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Pablo Picasso Essay

1899 words - 8 pages

Pablo PicassoPicasso's paintings are filled with the images of his wives and mistresses. One can even divide his work into phases corresponding to his affairs. How is the female body presented in his work?Picasso's work, in many ways, paved the way towards pure abstraction. But one must keep in mind that, despite these tendencies, and despite the almost illegible, abstract quality of certain of his Analytical Cubist work, all his paintings are paintings of something. One can always pick out recognizable images in his work, however distorted they may be-guitars, bulls, newspapers, and, most of all, the female body.It is not a coincidence that "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (1907), the painting that, more than any other, paved the way towards Cubism, is a picture of five prostitutes. As one can see looking at his preparatory sketches for the painting, the painting was conceived of as much less distorted when the male clients were part of the scene.It was when Picasso eliminated the male figures, leaving only the demoiselles, that the distortion and the treatment of space in the painting became really radical and unsettling-so radical as to be an undisputed turning-point in the history of modern art.Cubist distortion is not a neutral style applicable to any subject. To be sure, once Cubism was more completely formulated, Picasso occupied himself with painting many still-lifes, using a staid subject matter in order to better highlight the radical style. But the Cubist distortion, the rearranging of parts, which Picasso was eventually to apply to so many café tables and mandolins, was first created for, and always most vigorously applied to, the female figure. The very earliest Cubist works, after all, are of the female nude; besides "Les Demoiselles," of course, there is Braque's "Grand Nu" (1908).The freedom to distort was founded in paintings of the female figure; afterwards, throughout Picasso's career, the female figure is consistently carved up and distorted more than the male figure, with few exceptions. He based his art more firmly on the female figure than any artist of his century, sometimes making it the subject of rapturous celebration, as in his paintings of Marie-Thérese, and sometimes making it a monster to be sliced and diced by his brushstrokes. In his work of the late twenties and early thirties, in particular, when his personal life was such a mess, Picasso obsessively painted the female nude as an object of fear and loathing. In a painting like his "Seated Bather" (1930), the woman on the beach becomes a kind of praying mantis (the insect that famously kills her mate during copulation), with a terrifying toothed vertical slit for a mouth. The distortion and deformation of the bather's body here seems a kind of defensive maneuver against her.Picasso lived through some of the stormiest years of history. As an artist, what did he believe his political responsibilities to be?The French artists of Picasso's time saw art and...

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