Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Dean Gallery Presents Picasso on Paper

The Dean Gallery Presents Picasso on Paper

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Pablo Picasso, La Minotauromachia, 1935, Etching and Engraving. © Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

EDINBURGH.-The NGS are staging a major exhibition of Picasso's prints and drawings. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is widely regarded as the greatest artist of the twentieth century, indeed as one of the greatest artists of all times. Born in Málaga in Spain, he was a child prodigy, quickly eclipsing the work of his father, who was a professional art teacher. He moved to Paris in the early 1900s and remained based in France thereafter. His influence extends over every aspect of the visual arts: no other artist had such a profound impact on the art of his time. Besides his work as a painter and a sculptor, he was also an extraordinary graphic artist, making drawings, etchings, lithographs, linocuts and woodcuts over a period of more than seventy years.

This exhibition, which will occupy the entire top floor and part of the ground floor of the Dean Gallery, is based on the world-famous collection belonging to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany. They are generously lending nearly 100 works, including 65 prints, 15 drawings and 10 illustrated books. Other prints are being lent from private and public collections in the UK. The works range in date from etchings done in the early 1900s, during Picasso's so-called 'Rose Period', to the Cubist works of the pre-war years, the Surrealist works of the 1920s and 1930s, the fabulous colour linocuts of the 1950s and the sexually charged work of his late years.

Pablo Picasso was an obsessive draughtsman and printmaker. He made at least 2200 prints in all kinds of techniques: the first dates from 1899, when he was 17, the last from 1972, when he was ninety. The number of drawings he made is so vast it has never been properly counted. This passion for drawing was inbuilt, but it was also steered by two economical considerations: in the first place drawings were cheap to do, and in the second they were easier to sell than paintings.

Picasso had no formal education as a printmaker: instead he picked up techniques as he went along, enjoying the company of technicians who could teach him new skills which he then adapted to his own requirements. He often made mistakes in his work as can be seen in an etching entitled Frugal Meal, which he produced in Paris in 1904. Lacking the money to buy a new etching plate, he simply borrowed an old one from a friend and polished out the previous image before making his own. He seems to have been too impetuous to do the job properly, for he left part of the earlier landscape showing through in places. Close inspection shows that tufts of grass sprout from behind the woman’s head.

Picasso began making prints in earnest in 1905, producing more than a dozen etchings that year, mainly on the theme of traveling circus figures. With the exception of a few woodcuts, all Picasso’s prints from these early years in Paris were either etchings or drypoints. Etchings are made by drawing into a thin wax surface on a metal plate and then biting the lines with acid which etches into the plate. The drypoint technique involves scratching into the metal plate itself: this produces a richer black line when the plate is inked and passed through a printing press.

During the First World War Picasso, the undisputed father of the avant-garde, seemed to take a step backwards. He began making very realistic drawings and these soon became the talk of Paris. Some of his followers called it a betrayal; others followed suit. Picasso worked in this more traditional style alongside his Cubist work, and sometimes combined the two approaches. Influenced by classical art (a trip to Italy in 1917 had made a big impression on him), the drawings of Ingres and Renoir’s paintings, in the 1920s he drew and painted massive, heavy-limbed nudes. Whereas Picasso’s paintings of this period tend to concentrate on one of two figures, in his drawings he produced more elaborate, multi-figure compositions, as in Group of Female Nudes.

Etching is like sketching while lithography is more like painting. Whereas the linear character of the etched line had provoked Picasso into producing narrative scenes, often bound up with myths and mythology, with lithography he frequently worked on portraits. This was also bound up with personal circumstances. It is often said that Picasso’s art changed when his lovers changed, and the arrival on the scene of the young Françoise Gillot, whom he met in 1943, seems to have brought about this new interest in portraiture, as well as in lithography, which she encouraged.

If etching had encouraged Picasso to work in sequence, this was equally true of lithography. With both techniques, the artist can make an image, print it, then erase parts of the plate and rework it. Picasso liked to do this with lithographs, and the prime example is the series of eleven bulls, made between December 1945 and January 1946. Metamorphosis was central to Picasso’s art. With printmaking, and particularly with lithography, Picasso could do exactly that: he could hold on to each stage of that transformation and thereby disclose the magic and mystery. With The Bull, the final sequence of images shows the gradual transformation of a bull as it turns from a massive beast into a few light skeletal lines.

For Picasso, new printing techniques were like new lovers. They inspired him to take new approaches and renew his creative instincts. He became obsessed with half a dozen women and he also became obsessed with half a dozen printing techniques. Art and love were equal partners in the creative process. There will be a lavishly illustrated catalogue to accompany this exhibition, priced £12.95.

William Gray Muir, Director of Sundial Properties, Edinburgh comments, “XXIII Ravelston Terrace is delighted to be supporting this major display of work by Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most influential artist of the twentieth century. We hope you enjoy this spectacular exhibition of Europe’s greatest modern artist in one of Europe’s finest cities.”

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