Pablo Picasso, portrayed by Doug Mishler
Though born in the 19th century (1881), Pablo Picasso was for more than 60 years of the 20th century literally the center of the Art universe. Even today in the 21st century, Picasso’s influence is still pronounced. This tiny man had an outsized impact on the world since almost every artistic current or trend came through his studio or bore his influence. Up until his death in 1973 this painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright was one of the most significant people in the world.
Dr. Doug Mishler’s presentation will focus on Picasso’s most formative years between 1900 and 1910, his Paris years. These years transformed the 19 year-old prodigy Pablo Ruiz into the infamous Picasso and with him the entire idea of what art was as well as the cultural values of the 20th century.
From his youth Pablo’s genius and artistic drive were almost superhuman in scope. Those gifts also made him remarkably complex; he had tremendous charisma as well as a mercurial temperament. His drive was so extreme (working 10-12 hours straight) that all human concerns melted away. Yet outside the studio his focus was never certain. He oozed the emotionalism for which Spain was so famous. He was in turn gregarious or sullen. He treated people with either incredible generosity or amazing disregard and even cruelty–often nearly simultaneously.
His passion was to create more powerful and subversive art to better capture what he saw in life. The brash colors and alterations of reality his Modernist friend and competitor Henri Matisse created in 1905 motivated Picasso to break away from even these subversive norms, creating cubism.
In 1907 his cubist masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon so shattered all conventions that even his Modernist friends were disturbed by his “losing his sanity.” Matisse found the work too radical. Undeterred, Pablo kept working in Cubism, his new artistic language for exploring the human condition. He also started to work on collage and cubist sculpture. By 1910 Picasso had literally changed the way humanity looked at the world and it would never be the same!
Since 1993 Doug Mishler has been nationally recognized for bringing “history to life.” Doug has presented figures from Nikita Khrushchev to Theodore Roosevelt to Ernie Pyle, to P. T. Barnum. He has made more than 800 first-person presentations of more than 30 historical figures, including Stonewall Jackson, Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, Dwight D Eisenhower, Chuck Yeager and Gene Roddenberry. Not only do the voices in his head keep him busy, but also, in the last eight years, he has been the founder and Managing Artistic Director of Restless Artists’ Theatre in Sparks, NV. When not in the theatre or doing his characters, Mishler has taught American Cultural history for more than 20 years. Like his idol, Teddy Roosevelt, Doug believes there is still plenty of time to grow up and get a “real job”—but later!
The Artist: Pablo Picasso by Doug A. Mishler
Though born in the 19th century (1881), the quintessential Catalan Spaniard Pablo Picasso was for more than 60 years of the 20th century literally the center of the art universe. In fact, even today in the 21st century Picasso’s influence is still pronounced. This tiny man had an outsized impact on the world’s art and culture. Almost every artistic current or trend came through his studio or bore his influence. Up until his death in 1973 this painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright was one of the most significant people in the world.
From his youth Pablo’s genius and artistic drive were almost superhuman in scope. His gifts made him remarkably complex; he had tremendous charisma and a mercurial temperament. His artistic drive focused him to an extreme to where all human concerns melted away. In his studio he was oblivious to everything and everyone working ten to twelve hours in a focused intensity. Yet outside the studio his focus was never certain. He oozed the emotionalism for which Spain was so famous for. In turn gregarious or sullen, Picasso treated people with either incredible generosity or amazing disregard and even cruelty–often nearly simultaneously.
Known for co-founding the Cubist movement, inventing constructed sculpture, being the co-inventor of collage, and for employing a wide variety of styles, Picasso developed and explored many new artistic concepts. He became the “gold standard” of modern art; his legacy is on the level of the greats such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Michelangelo. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937).
Picasso demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting in a naturalistic manner through his adolescence. As an art teacher, his artist father quickly understood that his son was unnaturally gifted (as did several art schools where the precocious 13-year old Pablo exceeded his much older colleagues). By age 19 Picasso was in Paris starving, painting and changing the world.
