One hundred thirty-five years ago today, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Crispín Crispiniano María de los Remedios de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain.
His name is one of the better known ones, at least the first and last bits, and he’s remembered for playing several roles in life — a precocious son of an art instructor, part of Gertrude Stein’s cultural playset, a political dissenter, a misogynist at large, and, oh, a painter who, with a little oomph from Paul Cézanne and a lot of fraternisation with Georges Braque, completely shattered appropriate ways of seeing the world. Indeed, it’s rather difficult to imagine the history of art since the twentieth century without the man, who over the decades has become enshrined as an entity much more mythical than mortal.
When confronted with impossibly famous works like Guernica or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, some are inclined to accept their brilliance at once for the signature they bear. Others see nothing but a geometry lesson gone bad. The problem with both reactions is that no painting by Picasso can simply be taken at face value. Too much intellectualism went into the development of cubism. Too many practical jokes, tricky dashes of passage, revulsion towards current events and silent stories of friendship, private pain and unchecked passion are incorporated into Picasso’s compositions to glean their secrets at a glance.
Most fortunately, The Nerdwriter has compiled a neat five-step checklist, in beautifully-edited video format, for better apprehending the inner mechanisms playing below the surface of Picasso’s seemingly nonsensical, childlike-but-bluechip portfolio. Though the expertly packed with information video, How to Understand a Picasso, hones in on Night Fishing At Antibes, a not so instantly recognisable oil on canvas piece completed in 1939, The Nerdwriter’s tips can be easily applied to any of Picasso’s paintings from any of his painting styles — even any piece of moderately abstract art created since Picasso first broke the visual mould into little cubes and began brushing out his own sense of reality onto flat supports.
So the next time you stand face-to-face in a pallid gallery space with a woman with a pyramidal neck, half a yellow face, at least four breasts and outstretched striped tentacles and pink salamis for arms, don’t just groan “I could have done that” or “I don’t get it.” A little quiet contemplation of context and confidence in instinctive reactions to the bizarreness at hand to can go a long way towards piecing together the pictorial puzzles Picasso so purposefully left behind.