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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Few artists in this century, or perhaps in any century, have ever lived and worked as ferociously as Pablo Picasso. A powerful bear of a man even into his early ninety's, he was a precocious, often obnoxious, artistic force to be reckoned with even before he was a man.  Everything about him was drawn larger than life. As a mere teenager he quickly outstripped his father's ability to teach him (or handle him), and absorbed art instruction in such a sponge-like manner he even outgrew that art training his native country had to offer, before abandoning Spain (more or less) permanently around the turn of the century. And when he hit Paris, a brash young man of 20, stories of his carousing, and sexual exploits have become the stuff of legends. Such folklore might seem merely that except for the fact that it is underlined boldly in every stroke of his brush and slash of his pen. The sheer quantity of his lifetime creative output is as staggering as some of the stories of his love life.   

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,
1907, Pablo Picasso
At the age of 56, Picasso was riding a wave of personal and artistic success that would have been the envy of any artists. The Spanish Republican Government honored him above all others with an invitation to paint a mural for the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris World's Fair. He was having important shows in New York, Paris, London, and Germany. His work was bringing huge prices. The Museum of Modern art sold a Renoir to raise money. A part of the money was needed to purchase his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon for $24,000.  (A huge price at the time for a living artist).  Then on April 26, 1937, he was staggered by an event in his homeland which unleashed a creative outrage that was monumental even by Picasso's standards.  Planes borrowed from Hitler by Generalisimo Ferdenand Franco, completely laid waste the small Basque town of Guernica in the first known use of saturation bombing in the history of warfare.

Guernica, 1937, Pablo Picasso
Picasso had his subject for the Spanish Pavilion mural!  He began sketches for it less than a week later, resurrecting motifs from numerous earlier works as well as new elements.  He started painting on May 11th.  With his mistress at the time, Dora Maar, photographing each step of the process, he completed the 26 foot by 11 foot tall canvas in an incredible three weeks of feverish effort.  Even for Picasso the work was stark.  Limiting himself to powerful black, pristine white, and modulating grays, Guernica screamed for all the world to see and, figuratively speaking, hear, the monstrosity of Franco's Spanish Civil War.  Even after it was finished the impact upon Picasso's creative output was indelible.  Motifs from the painting continued to show up in his work for months afterward, and the impact the painting had upon the rest of the world stamped even more indelibly the horrors of modern warfare.

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