability, and talent.'
The winter of 1902 was bitterly cold. Picasso in the midst of his Blue period translated those experiences onto canvas. His Spartan studio exemplified the cathartic chamber of struggle. Later he claimed to have burned drawings to keep warm. Further down the line, now sharing a studio with writer and poet Max Jacob (which alludes to Picasso's sly marketing nous), they are so poor that Picasso could not even buy canvas or paint. Drawing was his only medium.
While in Paris, he began to associate with the great modernist thinkers of the time. According to biographer Cirlot, his exposure to the work of Rossetti, Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec and Edvard Munch, combined with his admiration for favorite old masters such as El Greco, led Picasso to a personal version of modernism in his works of this period.
An intense rivalry arose between Picasso and Henri Matisse - goaded on by Leo and Gertrude Stein. The two artists later became friends, shared exhibitions and even exchanged works. In 1904 Picasso started his first long term relationship with Marcelle Humbert who he nicknamed Eve. Although Eve was his main squeeze, ol' Pablo still had a string of mistresses and was always game for a chance encounter. At around about the same time, surprise surprise, his palette brightened, as did his subject matter. Thus begins the start of a recurrent leitmotif in Picasso's work. Picasso's women and the effect they have on his artistic production. This is the beginning of his Rose period. As the mood lifted, the subject matter became more playful; harlequins, acrobats and circus performers - although many still look sad, tortured and serious.
According to Hughes, 'If everything Picasso painted up to 1906 were subtracted, it would leave no real gap in the history of modern art. But in that year Picasso began his advance to Cubism.'
The precursor was his portrait of Gertrude Stein.
Hughes picks up the narrative: 'Picasso's irresistible fluency now struck its immovable object. The portrait took 80 sittings to finish. It taxed Picasso's concentration to the limit, and the result was one of the few indisputably great portraits that he, or anyone else in this century, has produced: a densely sculptural image, hieratic and mask-like, more compact almost than matter itself. Picasso's absorption of "primitive" shape (he had spent a lot of time with Iberian and Egyptian sculpture that year) was now complete, and the way to Cubism was open.'
In 1907 Picasso created his own Damascus moment. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon became known as the 'shaker of the art world'. According to Thomas Hoving in his seminal work Art for Dummies , 'Cubism is essentially the fragmenting of three-dimensional forms into flat areas of pattern and color, overlapping and intertwining so that shapes and parts of the human anatomy are seen from the front and back at the same time.'
Picasso and his close friend Georges Braque created and defined the movement together. Picasso referred to Braque as 'ma femme' or 'my wife'. Braque described his friendship with Picasso as two mountaineers tied together on the same rope. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was the first Cubist work. Cubism established that art may exist as a significant object beyond any attempt to represent reality. Through Cubism Picasso imbued his artworks with all he knew about an object, rather than simply reproducing what he saw.
Anecdotally, a man once criticized Picasso for creating unrealistic art. Picasso asked him: 'Can you show me some realistic art?' The man showed him a photograph of his wife. Picasso observed: 'So your wife is two inches tall, two-dimensional, with no arms and no legs, and no colour but only shades of gray?'
'I paint forms as I think them, not as I see them.' He was later quoted.
According to Penrose, another Picasso biographer, on their first viewing of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Henri Matisse and Leo Stein burst into paroxysms of laughter and remarked that the painting tried to invoke the fourth dimension. Soon, however, every progressive painter of the era took up Cubism.
Financially, 1907 was the nadir of Picasso's career. He was living in abject poverty in the Bateau Lavoir, a studio building in Rue Ravignan. But that was all about to change. According to Hughes, 'For Picasso, Cubism was a turning point. Before, he had been the Prodigy. After, he would become the Maestro, imitated instead of imitating, a unique figure whose work gradually separated from the culture around him.'
Fortune followed fame. Before World War 1, Picasso was a well known artist, celebrated in Paris. By the end of the war - and the rise of Cubism - he was a global icon of the art world. As his star waxed and his reputation grew, the demand for his artwork and their price inflated steadily.
After World War 1 Picasso was invited to design a ballet for Sergei Diaghilev in Rome, called Parade. On set he met and fell in love with Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina. Soon afterwards they got married. Khokhlova introduced Picasso to the Parisian high society of the 1920s. No doubt this had a positive effect on Picasso's fortunes. Alas Olga's bourgeois sensibilities ran smack bang into Picasso's bohemian spirit, and wandering dick, the marriage was an unhappy one. They had a son Paulo, who would grow up to be a dissolute motorcycle racer and part-time chauffeur to his father.
