Picasso’s legacy still looms over contemporary art 50 years after his death.
From his classical roots, he co-founded Cubism, dabbled in Surrealism, and morphed into blue and rose periods, all the while focusing on the reign of the line.
“In a real way, he allowed artists to free themselves,” said Justin Ferate, co-curator of the exhibit at Santa Fe’s LewAllen Galleries. LewAllen is showcasing Picasso’s prints in “Celebrating Picasso’s Legacy: Important Works on Paper” through May 6.
Picasso devoted his life to art for nearly 80 years. Throughout his career, the artist produced more than 20,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, theater sets and costumes.
Like a jazz musician improvising riffs, his lines took shortcuts, switchbacks and U-turns, all the while defining the truth of the image.
“Art is the lie that makes us recognize the truth,” he said.
The celebratory exhibition covers the span of Picasso’s printmaking oeuvre, featuring works from early in his career to later works such as “Portrait de Jacqueline de face I,” (1961) a striking linocut of his second wife.
“These are his diaries,” co-curator Louis Newman said. “They reflect his romantic relationships. These women are his muses.”
The “Portrait de Jacqueline” presents two faces, the artist’s technique for revealing both sides of a face.
“One profile is looking at the other profile,” Ferate said.
Picasso used the figure as a vessel to showcase his formal innovations in mark-making, line, form, space and an experimental approach to process.
The artist was born in Málaga, Spain, the son of an academic painter. Drawing from early age, in 1895 he studied at La Lonja, the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona.
But his real teachers hung elsewhere.
“He would say that classic story about how he would skip school and spend the afternoons at the Prado,” Ferate said. “Because he studied the canvases, he had a remarkable reference to classical principles. It’s almost like a jazz tradition.”
He referenced various styles and traditions, transforming them into his own.
In “Minotaure aveugle guidé par Marie-Thérèse au Pigeon dans une Nuit étoilée” (1934), Picasso takes a Greek and Roman figure and incorporates his tumultuous relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistress and the mother of one of his daughters. The relationship started when she was 17. He was 45 and still married to his first wife Olga.
“She raised dogs and she raised pigeons,” Ferate said. “She refused to date him. So every day on his walks, he would draw a drawing in chalk on the side of her house.”
The aquatint and drypoint print shows Marie-Thérèse standing before the Minotaur.
“It was half-man, half-beast,” Ferate said. “Picasso imagined himself as virile. He always likes to promote himself as mister macho.”
In the etching “La Grande Corrida, avec Femme Torero” (1934), Marie-Thérèse’s face looks down on the furious, snorting bull’s back, while she stabs it with the picador.
“On one had, it’s sexually vibrant, on the other, it’s scary,” Ferate said. “He’s very attracted to her and at the same time he’s on the verge of his next relationship. He’s sort of wrestling with her. It’s the classic have your cake and eat it, too. So there’s that tension; she’s feeling shunted to the side. He wanted to keep her, but he also wanted Jacqueline.”
In “Peintre et modèle au fauteuil” (1963) he depicts himself at his easel while he paints Marie-Thérèse.
“He’s still playing with Cubism; he’s still playing with space,” Ferate said.
“Some people will look and say he’s a misogynist,” he continued. “I’m not saying he wasn’t, but if you dismiss him, you miss what he created. It’s a hard call.”
Picasso settled in Paris in 1904. Among the enormous number of exhibitions staged during his lifetime, those at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1939 and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1955 were the most significant. The artist moved to Mougins, France in 1961. There he continued his prolific work in painting, drawing, prints and sculpture until his death in 1973.