By Jacqueline Knox
This exhibition at Tate Modern gives a real insight into the working methods of Picasso. It highlights not only how he worked from month to month but also emphasises the context in which he produced this work. You see some seminal works by Picasso but you also see some fabulous drawings, small paintings, collages, sculptures and etchings which gives the viewer a better understanding of his method of working. The viewer gets a real sense of his dilemma between his family life and his success contrasted with his secret love affair and his desire to create new work.
The works are hung chronologically which enable the viewer to appreciate the context in which he worked and also the ‘journey’ from Love to Tragedy. Picasso’s work is juxtaposed against photos by Brassai (1899-1984), films by Jean Painlevé (1902-1989), letters and writings of the time by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and this helps to frame his work against the backdrop of the time. It also explains why Picasso explored the tension between surrealist distortion, cubism, colour and sculpture, appearing not to be ‘fixed’ in one media.
This ‘tension’ is evident early on with two paintings hung next to each other. Woman with Dagger, La femme au stylet emphasises surrealist distortion with a decrease in the features but showing lines and blocks of colour. This painting is hung close to a painting of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. Woman in a Red Armchair, Femme au fauteil rouge is painted with softer pastel colours, fluid brushstrokes, sensual shapes and less distortion. The face of the woman is replaced by a heart presumably so that her identity remains a secret.
Picasso’s Eighteenth-Century house, Boisgeloup in Normandy provided him with a space in which he could indulge in sculpture. Brassai’s photographs in this exhibition show close ups of Picasso’s studio and sculptures in progress.
On seeing these sculptures juxtaposed with the paintings it is evident to the viewer that Picasso was asking himself questions about mass and volume. It appears that he experimented with exploring this mass and volume that became evident in his paintings. This renewed interest in mass and volume also reflected Picasso’s interest in classical mythology.
In this exhibition is a room with small paintings. These were very insightful into understanding Picasso’s process of working. The works are very flat and reminiscent of Cubist collage. These works are like sketches, very fluid and dynamic. It appears that Picasso was exploring his subject matter, woman, in a faster fashion. There is even one on a tiny cardboard box. These smaller works were great to view up close and you could see the fluid brushstrokes.
Picasso was influenced by the 19th Century Japanese printmaker Hokusai (1760-1849) and Japanese erotica ‘Shunga’.
Next to this painting in the exhibition is a short film of an octopus by the French filmmaker Jean Painlevé. This juxtapostion helps the viewer see the influences and other media that artists and writers were using at the time. For Picasso painting itself appeared to be an expression of the subconscious.
Also evident in this exhibition is that drawing was central to Picasso’s imagination. Interestingly Picasso was a very good draughtsman and he therefore had a great physical memory for drawing. This enabled him to be able to paint directly on the canvas and apparently he produced these drawings post painting. Thus showing that he deconstructed his paintings afterwards by stripping back the elements in these experimental drawings. I found this fascinating and his great technique was evident in the simple forms and fluidity of line.
Towards the end of the exhibition is a room of delicate etchings and fluid works of ink on canvas.
These works appear to be more on an intimate scale rather than for the public. Composed on loose sheets of paper either as etchings or prints. One starts to get the feeling of the underlying influence of politics and the subliminal violence that was evident in Europe at this time. Some of his depictions of the Crucifixion are more violent than others.
After the etchings and drawings is the last room with paintings and drawings of The Rescue, Le Sauvetage. This painting is ambiguous as the viewer is unsure whether the figure is being rescued or pushed/ pulled back into the water. This drama is enhanced by the scratchy green which heightens the emotion. The colour is blended together wet on wet paint.
This exhibition of one year of Picasso’s life gives a real insight into his method of working. Picasso was facing a turmoil within his own private life but at the same time Europe was heading towards war.
Interestingly I returned last week with 3 children in tow, aged 8, 12 and 16. They enjoyed the colours and the 8 year old thought that Picasso “ drew good lines”. He especially liked the octopus painting. We had tea and cakes on the terrace and for once although it was cold it did not rain. It was great to see the exhibition through the eyes of children as although they did not take as long as I had to view all the paintings they left with a strong impression of ‘good lines’ and ‘cool colours’.
The Tate Modern is a fantastic space to spend the whole day. We went up to the 10th floor viewing platform to look over London and the adjacent apartments, which proved more fascinating to the children. The best way to access Tate Modern is to take the tube to St Pauls on the Central line or take the Santander bicycle (which I did) with a bike depot just behind Tate Modern. It is a ‘must visit’ when in London especially with this exhibition.