Written by: Mia Zhou
Pablo Picasso is probably the most familiar ‘stranger’ to most people. His name is incredibly well-known, and even his various anecdotes and many love stories are discussed enthusiastically among people. One can always give the classic summary of his legendary life, saying that he is one of the greatest artists in Western history. But it is impossible to generalize the long and romantic life of Picasso in just a few words. ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’, ‘Guernica’, ‘Guitariste, La mandoliniste’… I am sure these are very familiar to most of you. Yet in this article, I would like to show you some prints from Picasso’s later period, which are relatively less known compared with the above works. I will describe the works I have seen in an exhibition of Picasso’s prints in Nanning, China, and focusing on two works in it, to show the still bohemianism and simplicity of his twilight years.
‘Minimalism & Cubism – The Itineracy Exhibition of Picasso’ is a collaboration between the European Art Centre and Moment Gallery, held in Nanning, China. The exhibition mainly displays the colour lithography and copperplate etchings of Picasso in his later years (1662-68), including some of his works from ‘the 347 series’, aiming to make people understand more about his life and interests. This exhibition creates special fragrances according to each different print, while playing "The Picasso for Jazz" by Miles Davis in the exhibition hall, so viewers can feel the charm of Picasso not only through the visual sense, but using the sense of smell and hearing as well. The works produced by Picasso in his later years (1946-1973) are still dominated by abstract paintings combining cubism, realism, and surrealism, displaying a more flexible and skilful technique, imbuing the image with vigour and harmony.
La Colombe Bleue, c. 1961
Right at the centre of the exhibition hall, we have ‘La Colombe Bleue,’ a colour lithograph created by Picasso in 1961. It is one of the many versions of his famous ‘Dove of Peace,’ one of the most recognizable symbols of peace in the world. The first version of ‘Dove of Peace’ was commissioned as the emblem of the First International Peace Conference in Paris in 1949, inspired by a pigeon sent by the French fauvist Henri Matisse as a present. Following this image, Picasso then developed more versions in a more graphic and simple drawing. This work of art cannot be more straightforward – a dove in a blue outline carrying an olive branch. Yet, bear in mind that this is a work of lithography, which means such fluent outlines are incredibly hard to produce in a piece of stone. Especially when we get closer to this print, we can see that Picasso drew such a vivid image with no more than five strokes. It is in this single image that we can see how adroit and delicate Picasso’s painting skill was. Moreover, it is such a simple image that it makes people all around the world remember and recognize the symbol of peace.
Clin D'Oeil Au Bain Turc Femmes Faisant La Sieste Au Soleil, c. 1968
‘Clin D'Oeil Au Bain Turc Femmes Faisant La Sieste Au Soleil’ (Wink at the Turkish Bath Women Taking a Nap in the Sun) is a copperplate etching in Picasso’s etching collection ‘The 347 series’ in 1968. Picasso, by that time, was almost 90 years old. By combining different periods and influences, Picasso created a unifying theme, to which he was not a participant but an observer and a storyteller, depicting people from all kinds of social class, such as circus artists, musicians, and of course one of his favourite subjects – women – the main character in this etching. Some believe this etching portrays five prostitutes boldly displaying their naked bodies. Similar to ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,’ there are five coarse and strong women taking up the whole picture, confronting viewers with a savage and nearly flirting gaze. In this etching we see eroticism in a comic sense, which is constructed by Picasso’s fantasy of sex and his limited sexual ability, given his age.
Although Picasso himself is one of the greatest artists ever, his less familiar works, such as these prints, are still underestimated today. I interviewed some people in the exhibition, including the curator, the tour guide, and the viewers. They all described their admiration and respect for Picasso’s art, yet every one of them talked to me about this question: what is the meaning of looking at these largely unknown works of Picasso, or those of any artist? For me, every work of art is a reflection of a mere moment in human history. These works of art not only symbolize Picasso’s urge to peace but also mirror an energetic old man actively resisting the erosion of fatigue and senility, manifest in his motto ‘stay forever young.’ This is, of course, my very personal opinion. What about you? What is your answer?