"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he is a painter,
or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet,
or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles?

Far, far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image.

How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach
yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly?

No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war."

Picasso 1945

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Picasso’s Souvenir

Picasso did a figurative painting called Acrobat which I had always wanted to do a parody image of a horse. Acrobat is fun and light hearted but in keeping with a body of work I have called Afghan Archives I wanted to use the horse as a metaphor for that which we sacrifice so easily during times of aggression and war. Horses are animals of prey and therefore are very sensitive to movement in their environment. Given their natural state they are very good at knowing when danger is near. But when entering into a relationship with humans they give this power away and become one with the humans. Such an amazing relationship which although I see the noble qualities I keep wondering why they do it. Why don’t they just run away. Run away!

Picasso used the image of the horse and so successfully in the painting Guernica which so many folks around the world have been inspired by. I see his use of the horse icon as a metaphor for the indecent brutalities of war which we continue to visit upon one other, again and again as if we had no knowledge of the pain and suffering.

The painting Guernica came out of Picasso in response to the deliberate bombing of a civilian community in Guernica, Spain during the Spanish Civil War in April of 1937. To put it simply, Franco and Hitler were allies and had an agreement to help each other out in their political campaigns. General Franco’s Nationalists were fighting against the Spanish Republican Government and Hitler had a new weapon he wanted to try and so it was decided he would try it out in Spain. At about 4:30 in the afternoon his war planes flew over Guernica and dropped their payload on the community below for two to three hours. Figures state that 1500 civilians died as a result of that one air raid. Hitler’s tactic was called “knock and blow” but today we know it as “shock and awe”.

As a side note a copy of this painting in tapestry form hangs in the UN Department outside the Security Council Chamber and was decidedly covered up during a Press Conference with Colin Powell concerning the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Someone thought it would be distracting: the spirit of this painting being so powerful. Back to our history lesson.

Hitler and Franco both denied they had anything to do with the incident to the international community who were outraged by the savagery and thus was Picasso inspired to produce the painting Guernica within two months for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition at the 1937 World’s Fair. Previously he had been preparing with studies of pretty portraits and flowers. After the event the 11 x 25 foot painting was rolled up and traveled in exhibition to raise funds for the Spanish war effort. Another kind of boots on the ground. Huge it was and Picasso being the Director of the Prado National Museum had spirited the painting away. Amongst other national treasures.

But there is more.

There is a very convincing story of a visit to Picasso’s studio by the Gestapo during the Occupation of France. They didn’t like Picasso much for obvious reasons. They had a habit of visiting him from time to time and rummaging through his studio. Perhaps trying to intimidate him. At one time , as the story goes, a Nazi Officer saw a postcard of the painting Guernica on the table, picked it up and held it out to Picasso and asked,” Did you do this?” Picasso replied, “ Oh no, I didn’t do that. You did. Take that as a souvenir."