In 1927 Picasso met 17 year old Marie-Thérèse Walter and they began an affair. Picasso's marriage to Khokhlova ended soon after. It has been reported that Picasso ended their marriage in separation rather than divorce because he was unwilling to divide his, by this stage, substantial wealth.
Picasso, the hound, had a long-standing affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter and fathered a daughter, Maia, with her. But soon Picasso tired of her and took up with fledgling art student and photographer Dora Maar. By 1935 Maar was a constant companion and lover of Picasso. It was Maar, the photographer, capitalising on her relationship with Picasso, who documented the painting of Guernica; Picasso's most political, anti-war masterpiece. On hearing the news of the Luftwaffe bombing of the Catalan capital, Picasso was preparing a vast commission for his native country's pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition of Arts and Sciences. According to Steve Waterson in a 2006 Time Magazine article, 'Picasso, who was never particularly passionate about politics, threw aside his planned work and began to create his masterpiece, a monochrome scream of pain and horror.'
'The ten years Maar and Picasso spent together spanned the most tumultuous events of the century, and the passion of their liaison reflected them.' By the end of World War 2, their romance had fizzled. Picasso had started to take an interest in a young art student, Françoise Gilot. The two eventually became lovers, and had two children together, Claude and Paloma. Unique among Picasso's women, Gilot left Picasso in 1953. Perhaps it was because he confided in her that women are for him 'either goddesses or doormats'.
After Gilot's departure, Picasso embarked on a series of exploratory drawings that represented a hideous dwarf as buffoonish counterpoint to the beautiful young girl. An attempt, perhaps, to deal with his advancing age and rampant libido. Yet, It didn't take Picasso long to find another lover, this time, Jacqueline Roque. The two remained together for the rest of Picasso's life, marrying in 1961.
As Picasso aged, his artistic output accelerated. He produced more than an artwork a day for the productive period of his life. Picasso once declared of painting, 'What's necessary is to do them, to do them, to do them! The more you paint, the nearer you get to something. You must do as many as possible.'
'This obsessed machismo,' Claims Hughes, 'resembles nothing so much as a displacement of sex into art: the furious production of Picasso's old age is an exact pictorial counterpart to the catalogue of seductions by Mozart's Don Giovanni, whose promiscuity was a shield against death.'
'Death holds no fear for me,' Picasso told a friend a few years before his demise. 'It has a kind of beauty. What I am afraid of is falling ill and not being able to work. That's lost time.'
Perhaps Picasso's greatest masterpiece was his own myth. It follows that he was always an eccentric yet snappy dresser. Exhibiting, by Hughes' account, 'a dandyism beyond the wildest dreams of King's Road: trousers with one blue and one red leg, dragon shirts, Oriental headgear.'
Once asked why he never had any of his paintings hanging on his walls. 'I can't afford them', he answered. Picasso, like De Beers corp, soon realised that he had a monopoly on his unique output and thus shorted the market, and controlled the supply. Keeping his prices high, while he was alive. At the time of his death many of his paintings were still in his possession.
'No artist left alive has been able to rival Picasso's cultural embodiment of the self.' Says Hughes.
'By 1940 Picasso was the most famous artist in the world; by 1970 he had become the most famous artist that ever lived... The effect of this on him can only be guessed at...
'From their breathless accounts a satyr rises, mythic, Gargantuan, and fatally easy to parody. The Maestro's working day, one might suppose, begins with a light breakfast of goat's testicles and salade niçoise. Then, surrounded by a flock of admiring tame doves, he descends to his studio and executes 30 engravings, two murals and a still life. At lunch, having done a zapateado before the avid lenses of a team from Paris Match, he gives Dominguin some tips in the art of gracefully demolishing a bull. Now it is pottery time, and 83 ceramic owls later, Picasso summons his chauffeur and picks up three virgins on the beach. They are deflowered during the siesta, and retire, twittering gratefully, to write their memoirs. Refreshed, the Maestro fills in the yawning hours before dinner with a dozen portraits. The omelette palpitates under his fork, unable to believe its luck. It, too, will be converted into a Picasso. A green, nocturnal silence reigns in the garden, broken only by the muffled clamor of Greek shipping millionaires stuffing $1,000 bills through the letter box in the hope that Picasso will draw on one of them. But the day is over . . .
One can expect, as the balance of power shifts in our globalised, egalitarian future - that the influence of, and the reverence for the Spanish maestro will lessen. Perhaps they'll call him a misogynist and a plagiarist.
The full sweep of Picasso's effect on modern art will probably take another 50 years to be documented. For as Hughes so eloquently puts it. ' Picasso was the artist with whom virtually every other artist had to reckon.'