Published on October 13th, 2015 | by Kirsten King1
Picasso: Creatures and Creativity
One of the world’s most prolific artists, Pablo Picasso left behind a vast oeuvre—more than 20,000 pieces including paintings, sculptures, and prints—part of which is currently on display at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas. The exhibition, Picasso: Creatures and Creativity, is centered around the artist’s perpetually metamorphic creative process and concentrates on his unparalleled technique in both painted portraiture and printmaking. Featuring pieces on loan from the private collection of Picasso’s son, Claude, the exhibition is comprised of forty-three works, dated from 1938-1971, now possible to view together for the first time in the United States through January 10, 2016.
This unique selection of paintings and prints in various stages examines Picasso’s preference for the human form as a subject, and as the focus of the exhibition demonstrates, biographical context is as important as content—for as Picasso himself pointed out, “it is not sufficient to know an artist’s works”; it is equally necessary to understand the circumstances surrounding them. A major figure in twentieth-century culture, Picasso moved in social circles of bohemian Paris along with like-minded expatriates of “une génération perdue” such as Ernest Hemingway and their mutual patroness, Gertrude Stein. Picasso’s work contributed significantly to modernism, and his far-reaching influence has manifested itself from the more serious achievement of his Dove of Peace, chosen as the emblem for the First International Peace Conference of 1949, to shaping choices of personal style for Andy Warhol and Brigitte Bardot. While audio guides and scheduled tours of the exhibition provide a wealth of such anecdotes, even more attention is given to the women in Picasso’s life—namely Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot, and Jacqueline Roque. Often art students themselves, these women figured prominently in Picasso’s compositions. In fact, El Greco’s Portrait of a Man with a Ruff (1962), is the only series in this particular assemblage of Picasso’s artwork not associated with a woman. The considerable impact Picasso’s lovers had on his imaginative undertakings is evident in the variations that occurred in his art over time—recognizable changes in Picasso’s creative approach regularly coincided with his changing of romantic partners.
An accomplished photographer and surrealist, Dora Maar shares the scene with Françoise Gilot in Two Nude Women (1945-6), the longest print sequence of the exhibition and one in which the presence of primitive art as well as Picasso’s ability to move from realistic to abstract is most apparent—Maar is the woman sleeping. Arguably one of the most tortured of Picasso’s paramours, Maar suffered a nervous breakdown once their affair of nearly a decade ended. Maar and Picasso engaged in a number of emotional and psychological attacks on each other long after their split; the venomous relationship is perceptible in the final state of Two Nude Women in whose border Maar is also portrayed as a cockroach—in contrast to the succession of birds symbolizing Gilot. Françoise Gilot appears in several pieces of the exhibition including Reclining Woman Reading (1952) and the less-angular but no less striking, Woman with a Yellow Necklace (1946), a portrait which demonstrates some of Picasso’s allegorical touches—in this case, locks and keys. Gilot also posed for Figure (1947); Picasso replicated this monochromatic painting as a lithograph, three days following his completion of the piece—the only occasion on which Picasso brought to life an identical rendering through two different types of media. The canvas and lithograph, as well as the zinc plate used to make it, are all on show together at the BGFA.
Picasso produced over 400 portraits of Jacqueline Roque, whose countenance dominates the exhibition. Characterized by her straight nose and brightly colored hats, Roque can be identified throughout the gallery in works such as Woman with a Chignon and a Yellow Hat (1962). Depending on their position, onlookers can gaze upon multiple aspects of her face—from straight on, at a three-quarters view, and in profile—all contained within the one presentation, and for this reason, Woman with a Chignon and a Yellow Hat is considered a “moving image.” The print series, Jacqueline with a Multicolored Straw Hat (1962), offers another example of hidden images in Picasso, disguising a man (possibly Picasso) and a woman in its bold facial features; Picasso’s hand in pop art can also be discerned from this group.
This body of work is representative of what is famously associated with Picasso: his contributions to cubism—faceted distortions said to have been encouraged, possibly in part, by photographs Picasso captured using a broken camera lens—his ability to paint like the masters before him and his preference for purposeful, childlike complexity.
In addition to the canvases, the actual linocuts and etchings Picasso labored over for his prints are showcased here—intact; this in itself is rare as, in practice, images on such plates and blocks are typically defaced to prevent theft and counterfeit reproduction. While the works themselves are without signatures (Picasso did not paint his name on these pieces because his intention was never to sell them, but rather to keep them), his fingerprints are visible in much of the art, adding quite a personal touch.
Picasso once remarked that “love is the greatest refreshment in life,”—a notion which seems to express itself through the selection at Creatures and Creativity, arranged exclusively for the BGFA. The exhibition provides an intimate experience for viewers in that it allows them a glimpse into Picasso’s understanding of the fairer sex through his own eyes. His representations of the models, mistresses, and muses who served as an ongoing source of inspiration to him warrant a visit from long-time admirers of Picasso as well as those with a budding curiosity about the celebrated artist.