By the first decade of the 20th century he was already a well-known painter, esteemed for his tremendous skills, but with a passion to create more powerful and subversive art that better captured what he saw in life. After 1906, the brash colors and expressionist alterations of reality (Fauvism) of his friend and often competitor Henri Matisse motivated Picasso to break away from the norms completely—and thus Cubism.
In 1907 Picasso’s brilliance completely shifted how the world looked at art. His proto-cubist piece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon so shattered all conventions that other artists, even his edgy friends, were disturbed by his “losing his way” or even “losing his sanity.” Even Matisse found the work too radical. Due to their reaction he kept the piece out of the public for many years. However, he kept working in Cubism, his new artistic language for exploring the human condition. He also started to work on collage and other new techniques, including cubist sculpture. He became the father of surrealism and Dada (which rejected all modern style and sensibility). By 1907 Picasso literally changed the way humanity looked at the world, and things would never be the same!
Picasso was especially important to American art. While he never set foot in the US, his imprint is all over American artists. Even though few ever met Picasso, many identified him as their master. Arthur Dove, Stuart Davis and Max Weber became so adept at echoing Picasso that recognizing who painted what can be a challenge. Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner and David Smith clearly were working within the master’s perceptions and techniques. Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns tried their hand at interpreting and copying his style. Roy Lichtenstein was driven to “turn Picassos into Lichtensteins” and thus prove his genius.
And then there was the mad man of American art, Jackson Pollock, who was driven by the man of whom he said “That f…ing guy did everything.” Pollock’s Water Bull was directly a response to Guernica. His Gothic was Jackson’s take on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. In films of Pollock developing his drip style one clearly can see he first added in Picasso figures on the canvas, then layered on his drips. The student created a whole new art form.
Picasso survived the dark years of the Great War painting in his studio though several of his friends died or were horribly devastated by the war. Always with a huge fear of death Picasso was shaken by these events; yet he kept painting and challenging conventions. He explored more and more forms in the 1920s and rollicked his way around southern France and Spain with famous escapades, bullfights, fast living, and more and more new art.
Though he lived most of his life in Paris and France, Picasso was always a Spaniard. Catalan so shaped his life and his work that he could never break with it. France was the center of art so he was there, but he never was fluent in French nor quite “civilized” or bourgeois. His Spanish emotionalism marked him with great passion: great hate, great love, great kindness, and sometimes great cruelty.
His Spanish soul was evident in Picasso’s fury at Franco and the loss of Spain to fascists. He loathed Franco until his death. He was repulsed by the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s allowing Germans to bomb civilians. That bombing incited his titanic rage and drove him to create his immense cubist masterpiece Guernica in 1937. He remained in Paris while the Germans occupied the city in WWII, but, since his artistic style did not fit Nazi ideals, he did not exhibit. He was often harassed by the Gestapo. During one search of his studio an SS officer saw a photograph of Guernica and asked Pablo, “Did you do that?” Picasso famously replied, “No, you did”.
Picasso also took up writing as an alternative outlet. Between 1935 and 1959 he wrote more than 300 poems. While largely untitled, the poems are very primal, erotic, and at times scatological, as are his two full-length plays.
Of course, there were always women in Picasso’s life, and always the relationships were complex and turbulent. He loved women, but almost none of them ever understood that they would never come before his art. Great emotional carnage resulted. He always had a passion for younger women as youth and vigor always enticed him as much as illness and death terrorized him. These women were seemingly drawn to him like moths to a flame, often with the same fatal effect. Picasso could be a kind and generous lover yet also indifferent and cruel. His treatment of women was never intentional. He really did worship and love them; it was just that he worshiped his art more. His genius allowed him no real connections that could supplant his art.
In the 1950s, Picasso’s style changed once again as he took to producing reinterpretations of the art of the great masters. He made a series of works based on Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas. He also based paintings on works by Goya, Poussin, Manet, Courbet and Delacroix.
