A national artist refers to a person who has been given high recognition for having made significant contributions towards the development of national arts in regard to music, theatre, literature,….
Picasso: Artist Extraordinaire
It was as array of Blue all over – some were cold, some skeptic, some with the desire to escape and mellow in the sky. Some were intense and challenging, while some other were diminutive and soothing. Together they reflected the state of their creator, who was then at the crossroad of his life – Mr. Pablo Ruiz Picasso! The genius of the geniuses, Pablo Picasso has left quite a few messages for the rest of the world – and very important one at that – because it is in the essence of those messages, lies the secret of his success.
His Blue period happens to be a prominent slice of a painter who would rise to the zenith of name and fame later, much like a phoenix from the debris of despair, pathos and taunting ambience. Even a peep into his life would evoke anyone to identify the Blue period as his springboard – anyone would be excited to discover that how much power a parsimonious condition can generate for those who are willing. His life highlights the positive impact of poverty and drudgery in the making of a genius.
The canvas of Picasso’s life, in fact holds a picture that would always speak about the potential of human mind – that it is like a magic spring – the more you suppress it, the more it garners energy to outmaneuver its obstacles – or, from another perspective, it is from the chaos the universe of Picasso was born! The facts of Picasso’s life shatters a good many myths about ‘chances rule human’, and substantiates the fact that it is ‘humans who create chances’ – a lesson as sparkling as a diamond to those who are deprived by the affluence of even basic amenities to bloom to their best.
Thus this essay makes a humble survey on the life and works of this master of the masters, Pablo Picasso, with special emphasis on Blue Period, and how it impacted the proceedings of his life after, before reaching its own conclusion about the special messages that one can learn from his life besides, indicating on the impact of “Blue Period” over the artists’ movements.
The protagonist, the central character of this magical example of human triumph, Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25th in Malaga, Spain, in the year 1881 and went to live on earth for 91 years, holding a unique collage of events, inventions, rendezvous and, most importantly, time-winning creations between the years of his charismatic existence. Thus it is impossible to discuss the Blue period without knowing about his background, which had a solid bearing on the rest of his life. A child Picasso would mingle with the gypsies, the outsiders of the society – their bohemian lifestyle had been a source of attraction to him (Picasso: Magic).
It was his father Don Jose, who was an artist, a museum curator and a teacher all rolled into one, identified the latent talent in Picasso very early and engaged the boy into art. After having initial lessons from his father at home, Picasso joined Academy of Fine Arts at La Corupa, Spain, where his father was a teacher. He was then only a boy of 14 years, but that did not deter him to master the nuances of anatomy. That stint was short-lived as the family moved on to Barcelona, Spain in 1895, where both father and his son joined the Academy of Fine Arts, one as a teacher and the other as a student.
Here the genius in Picasso first appeared before the world, when he startled everyone by qualifying for the advanced classes, after proving his astounding capabilities through completing the entrance test in a single day, which even the older boys would have taken whole month to complete! The jury board [… ] of the entrance tests instantly declared him a prodigy. (Picasso: Artist Extraordinaire) During their stay in Barcelona, Picasso came across a new experience, and that was of [… ] nude study and painting of the models. His uncle, Dr.
Salvador Ruiz Blasco, who was very much impressed by the talent of the young boy, had arranged everything for Picasso in his house at Malaga (Picasso). Next year he had his first painting making way to an exhibition. And no wonder, Picasso felt he has outgrown this academy very soon – as he left it to join at the Madrid Academy – which he would leave too in no time – before joining the band of young avant-garde artists, writers and poets, who would gather at a local tavern, Els Quatre Gats and were known as “modernistes” (Picasso: The Early Years)
This group would discuss the revolutionary ideas under the then context – like symbolism, graphic arts etc. and accorded the French art nouveau, which used simplified versions of artistic nuances. Most of them were plagued by parsimony, and thus were on the same boat of poverty and uncertainty. Picasso visited Paris in October 1900, and from then on kept on shuttling between France and Spain. At this time Parisian nightlife caught his fancy and that resulted in some of his works that depicted dark cafe or the destitute people, besides his usual works of landscapes, portraits.
