ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly 50 years after his death, Pablo Picasso’s shadow still towers over the art world.
Santa Fe’s LewAllen Gallery is kicking off 2019 with an exhibition showcasing that explosive genius through 30 original prints by the modernist master. “Figures of Picasso: Important Original Prints” reveals the artist’s prodigious creative drive, propelled by a mountainous ego through a selection of etchings, drypoints, aquatints and linocuts spanning the bulk of his career. Most of the prints came from a single New York collector.
The artist’s many lovers surface in images brimming with his trademark multiple perspectives and angularity. These figures trace the intersection of his life and art, serving as a visual diary.
He had two wives (Olga and Jacqueline) and four children by three women. The portraits frequently draw overt inspiration from Greek myth, historic Spanish literature and art history, becoming avatars within Picasso’s personal mythology. His figures – the Minotaur, the bull and the sculptor – become symbols of his own alter egos.
Picasso chose to use the figure as a vessel for his many formal innovations in line, form and space, as well as an experimental approach to both process and media. The earliest piece, one of his first prints, is an image of Salomé from 1905, well before his experiments with Cubism. Picasso created the work with the Parisian printer Delâtre while he was still poverty-stricken. The piece features recurring dreamlike characters drawn from his life among the turn-of-the-century street bohemians.
Picasso’s work grew much more fragmented and experimental through the 1960s.
The three-color linocut “Jacqueline au Bandeau,” 1962, is the exhibition centerpiece, showing multiple views of his second wife’s face.
“It was so innovative,” LewAllen director of modernism Louis Newman said. “A lot of the techniques he used were of his own invention. It was done on one block – very carefully. It reads almost like a painting.”
“Femme au Fauteuil No. 4” (1949) pictures Picasso’s lover and the mother of two of his children, Francoise Gilot, seated like royalty.
“She’s almost like the queen of Spain,” Newman said.
“To know Picasso’s prints is to know his life,” he continued. “Sometimes he was beating his chest, showing off his macho self. At other times, he is quite vulnerable. Here was the one woman he couldn’t control. In some of the images, she has almost a sphinx-like quality.”
Gilot’s hair resembles the dreadlocks or coils found in African art, a recognized influence on the artist.
In many ways, Picasso’s distortion of the figure can be seen as a visual record of his own self-reflection, but it is also important to note its place within a particularly tumultuous era in world history. World War I, World War II and a Civil War in his native Spain rocked the cultural landscape and caused a mass dislocation of people across the globe. Their ordinary form buckles under the weight of all of these forces – and what remains is Picasso.
Surrealist photographer Dora Maar, who was Picasso’s lover during much of the European upheaval in the 1930s, often appears in his work in severely fragmented, disfigured form. The distortion echoes “Guernica,” his 1937 howl against Nazi bombing during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso created a Noah’s Ark of five animals as part of a suite of sugar-lift aquatints. The difficult process allowed him to paint directly on a plate using sugar syrup.
“Supposedly, he did this for his daughter Maya, who was about a year old,” Newman said. “Some of them have an almost Asian quality.”
The prints were released in 1942 when the world was at war and in desperate need of escape.
Picasso acquired a pet monkey named Monina when he moved to a large apartment in Paris in 1911. Fernand Olivier, Picasso’s lover at the time, remembered Monina fondly: “Monina, who had taken a great fancy to him, used to eat all her meals with Picasso and pester him incessantly; he bore with this and even enjoyed it. He would let her take his cigarette or the fruit he was eating. She would nestle up to his chest, where she felt quite at home. He loved to see this animal being so trusting and was delighted by the tricks she used to play.”