Picasso Exhibition- Guernica


In March I went to the Picasso & Paper exhibition at the R.A and was struck once again by the multiple different lives that this man inhabited. His personal artistic journey spanning over 80 years resulting in possibly the most diverse range of styles of any artist. The political and historical situation of two World Wars a boom and a crash. His private life,  whose uncovering has raised concerns as to whether we should be lauding this magnificent artist, who was also an unpleasant man.

We have in the past attempted to separate the art from the artist because it is extraordinary art and yet going through the rooms and looking at the displays I felt that the exhibition was an uncovering of Picasso, and attempt to expose him, ‘the man behind the art’ through the art and makings of the man. The series of ‘minotaur paintings’ (1928), the links to virile power and monstrosity coupled his letters, scraps, envelopes- even tissues give a layered collage of this man and the context in which he created.

This was an experiment I tried a few years ago in a close reading of ‘Guernica’ through the personal and the historical smashing into, and informing each other. The cut-out, collaged nature of the painting taking away conventional perspective and this depth and juxtaposing mundane, grotesque, violent and erotic seemed an apt way of finding depth in surfaces. I used footnotes because they give a sense of fact and proof, though, in fact, they are just more attempts at links and suppositions. All connections between man and history are conjecture not certainty. It is a fun form to play in.

Copy of Guernica, Picasso 1937



Sword, Flower, Sun, Lightbulb, Ball, Testicles

turned, screaming in a silent cry of female figures striding, breasts out

Flaming arm holding light, stretching across the monochrome midnight green


Paused horror,

 whilst softly, artists easels morph into complexity,

Growing into light before being released

as the “cataclysm of life,” what of the catatonic brutality of war?

Mundane daily records[1] parallel a world of chaos, harrowing love, brutal death, a secret wife[2].

Meanwhile, Hitler grew.

Love, power, possibilities, lost

Within an attic studio[3], outside Red and the Nation grow against[4], push

strain, grind against. Franco fights through, practicing his art

Of bombing babies as a drill.

Vested interest denies Individuals, they exist

as targets, subjects, domestic fodder[5].

Bombers overhead, the art is flown away[6],

Saved, hidden from the crisis

Cartoons form compensation, dated with precision

As the bombs drop to carpet death[7].

Franco, Horse, Minotaur, Bull, Painter[8]

Formed from procrastination as they bury the bodies

Worried about scale.[9]

Still, they keep on falling, fire, explosions, fantastic light-

Guernica falls.

1st May 1937[10], now inspired

Birds, Bull, Horse and Hand, Infants disemboweled
Elements, Thoughts, Ideas, Paint plastered

along a journey

Cut up, sporadic methodical pain leads to abandonment

It’s already too late[11].

Propaganda, Installed into space, discuss, don’t act[12],

 “Death comes from the air[13]” is ignored on the ground

as they talk about art, what else can be done?

Roll it up[14], get everyone involved, dislocated limbs in black and white, as red blood falls[15].

Weeping women follow on, but tears are not enough.

War rages, people fall, convulsions of terror to shock the world

Art intervenes, reacts, and continues regardless.


[1] Picasso meticulously recorded everything he did but not any notice of the outside world

[2] Picasso didn’t tell anyone about his second wife, she was his secret.

[3] Finally he hired a studio as a way to make him paint again

[4] Republic v nationals also one of P’s paintings

[5] For Hitler’s bombing practice, for Franco’s campaign, for Picasso’s subject matter

[6] Much of Picasso’s artwork was removed from the country and taken to America to preserve it. The civilian evacuation was almost nonexistent.

[7] At this time Picasso started drawing cartoons which he dated incredibly precisely

[8] Subject matter of his cartoons,

[9] Picasso was worried his painting was too big, he had never done anything that size before and didn’t know where to start, so he didn’t. Everyone else was worried the war was getting out of control

[10] Date of Guernica’s destruction, Picasso became inspired after being void of ideas for some time.

[11] Picasso was late for the Art exhibition Guernica was commissioned for, was going to give it up entirely, and allegedly never finished but submitted it anyway.

[12] Paris International exhibition

[13] Headline from a US newspaper article in 1938

[14] The way Guernica was transported, contained, made easy

[15] Contrast between death and the painting of it.

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