That was the foundation of this great man before he decided to meet the world with his treasure of art – with no footing whatsoever in the elite circle in the Paris, which was considered to be the stepping stone for an aspiring artist. And, he came, he worked, and worked, and worked – before leaving behind a legacy of a goliath. Blue Period In walked 1901 – by then his childhood favorites, the gypsies, perhaps vanished into blue, but the spirit of their bohemianism might have helped him to shrug off the shortcomings of not being a blue-eyed boy of any of the denizens of the art world of Paris.
Yet, how would he know someday the world would earmark his formative years before becoming a true-blue artist, as ‘Blue Period’! In this period, especially between the period 1901-1903, Picasso had been able to gain direction in his painting, while his personal started evolving out of the situations, other painters’ works and his deep understanding of the situations. This was the beginning of the “Blue Period”, where Picasso decided to confine within the color scheme of blue – which has already been considered as the color of pathos by many. That idea and the ongoing […
] parsimonious culture among the budding intellectuals around provided him the necessary momentum to stick to his decision (Blue, 2007). Thus this new line of painting by him started appearing in public – where he consciously highlighted the hapless state of humans with the mastery of forms of and usage of blue, which proved to be revelation for the contemporary art world (Picasso: The Early Years). The period 1901 – 1904 is roughly considered as the “Blue Period” of this great painter, when he would do his paintings and sketches mostly with various shades of blue.
That coinage might outwardly justify itself with this strange practice of Picasso – but on the deeper level, the same coinage carries the connotation of a lone struggle of a painter that was further made difficult by emotional swings with the death of his dear friend Carlos Casagemas – who committed suicide after failing in love. Casagemas was the bosom pal of Picasso. Thus the shock of death and horror of suicide dominated in his painting, “The death of Casagemas”, which also bears the testimony of his learning process – as the painting has clear influence of Van Gogh’s style.
The same can be said [… ] about his his work “Portrait of Jaime Sabartes (the beer glass)’, which reminds about ‘Absinthe Drinker’, a painting done by Gauguin (Blue, 2007). He created three portraits of Casagemas as a corpse, the last of his pictures showing colors for a prolonged period. The “Blue Period” also holds an account of Montmarte’s nightlife, where Picasso and his friends would visit regularly. Those carefree moments, however marked by limitation to enjoyment or engulfed by the cloud of uncertainty, sparked the imagination of this great painter.
There were plethora of events, adventures and moments of solitude and despair – a constant swing between those two extreme poles perhaps made him more resilient inwards, otherwise how could he depict the sorrows of others so vividly? One such instance might add some color to this essay. Once Picasso went to visit a women’s prison Called St. Lazare in Paris, and found nuns were serving as guards. That prompted him to paint “Two Sisters”, which evokes the image of Mary in mind, more because of the presence of blue rather than anything else (Picasso’s).
Then, there was this painter in his twenties, Picasso – cramped by extreme poverty and grief, was in all blue, before he became a star in the world of art. It was a period when he would find it difficult to arrange two square meals a day, save spending for oil paints and canvases or socializing with impresarios. Yet he worked on – that was the only thing he could do – he worked on with whatever he had with him – cheap blue color, a heart wailing for the lost friend, wondrous ideas in head, and, enormous zeal to communicate with his own visual language.
And, it was that blue color, already recognized as the color of inner grief, had provided him the perfect medium for his message of the time. Thus it became blue all the way, deep, light, dark.. in every possible way it aided Picasso to express his sorrows in all possible dimensions – be it form, content or medium – all of them would echo the inner chaos of a twenty-year old who has just started the battle to gain his ground in one of most sacred colonies of art and culture, and right at the kick-off who received a jolt by losing his great friend and aide in Paris.
It was that chaos which gave birth to the paintings like “Trait” (1901) or “The Tragedy” (1903), which puts forth his desire and despair – while his self-portrait presents him as a happy-go-like romantic man with dreamy eyes, “The Tragedy” looked all gloomy, down in despair, where a family of three are looking downwards, visibly hopeless and as if nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and have nothing left to meet the basic needs of today, save the tomorrow! That was a beggar family whom Picasso covered by clothes, yet made naked with poverty, something he himself shared with them in this period.
