Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sneaking a day with Picasso

When I told my Mum I was taking a day off and heading to the Picasso exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, she was less than impressed.

"Don't like Picasso. Those weird paintings he did ... he must have been on drugs."

Mum is 86. She has led a very conservative life and her taste in art runs to the chocolate box and/or realism. She likes landscapes to look like landscapes, people to look like people. The Impressionists are about as avant-garde as her tastes go. She enjoyed the Renoir exhibition we went to years ago, but doesn't share my love for Matisse or Van Gogh. Picasso - well, she wouldn't waste her money.

My husband and I spent rather than wasted ours yesterday on ten rooms full of paintings and sculptures that covered Picasso's life from around 1905 to 1972, and loved it.

While Mum might snort that Picasso's work was weird scribbles, the guy was a fantastic draughtsman. He could draw beautifully, and if he chose to paint cubist men with guitars, or women with eyes in strange places (Mum's ultimate detestation of his work), he did it because he knew what he wanted to achieve and set about achieving it.

This post isn't going to be a critique of Picasso's work; I'm no art critic or expert. But I'd like to share some paintings that I loved.

Firstly, The Bathers, painted in 1918. Annoyingly the postcards you can buy at the gallery don't do the depth of colour in this painting justice; reproduced, the colours are muted. The purple bathing suit on the right in real life is a knockout magenta. The entire painting is full of jewel-like colours and very delicate detail. It's only small, 27x22cm. You can see every eyelash on the woman on the left. If the figures are captured in oddly distorted poses, so what? There's movement and grace and colour and an timelessness about this for me. 

The Reader, painted in 1932. Sort of reminds me of me, sat there with a book on her lap :-). A friend refers to me in her blog as The Reader, so I couldn't resist popping this image in. I do genuinely like it in its own right, too. Again in real life the colours are more bolshy. The lilac skin of the Reader is much brighter, the green on the chair greener. Could I live with this in my house? Oh yes. Yes. The subject of this portrait is Marie-Therese Walter, a young woman with whom Picasso was having a clandestine affair.

Large still-life on a pedestal table was painted in 1931 and is so vibrant in the flesh, so to speak, you just want to gaze and gaze at it. If the colours are similar to that of The Reader - that superb lilac which I just love jumps out from both paintings, linking them - it's because Picasso used this as a "disguised portrait" of Marie-Therese Walter. Again, that clandestine stuff. 

This is Two Women running on the beach (the race), painted in 1922.  Another small jewel of a painting, 35x41cm, with knockout colours, lovely forms and a timelessness about it. That head thrown back on the woman on the left is a very similar pose to that in The Bathers, and again the detail in her face is just beautiful.  I love the contrast between the delicate brushwork on the woman's face, the little cross-hatching on both bodies, and the lack of detail in the sky and rocks, as if this is a photo and the running women are captured at 1/1000 of a second with the rest all a bit of a blur. 

Lastly, A Portrait of Dora Maar. Picasso's mistress in the 1930s. This one's all hard angles and pointy shapes - I wonder what that says about their relationship? 

So that was my day - a sense of freedom, of escaping from clients, computers and phones for a day; an uplifting visit to see some fabulous paintings and being inspired by such a creative mind. 

I told my Mum it was fantastic. She still doesn't believe me.


  1. Terrific blog mate!!! I might drag myself in to see it, how long is it on for?

    The Reader ... lol ... I can see you in that painting.

    You know what though? That painting reminded me a little of the mural we had on the wall in the foyer at the house I grew up in. Do you remember it? It was in a similar colour scheme and it was full of points designed to direct the view into the living room and out through all that glass to the river and the bush.

    No wonder I love art!!!

    You gave me a good giggle mate!

  2. Hi there!
    It's on until March next year - and well worth a visit.

    I'd forgotten that mural... that reminds me why I always loved your house. It was so modern and hip and cool. Now I think of it - yes, the mural! It's all coming back to me, as the skunk said when he stood upwind. :-)