Blog, Exhibitions

Picasso and Paper

Royal Academy of Art 25 January- 13 April

Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes 1946 Black and White Photo Copyright Michel Sima/Bridgeman editions.

This is the RA Spring 2020 blockbuster

Billed as the most comprehensive exhibition devoted to Picasso’s imaginative and original uses of paper ever to be held. There are over 300 works encompassing Picasso’s 80 year career. The exhibition shows the myriad of ways in which he worked both on and with paper.

     Picasso was one of the most important and prolific artists of the twentieth century. He was born in 1881 and died in 1973. He worked across a range of mediums including painting, ceramics, sculpture and graphic arts. He drew incessantly, using many different media, including pastels, watercolour and gouache, on a broad range of papers and card. A glossary of these is available for anyone who is interested. He assembled collages of cut-and-pasted papers, created sculptures from pieces of torn and burnt paper, produced both documentary photographs and manipulated photographs on paper; and spent decades investigating printmaking techniques.

Violin Paris autumn 1912 Laid paper, wallpaper,newspaper,wove wrapping paper and glazed black wove paper, cut and pasted onto cardboard with pencil and charcoal 65 x 50cm Musée national Pablo Picasso

         The exhibition is organized in a chronological framework and opens with two paper cut outs of a dove and a dog made by Picasso when he was 8 years old.

Highlights include Les Femmes à leur toilette, winter 1937-38.This extraordinary collage is made from cut and pasted papers and measures 4.8 meters in length.

    Throughout the exhibition paper works are displayed alongside a number of closely related paintings and sculptures. Although Picasso didn’t paint war paintings as such, his images of sheep’s skulls or women in position of grief and anguish provide a deeply personal record of fear and dread in the shadow of impending catastrophe. He didn’t want his work to be mixed up in politics but after the aerial bombing of Guernica in April 1937 Picasso accepted the commission to paint a mural for the republic ‘s pavilion at The Paris Worlds fair of 1937

Seated Woman (Dora),1938 Ink Gouache and coloured chalk on paper 765 x 56 cm Foundation Beyeler ,Rehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection.

             In August 1940 Picasso moved back to Paris and remained there throughout the German occupation. Picasso was considered by the Nazi’s to be a degenerate and was threatened with extradition to fascist Spain. He was forbidden to exhibit or publish but continued to work in his studio. with materials in short supply, the ever resourceful Picasso created a world of shapes- masks, birds etc by tearing, cutting, and burning paper napkins. He made ink drawings on propaganda published by the collaborationist press.

    One section of the show examines the materials and techniques used by Picasso over the course of his career. This includes early woodcuts, photographic collaborations with Dora Maar and later Andre Villers, as well as experimental graphic works and illustrated books.

        Near the end of the exhibition the audience can see the great master at work stripped to the waist in the film ‘Le Mystère Picasso’ made in 1956. It is a remarkable documentary recording Picasso drawing with felt-tip pens on blank newsprint. It is shown alongside original drawings made for the production.

       The exhibition closes with a focus on Picasso ‘s last decade, which saw a final flourish of his work particularly as a printmaker.

         I have said this before, and excuse me for repeating myself, but we as audience or viewer are seeing this work with hindsight and knowledge of 20th century art. We need to imagine how amazing, original and out of this world the work of Picasso must have been when it was first viewed. It is still amazing strong and vibrant. A great, but very large exhibition, so allow yourself plenty to of time to see it.

Blog, Exhibitions

Lucian Freud The Self Portraits

This small but packed exhibition is on from 27th October 2019 until 26th January 2020 in the Sackler Wing at The Royal Academy of Arts Burlington House Piccadilly London W1J 0BD https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/

Ok let’s start with the biographical bit, Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to the UK in 1933 to escape Nazi Germany. In the late 1940’s he chose to make portraiture his primary focus of practice.

Freud had two obsessions painting and sex. Author John Richardson once remarked ‘ He turns sex into art and art into sex- there is no differentiation; the two aspects of his senses came together in the act of painting”.

Because Freud was renowned for his works of startling intensity, and for frank, often disquieting nudes, he often required his models to sustain uncomfortable poses for long periods of time. Freud stated that it was only fair that he should subject himself to the same process.