This speaks of the dichotomy that was prevalent in the time and also in the mind of Picasso, because, unless there was inspiration from both inside and outside by any means, Picasso wouldn’t have been bent on to create such paintings of two extreme poles in close interval. Another interesting aspect of those paintings is their coming of age in a new avatar – that spoke of Picasso’s own poor state, where he could not afford to buy canvases for new drawings and had to settle on the old ones. “What comes out in the end is the result of the discarded funds” (Picasso’s Technique), he would say, perhaps to find a solace in his finesse in recycling!
In fact, the researchers could find that the canvas used for “The Tragedy” contains sketches as old as 1899, while “The Tragedy” was finished in 1903. So much so, with the help of x-radiograph, they have been able to decipher that those sketches gave birth to one of his bullfight paintings. This clearly shows how misery had forced this great genius to abandon his work for the sake of new work. Perhaps all that boiled down to a sentiment, which saw a recurrence of the theme “like desolation of the outcasts” in his paintings of the “Blue Period”.
Time and again researchers have identified Picasso’s penchant for using excessive blue in this period as his conscious decision to use it as another medium of communication. And he did that with elan – the figures he depicted in this period was mostly of the lower rung of the society, ranging from beggars to prostitutes or the circus-people – even not to leave himself or his penniless friends – he dowsed all of them with blue to depict the world of despair that usually engulfs when people are caught with limitations and uncertainty.
Obviously all his works are endowed with his mastery over form and content, yet it was blue that adds more dimensions to them, and at times, even issues more appeal than everything. He even would wear blue clothes in those days! Associating colors with sentiments was nothing new, yet the utilization of a color as the medium of the message was unique in his case. The use of blue color to depict sadness was prevalent even in the Anglo-Saxon culture (Pablo, 2007).
However, Picasso’s own statement, “It was thinking about Casagemus that got me started painting in blue” (Pablo Picasso blue period), helps all to associate his perspective of blue as a language of inner grief or melancholy. This was supplemented by his own poor state where it became hard at times to arrange a good meal. “My dear Max, I think about the room on the boulevard Voltaire, about the omelets, the beans, the Brie and the fried potatoes. But I als think about the days of misery, and it’s quite sad,” So he wrote afterwards to his friend, poet Max Jacob, the partner of his struggling days.
Alongside, “Blue Period” was nonetheless a training session for Picasso, where he experimented with low light conditions, which perhaps gained momentum from the proverbial presence of pathos in blues or the prevalent culture of the then intellectuals who wanted to glorify by the poverty or take pride in the idea that an artist is generally considered as an outcast! There was definitely another reason, and that was his intense desire to be different from the crowd! The qualitative factors achieved by the use of blue also signify his tendency to experiment in those days.
The paintings of a boy of twenty years as if serving as a passage to the dreamland with blue spectacles – that was something unthinkable before the traditional art. Some of his paintings would evoke a pall of gloom with the deeper shades of blue – yet the quality of luminance in them would make anyone stop and think about that gloom for a while. Thus, blue served for him as a strong language of visual communication. The presence of poverty and extreme difficulty has been reflected in most of his works in this period, either directly, or indirectly.
For the first instance, the painting “Frugal Repast” depicts a destitute couple sharing a frugal supper of bread and wine; “Crouching Woman” depicts the hapless condition of a lonely, poor woman. He went back to Barcelona and started a painting with complex allegory called “La Vie”, a remake job over his earlier “Last Moments”, which took turn from being a self-portrait to someone resembling Casagemus by its features, thereby making the journey of his “Blue Period” coming to a full circle with a tribute to the departed friend.
