Royal Academy of Arts: Until the 13th of April. Review by Juliet Bawden
This is the RA Spring 2020 blockbuster. Billed as the most comprehensive exhibition devoted to Picasso’s imaginative and original uses of paper ever to be held. There are over 300 works encompassing Picasso’s 80 year career and the exhibition shows the myriad of ways in which he worked both on and with paper.
Picasso was one of the most important and prolific artists of the twentieth century. He was born in 1881 and died in 1973. He worked across a range of mediums including painting, ceramics, sculpture and graphic arts. He drew incessantly, using many different media, including pastels, watercolour and gouache, on a broad range of papers and card. A glossary of these is available for anyone who is interested. He assembled collages of cut-and-pasted papers, created sculptures from pieces of torn and burnt paper, produced both documentary photographs and manipulated photographs on paper; and spent decades investigating printmaking techniques.
The exhibition is organized in a chronological framework and opens with two paper cut outs of a dove and a dog made by Picasso when he was 8 years old and highlights include Les Femmes à Leur Toilette, winter 1937-38.This extraordinary collage is made from cut and pasted papers and measures 4.8 meters in length.
Throughout the exhibition paper works are displayed alongside a number of closely related paintings and sculptures. Although Picasso didn’t paint war paintings as such, his images of sheep’s skulls or women in position of grief and anguish provide a deeply personal record of fear and dread in the shadow of impending catastrophe. He didn’t want his work to be mixed up in politics but after the aerial bombing of Guernica in April 1937 ,Picasso accepted the commission to paint a mural for the republic ‘s pavilion at The Paris Worlds fair of 1937
In August 1940 Picasso moved back to Paris and remained there throughout the German occupation. Picasso was considered by the Nazi’s to be a degenerate and was threatened with extradition to fascist Spain. He was forbidden to exhibit or publish but continued to work in his studio. with materials in short supply, the ever resourceful Picasso created a world of shapes- masks, birds etc by tearing, cutting, and burning paper napkins. He made ink drawings on propaganda published by the collaborationist press.
A focused section of the exhibition examines the materials and techniques used by Picasso over the course of his career. This includes early woodcuts, photographic collaborations with Dora Maar and later Andre Villers, as well as experimental graphic works and illustrated books.
Near the end of the exhibition the audience can see the great master at work stripped to the waist in the film ‘Le Mystère Picasso’ made in 1956. It is a remarkable documentary recording Picasso drawing with felt-tip pens on blank newsprint. It is shown alongside original drawings made for the production. The exhibition closes with a focus on Picasso ‘s last decade, which saw a final flourish of his work particularly as a printmaker.
I have said this before and excuse me for repeating myself, but we as an audience or viewer are seeing this work with hindsight and knowledge of 20th century art. We need to imagine how amazing and out of this world the work of Picasso must have been when it was first viewed. It is still amazing strong and vibrant. A great, but very large exhibition, so allow yourself plenty to of time to see it.
Read more about the exhibition and book tickets : ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS