A great influence can be found in the works of Pablo Picasso of his Spanish heritage. His earliest works point to the traditions of the Spanish masters of dramatic realism and spontaneity. His later works are a break from conventional forms to the style that would be his signature contribution to art history. From the beginning though, Picasso’s works unveil a restlessness that would eventually push him past the traditional method of artistic study. Evidence of this is found in the artist’s feelings of art schools in general. Picasso himself despised the pieces he completed during his years of formal study in the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona. “These, to his mind, are the mediocre fruit of academic training, empty stereotypes he was only too glad to leave behind him.”
Picasso’s desire to express himself with increasing urgency led Picasso to create in an unconventional manner. For the artist Picasso, this meant any time of day or night despite his location. He felt that “expression was immediate” and the force to create must never be missed. Picasso lived life as an adventure and his life and painting were combined into one. This unique quality of creativity allows Picasso the person to be seen in all of his works. Picasso’s paintings are suffused with realism that transcends artistic genius in a way that opens up a variety of expressions. All of which are encompassed in Picasso the artist as well as Picasso the person.
Paintings from every artist represent reality from the inner workings of the artist’s mind. The differences in this reality are taken from various positions of realistic interpretation. Modern art, the style of preference Picasso chose to create his works, must be considered from the entirety of its expression rather than just object-by-object. In this context Picasso’s works become the following:
- Collections of symbols rather than expressions of reality.
- They are expressive shapes in a work of art.
- Picasso’s deformed objects are not grotesque when the entirety of the painting is viewed as a deformed world.
- Picasso was a master at this form of composition. For example his painting of Minotauromachy is comprised of grotesque apparitions of both man and beast.
A more in depth look offers an understanding of the abstract meaning that Picasso seeks to portray. Various interpretations have been given to explain this painting but the full content can only be found in the mind of the artist. At any rate it is more than deformed figures. it is symbolic of a deformed world.
Another example of this deep level of abstraction is found in Picasso’s Guernica. Commissioned by the Spanish Government as a mural at the Paris World Fair, Guernica embodies the ravishing of Spain by the Fascists in World War II. Picasso condensed the devastation of the city of Guernica into a story of “carnage and castration” that he could fit into the confines of a mural. Guernica, however transcends both space and time to encompass a much grander totality of the events taking place at the time of its painting.
Picasso chose many of the same figures and images for Guernica as found in Minotauromachy. This can be understood as his use of central figures to the culture of Mediterranean peoples. For instance, the bull is a noble figure in Spanish tradition; hence Picasso uses this image quite frequently in his works. Several other images of notable significance are the mother and child, the horse and bird. In Guernica, Picasso uses each figure to represent the oppression yet pride of the Spanish people. While the bull represents strength and nobility, the horse is expressing passivity and suffering. The mother and child represent lamentation and death, while the bird signifies an attitude of peace. Picasso strategically combines each of these symbols to tell the story of war torn Guernica.
A notable observation about Picasso’s finished version of Guernica and his preliminary sketches of the project is that the basis of the creative thought on the project remained intact until the final composition. Picasso once said before he was commissioned to paint Guernica “It would be very interesting to preserve photographically, not the stages, but the metamorphoses of a picture. Possibly one might discover the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream. But there is one very odd thing to notice that basically a picture doesn’t change, that the first ‘vision’ remains almost intact, in spite of appearances.”
The evolution of Picasso’s painting style began with his works before Modernism between the years 1894 an 1897. He was still just a boy but his artistic genius moved rapidly through this period. A particular painting form this period, Man with a beret, is a compelling realistic piece that Picasso obviously used as a study in naturalistic style. A sobering composition, this painting may have been for the purpose of executing various styles for Picasso to draw from his memory at a later date if necessary.
Moving forward through Picasso’s evolvement of creativity it is thought that Picasso was greatly influenced by Antonio Caba, director of the School of Fine Arts during Picasso’s schooling. Himself a distinguished portrait painter, Caba most likely influenced Picasso’s development of portrait painting. He created many portraits during the years of 1895 through 1899 including a self-portrait done in 1896. His painting of greatest acclaim during his young years was the painting Aunt Pepa. This portrait painting reveals flickers of strong statements that would resurface in later years as he graduated to modernism. An old woman with strong features, dressed in black set against a dark background holds a forceful statement. Coupled with the vigorous brushwork employed by Picasso, it is the first time Picasso painted with such raw emotion. “He was not yet fifteen, but this portrait is without a doubt one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting.”
Finally another painting from this period, Science and Charity, is a study in Impressionism mixed with Symbolism. The painting is a depiction of a doctor and a nun beside the bed of a sick woman. When compared to the French masters, Science and Charity challenges their works at the peak of their careers when Picasso was yet a boy. In fact the painting Science and Charity won an honorable mention at the National Exhibition in 1897 and a gold medal at the provincial exhibition in Malaga.