The exhibition shows his work from his early years, including his painting Man with a feather (self portrait 1943) It was exhibited in the Lefevre Gallery in London in 1944.

The first portraits are in pencil and or ink. Encouraged by his mother, Freud had drawn obsessively since childhood. His approach to painting at this time was marked by a preoccupation with line, combining expressive force with a quality of draughtsmanship that led the critic Herbert Read to describe him as the ‘Ingres of Existentialism”

From around the mid 1950’s Freud turned his attention away from drawing to painting, and for a period of about seven years stopped drawing altogether. In order to free up his painting he stopped painting sitting down and from then on painted standing up. His last painting made sitting down is Hotel Bedroom 1954 and is a double portrait of himself and his second wife Lady Caroline Blackwood.

Between the 1950’s and the mid 1960’s Freud’s painting gradually freed up. In 1961 he took up using watercolours, replacing the linearity of pen and pencil with loose painterly washes.

From the mid 1960’s Freud used Mirrors to help him paint his own likeness. He didn’t use photographs and only kept mirrors in his studio not in the rest of his house. He liked the way that a mirror could suggest a new and unexpected angle or perspective.

Freud said of himself ‘ My work is purely autobiographical. It’s about myself and my surroundings…I work from the people that interest me and that I care about in rooms that i live in and know.”

Throughout his career Freud held a succession of London Studios, in Holland Park, Paddington and Notting Hill. They provided the stage for his encounters with sitters- each an intimate environment that was erotically charged.

A series of exhibitions in the late 1980’s and 1990’s cemented Freuds reputation internationally. From then on he held an exhibition every year for the rest of his life. He continued to paint self portraits that display his self- possession and extraordinary mastery of colour, form, light and shade.

Freuds late self-portraits become increasingly built up with thick layers of paint sometimes smoothed at others scratched as though responding to the changes in his physical appearance. He almost disappears into the surface. there is a narrowing of the space between the painter and his work. This is a very popular exciting exhibition and you will need to book to see it.

Blog, Exhibitions

Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy

Antony Gormley is an internationally renowned sculptor. Known mainly for his huge sculptures such as Angel of the North. This exhibition covers his work from his early beginnings in the late 1970’s to his latest works.

            The human body is at the core of his practice, but he is not interested in realistic likenesses, or depicting an ideal form. For Antony Gormley the body is a vessel for feeling. It is both the unique site of our individual journeys, and the one thing we all share.

This exhibition has work I had not seen before, including works on paper, fabric and other media. I loved his sketch-books full of workings for his often very complex sculptures.

            There is one particularly unusual wall hanging made from white pieces of bread hung together in a grid with a cut out human form made by biting into them. Called Mothers pride !

            Another fabulous wall hanging is made from clay and blankets and is from 1983 and is called Blanket Drawing.

            As you enter the courtyard of the RA curled up on the floor is a tiny figure, which were it not for people around taking photo’s, it  would be very easy to miss. The life size cast iron form is of his daughter when she was six days old.

            One of the first rooms you enter is full of slab works, they are dense hard, edged and look like enormous bronze versions of Lego bricks. They are extreme geometric abstractions of the human form. I persuaded a friend to sit next tone of them.

            In one of the smaller galleries is a single life-size body form, with head bent, contemplating the ground on which he stands. He is formed of tightly packed vertical and horizontal steel bars that map the internal space of the body.

            Clearing VII 2019 is an amazing space the artist calls it ‘drawing in space. In this interactive sculpture the viewer climbs in and out and walks round the room that consists of 8 kilometers of square section aluminium tube, coiled and then allowed to expand and uncoil until restricted by the walls and the ceiling.

            Lost Horizon 2008

Inside the gallery, gravity appears to be defied and space folds in on itself as bodies project from all sides, floor and ceiling all at odds with one another. The works are perpendicular to the rectangular architecture of the room, the effect as you move between them is disorienting.

            A more recent work is Cave, it is a sculpture on an architectural scale. The work can be walked into or you can walk round it. Inside it is dark and the viewer or participant has to feel their way through relying on senses other than sight.

            Another 2019 work is Host. A room filled with an expanse of clay and seawater. Described by Gormley as ‘an invasion of the inside by the outside’, the work provides a stark contrast to the gilded ceiling of the nineteenth-century gallery

This is a breath taking awe inspiring exhibition well worth a visit.