Must see: Picasso and Paper

When I lived in London I was a friend of The Royal Academy meaning I could access the museum whenever it was open, along with enjoying a huge range of benefits. I made a point of seeing all its exhibitions, even those which might not have held much appeal. I could see the exhibitions as many times as I wanted and it would often take me a couple of visits to see all the more popular exhibits.

All clouds have silver linings! It’s most unlikely that I would’ve managed a trip to London to see this exhibition at The Royal Academy but I don’t have to because, while the museum is closed, thanks to you know what , the exhibition can be viewed on line here

If you live in the south of France, the influence of Pablo Picasso is hard to ignore. There’s the museum in Antibes, the first of many dedicated to the artist and while it offers only a snapshot of his work, it’s a glimpse of a summer holiday. This was Picasso at his happiest, and as he put it himself:

If you want to see the Picassos of Antibes, you must see them in Antibes.

Picasso also lived in nearby Vallauris, where he learnt the art of decorative ceramics. In 1952, he painted his famous mural on war and peace to decorate the chapel there.

I’ve also visited the Photography Museum in the Old Town of Mougins, founded in 1986, dedicated to the works of photographer André Villers (1930 – 2016). A personal friend of Picasso, Villers portrayed – along with many celebrated artists of 20th century – the last twelve years of Picasso’s life in a number of famous black-and-white pictures.

And, as if there weren’t already enough museums (and exhibitions) dedicated to the life and works of Pablo Picasso, there’s a new one opening in Aix-en-Provence and it’s slated to have the largest collection of his works in the world, many of which have not previously been exhibited nor published so it’s bound to cause much excitement when it opens next year.

Picasso not only lived a long and full life but he was also a prolific artist. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he left a paper trail of sketchbooks, studies, oils and gouaches, pencil and ink, crayon and charcoal drawings, prints (woodcuts and linocuts, lithographs, etchings, engravings) and other works on woven papers, Japanese papers, watermarked paper, embossed papers, newspaper, wallpaper, hotel headed notepaper, menu cards, wrapping paper, back of fag packets, napkins, indeed any old scraps of paper and card that came to hand. He accumulated paper, squirrelled it away, and never threw anything out. He was a hoarder of the highest order – most certainly he’d never been Kondoed.

Picasso was alert to all of the papers’ qualities as he folded, glued together, cut and tore, basted in ink and washes, drew on and rubbed into them. Paper for him was just another a medium (like paint, clay or plaster) to be manipulated. And as he worked he was always finding, losing and refinding his subjects, whether it was a fish or a faun, a woman or a guitar, a portrait or a skull. The multiple transformations he performed in his art evidence his unnerving vitality and confidence.

What this exhibition provides is but one more overview of his entire career, taking us from his very earliest cut-out paper figures of a characterful, squat little terrier and a dove, made when he was eight or nine, to a skull-like self-portrait, drawn the year before he died. Somewhere along the way those earliest, cut-out little creatures return, in scissored paper shapes cut by an adult: a cuttlefish, a feather, light bulbs and a fishing float, and nasty little paper faces and skulls whose eyes and mouths have been burned through the paper, most likely with the tip of a lit cigarette.

The variety of works in The Royal Academy exhibition range through all the periods of Picasso’s development and each section of the show is accompanied by key paintings and sculptures. But the exhibitions’s real pleasures lie in the variety of the individual works, such as the wonderful tiny card and string guitars. Even his poems are drawn as much as written. He just couldn’t seem to stop himself.

There’s a local (to me) story locally that once upon a time, the owner of a cafe asked if Picasso might do a little doodle, on a paper tablecloth or the menu as a memento. The artist shrugged and said he’d just like to pay for the meal – he didn’t want to buy the restaurant!

Picasso was no shrinking violet and had a real sense of his own worth.


Header Photo © David Parry/Royal Academy of Arts © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020 Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Cleveland Museum of Art in partnership with the Musée national Picasso-Paris