Set in a studio, La Vie is considered as one of the most complex works done by him, and in the context of the period, contains the essence of his learning in the Blue Period, the lessons of which were mostly about the cruel side of the world, and were about how one could find the right path to move on. The scholars are still divided about the message hidden in this painting, where a nude woman clings to a male with only white loincloth on; who as if points towards another woman in heavy dress and holding a baby in her arms. These three figures stand behind a perspective that contains two canvases set on different layers, where[…
] two clinging nude women adorn the upper canvas while another such figure is seen on her knees (“La Vie”, 2006). Perhaps this complexity, this enigmatic, personal statement in “La Vie” speaks about the acorn that was now ready to bloom as a giant oak – this perhaps the most potent message conveyed by this painting of the master. Elements of Blue Period John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer and his close friend, had almost devoted his life in deciphering the enigmas that are layered with Picasso’s phases of evolution as a multi-dimensional creator.
In that research, “Blue Period” holds a special place. Before anything, Richardson weighed certain elements that had influenced Picasso’s mind right at his childhood. Richardson drew a parallel of Picasso’s lifestyle with the philosophy of the gypsies and in the occult culture prevalent among the members of Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, which is the native place of Picasso. According to Richardson, the people of that region were found to be superstitious in nature, which would affect their actions too, and Picasso being one of them could not escape that influence.
Because of being superstitious, once he found appreciation for using blue tone in that period and people accepted that, he had considered it as a good omen for his painting career and was stuck to it for quite sometime (Picasso: Magic). Even his days at La Coruna substantiates such claims of Richardson, where a young Picasso was deeply moved by tarot cards (Picasso: The Early Years). There can be another argument that points at a unique confluence of events that led to a series of ‘blue’ creations by Picasso. This corroborates Richardson’s assumptions too, by taking the superstition factor into account.
This idea conjures up situations like Picasso’s superstition about blue, his belief that blue is the messenger of inner grief, and his childhood and the then association with poverty or grief-stricken people. These situations might have been culminated into a series of paintings with blue tones – where Picasso wanted to give vent to his pent-up emotions, or he wanted to depict the haplessness of the poor or outcasts like gypsies or circus people, and he wanted to present them in a medium which he thought would convey the message best – blue.
And he was conscious of his own poor state too – thus he didn’t mind for once to operate from reality by including himself as one of the subjects of Blue Period. He did not ignore the pathos within him, and instead, accepted them as the way of life. This idea is corroborated by Jaime Sabartes, then his closest friend: “Picasso believed Art to the son of Sadness and Suffering… that sadness lent itself to meditation and that suffering was fundamental to life… If we demand sincerity of an artist, we must remember that sincerity is not to be found outside the realm of grief” (Picasso and the Mood).
In all, this was the period where he was tested by all possible roadblocks, which had forced him to bring out his best to cope that challenge. This was the period when Picasso stepped into the mystic realm of spiritualism and ethereal ideas – all fueled by death, despair, poverty and uncertainty. Therefore, this period in his life had gifted him the prime elements of success, all in disguise – the required zeal, the expansion of mind and deep feeling for fellow humans. Conclusion
The Blue Period of Pablo Picasso is essentially a documentary of a collage of situations, which not only unfurls the stages of Picasso’s blooming as an artist, but also refers to certain ideas about the then social condition, the locomotion of art and culture of Paris, etc. But the greatest messages lie in another direction – where this period talks about how one’s childhood association creates impact on one’s creative pursuits, or how a human being emerges as victorious in front of the challenges of extinction.
This era also marks his coming of age with various types of practice, development of ideas and eventually the birth of a new style with seeds of his other periods like “Rose Period” or “Cubism”. The gathering of a bubbling gang of intellectuals at Montmartre or Picasso’s association with them, all speaks about a wonderful movement of art and culture led by people who even took pride in considering themselves as outcasts for the sake of art.
Together all these, “Blue Period” depicts a unique march of time, which not only benefited Picasso to rise his height in the future, but also it provided a solid documentation of time. Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period” is indeed a lesson to all who are interested to fight and win from the wretched state, besides the aspiring painters. It also highlights the effect of death and the power of humanity over the creative manifestation of perfection in an artist; rest lies with Picasso himself, who took away a lot of hint with him, leaving a big box of enigma for the posterity!
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