Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Picasso: the Mediterranean Years Gagosian Gallery, London - The Independent

It is always quite difficult to know what to do with Picasso. We have seen too much of him already, almost everywhere. Our shelves are already groaning with brick-heavy catalogues. We think we know him already, top-to-toe, every period, thematically, stylistically. Our children paint like him every day. Can there be room for yet another major show of his work? Well yes, perhaps, because there is so always much of him. According to his biographer John Richardson, he made about three objects a day almost every day of his life. He worked all day almost every day, and often for most of the night. His advice to a young painter was: if you want to do something, do it. He was the exemplar of his own approach: he never stopped doing. Only death slowed him down, and the work he has created for his successors – critics, taxonomists, dealers, sexologists, bankers, criminals and forgers on every continent – has been enormous. Even when he was not at his best, he was interesting, turning over one idea after another, trying to quicken materials into life. The wonder is that he should have triumphed so often. The sadness is that he made so much, and tried so hard, that we are often obliged to stare at much that is only fairly good. That is the case with this show. It’s a Picasso taxonomist’s delight, and it deals with the relatively neglected decade and a half which culminated in his eightieth birthday. Yet another Picasso emerged after that, which has already been the subject of a major show at Gagosian.

This is a portrait of Picasso in the post-war years. Post Paris. Post austerity. Re-entering his own birthright beside the Mediterranean Sea (he was born in Malaga) in the south of France. Basking in the sunny warmth of his acclaim and success. And, of course, quite befittingly, the mood has changed dramatically. Much of the greyness has drained away from his palette; a new playfulness has entered into the making. He is creating different kinds of things too, including huge quantities of ceramics and sculptures, large and small. These ceramic objects and these sculptures are the best things in the show. Many of the paintings – the portraits of women, for example – are dull ‘revisitings’ (ie often rather poor near-copies) of his stylistic mannerisms of the past. But these sculptures! They have a reckless derring do about them – look at the gorgeous girl skipping, torso fashioned from an old basket, which faces you as you enter the main gallery, or the wooden sculpture, fashioned from sticks and blocks, so delightfully crude, of a mother winging her child up into the air. These are sculptures which seem to say: what have I to lose by making this at breakneck speed from the unpromising stuff that surrounds me in the studio or just outside? Or examine the wonderful baboon whose face has been made from a toy car. Who but Picasso would have pressed that car into service in this way? There is an intense preoccupation with children, for themselves, and at play. He paints children enjoying themselves with a reckless childishness, as they might have painted themselves had they been him. You spot it the moment you enter into the central gallery, children everywhere, represented in painting and sculpture. His own children – sleepy-eyed Paloma, for example. There were always so many to choose from. One or two were even legitimate. Always so much to do, always so many jismic marvels.

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