In 1966 he received a remarkable public commission of $100,000 to create a huge 50-foot high public sculpture for the city of Chicago. Known usually as the Chicago Picasso – Pablo gave it no name – what the figure represents is also not known. Picasso never said. He almost never interpreted his art. The Chicago Picasso is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. The usually thrifty Picasso refused payment and donated the piece to the people.
Picasso’s final works were a mixture of styles, his means of expression in constant flux until the end of his life. He became more daring and his works more colorful and expressive. From 1968 to 1971 he produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings. At the time these works were dismissed. Only after Picasso’s death, when the rest of the art world had moved on from abstract expressionism, did the critical community come to revere the late works.
When Picasso died in April 1973 in Mougins, France, he left behind an enormous mess of things he had acquired and carried with him for decades (including pigeons, monkeys, and giant dogs). He also left a legacy of an estimated 50,000 artistic pieces: 1,885 major paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, and tens of thousands of prints, as well as tapestries and rugs. But it is not just his artistic pieces that form his legacy; for Picasso’s genius and vision truly reshaped the world.
October 25, 1881: Pablo Ruiz Picasso born in Málaga, Spain
1892: Enters classes at the art school in La Coruña, Spain
1897: Science and Charity wins a gold medal at the Exposición de Bellas Artes in Málaga
1897: Picasso enters the Academia Real de San Fernando in Madrid
Winter, 1901: Blue Period begins
October, 1902: Picasso moves to Paris from Barcelona
1906: Begins carving wooden sculptures
1907: Paints Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
1913: Apollinaire publishes Les Peintres Cubistes. Armory Show in New York.
1925: First Surrealist group show opens
1928: Metal sculptures
1930: Paints The Crucifixion after Grünewald
1936: Contributes to Popular Front festivities
1937: Guernica bombed; Guernica begun soon after
1939: MOMA acquires Les Demoiselles d’Avignon for major retrospective. Photographs of Picasso in Paris appear in Life magazine. World War II begins.
1940: German forces occupy Paris
1944: War ends. Joins Communist Party
1958: Buys the Château de Vauvenargues
April 8, 1973: Dies
“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
“To search means nothing in art. To find is the thing.”
“The fact that cubism has not been understood even today….means nothing.”
“There is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.”
“Whenever I had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I felt it ought to be said.”
“There is nothing more dangerous than justice in the hands of judges and a paintbrush in the hands of a painter.”
“I want to get to the stage where nobody can tell how a picture of mine is done…I want nothing but emotion to be given off by it.”
“A painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions. People seize on painting to cover up their nakedness.”
“Yes, art is dangerous. And if it is chaste it isn’t art.”
“Why does one love the night, flowers, everything without understanding them? But in the case of a painting people have to understand?”
”Everything can be explained scientifically today save art…painting remains painting because it eludes investigation.”
“Art remains there like a question. And it alone gives the answer.”
Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views edited by Dore Ashton (1972)
Relatively little exists in terms of interviews and writings directly from Pablo Picasso himself, making this anthology of Picasso’s views on art a particularly valuable look at both the artist and his works.
Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World by Miles J. Unger (2018)
A look at Picasso’s early career and rise to fame, from his early years as a struggling artist in Paris, to his controversial masterpiece Les Demoiselles D’avignon, to the creation of Cubism and its revolutionary impact on the world of twentieth century art.
A Life of Picasso: 4 Volumes by John Richardson (2007-2014)
From one of the world’s leading Picasso scholars, this four-volume set draws upon the author’s own friendship with Picasso, extensive interviews with those closest to him, and never before published material to create a detailed account of the artist’s life.
Picasso: An Intimate Portrait by Olivier Widmaier Picasso (2018)
Authored by one of Picasso’s grandchildren, this work offers an intimate look into the complicated, yet fascinating, life of one of the world’s most influential artists.
Picasso: A Biography by Patrick O’Brian (1994)
Written by a close friend of the renowned artist, it provides a comprehensive biography of Picasso’s life.