Pablo Picasso was 90 years old when he drew a self portrait in crayon.
“I think I have touched on something” he told Pierre Daix, his friend and biographer. "It is not like anything ever done.”
Since he was a child, Pablo had a pervasive and vigilant fear of death. When he was 13 his little sister, Conchita, was gripped by illness. He swore to God that he would give up his art if she lived. When she did not, he internalized this basic condition of life; our bodies are here and then they are not.
He projected himself into many forms: minotaur, monkey, old lecher, classicist. Through this dispersal, he could shift his identity into the flow of myriad life. He could become and experience himself as many things. The fear of death was held in abeyance while he moved in the creative, pictorial dimension.
Picasso was perhaps the greatest visual composer in history. He understood the page as a highly sensitive field where forms would interact in perpetuity. It is why even his most grisly or despairing pictures are beautiful if you stay with them long enough. All objects, animals, people and narratives are adapted into pictorial language (mark, shape, value, color, pattern). He moved in this dimension like a lover, permissive of all things so long as they were in awakened relationship with the environment of the page or canvas. This may have been the condition to which Picasso was most faithful, the life and well being of the picture.
me messing with Picasso’s forms him putting them together
Picasso knew that forms could be released from their object names so that they could know themselves again as free visual elements: a circle, a line of dashes, a dark smudge. He wanted to remind these elements of their first identity, what they were before they were named. Then they could be recast into new forms that were both representative of life and abstractly awake. In this way, everything he experienced or could imagine was available to picture-making. A lobster and a child could wrestle together. Lovers and Las Meninas could be re-shuffled a hundred times. Doves and bombings. The press of life could be endured, metabolized and made durable and beautiful.
Picasso died on April 8th 1973, one year after making this self-portrait.
I read something years ago and I don’t know where, so I will not quote it precisely. Picasso was asked about the consequences of fame on his creative life. He said “Fame doesn’t matter. I have created a privacy for myself that no one can imagine.”
Whatever he was doing in there, he helped us to see the common elements within all diversity.
Here’s to you, Pablo!
clock wise from the upper left: Picasso Self-Portrait 1972, limestone sculpture of St Peter, detail, (14th cent, France, Smith College Museum of Art), Homer J. Simpson, Celtic Head (2-3rd cent, British Isles, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Mosaic Head, plate 133 from Jung’s Red Book, Chimpanzee
Prepared by Jason Alden at The Drawing Studio, Brattleboro VT