Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Although virtually everyone on the planet is familiar with his name, there is still a great deal of mystery shrouding this famous 20th century artist.
Born on the Mediterranean coast of Spain in the town of Malaga, Picasso had no interest in formal schooling and had already mastered a technique grounded in realism long before he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona. In fact, he created his own studio in Barcelona by the age of sixteen.
Shortly after his first trip to Paris in 1900, young Picasso began to form his unique style in an age known as his Blue Period, where pervasive blue tones became evident in his paintings. As the artist became more successful and well-known, his palette of blue gave way to terracotta shades of deep pinkish red, and experts began to notice less melancholy displayed in his work, replaced by images of dancers, acrobats, clowns, buffoons, and comic actors in tights and masks. He launched his Rose Period.
Perhaps no other persona of the twentieth century impacted the different artistic movements of the era more than Picasso. I believe he solely holds the honor. In a famous quote, he told his audience that to remain stagnant through repetition was to go against “the constant flight forward of the spirit.” With this philosophy, I can identify. Thus, before 1920, Picasso expanded his expertise to engraver, ceramicist, sculptor, and costume designer as he embarked upon his Classic Period. During this same time, the artist simultaneously developed his Cubist technique for which he remains quite well known, and continued to experiment with a variety of genres well into his 90s.
Of all the works of this most talented artist, Guernica (pictured above) remains my favorite. As a writer and teacher (and Hemingway fan), I believe the meaning it carries stands out as the singular example of a work of art sparking a human reaction and movement. In the work, Picasso expressed his vision of the tragedies resulting from the Spanish Civil War. The painter used only gray, white, and black, with abundant curves, to depict the 1937 bombing of the tiny town in the Basque region of Spain by Fascist forces testing the weapons for the upcoming world war. Though many experts believe this famous work exemplifies Surrealism, Picasso never considered himself a Surrealist.
It remains a mystery to me how one man could develop proficiency in so many unconnected genres, but it appears that Pablo Picasso was limited only by his lifespan. I consider him a genius.