There's Brilliance At Every Turn In Picasso And Paper At Royal Academy

Picasso and Paper, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 43 months ago

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There's Brilliance At Every Turn In Picasso And Paper At Royal Academy Picasso and Paper, Royal Academy of Arts 4
This huge collage is one of the most impressive works in the show. Photograph: Succession Picasso/DACS

A minotaur strides forth from a cave holding a dead mare, whose head lolls as if its neck has been snapped. A veiled woman watches on, and disembodied hands stretch forth from the cave longingly. It’s an arresting scene that exudes intense emotions and masculinity.

It’s one of over 300 works in Picasso and Paper at Royal Academy of Arts — the first blockbuster exhibition of 2020.

There’s no denying what a phenomenal talent Picasso was. In a film of him creating a dark abstract work using felt tip pens in a couple of minutes, there’s barely any hesitation as the creativity just flows straight from his mind to his fingertips. He conjures up an idea, and his hands execute it seamlessly.

Cute cut-outs of a dog and dove were created when he was eight or nine years old. I’m not sure I could do a better job now, at the age of 37. If there was ever a courtroom debate as to whether people are born with artistic talent, Picasso would be Exhibit A for the defence.

Photograph: Succession Picasso/DACS

Every part of his life is represented here, from his depressed ‘blue period’, triggered after the suicide of a close friend, to the more abstract works he’s arguably best known for.

While there are paintings and sculptures peppered throughout the show, focus is largely on works on paper, including studies for his famous ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ — a large painting of five nude prostitutes posed in contorted positions. A replica of the famous work is on display here so we can see how this masterpiece came into being, as well as the finished piece.

Of course, with hundreds of works on display, there are several that just don't stand out, but around every corner, visitors are confronted with another gripping piece — such as a small drawing of a couple in front of an empty plate,  loose clothing hanging off their bones. It’s a heartbreaking piece on poverty, and Picasso has captured their misery in a work that’s both sympathetic and beautiful. Elsewhere, view a guitar that he quickly cobbled together out of paper, strings and cardboard — you can imagine him spotting these materials lying about, his creative mind cracking on with piecing them together into a small sculpture.

The master at work. Photo © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images © Succession Picasso/DACS 2019

I came into this exhibition having seen plenty of work by Picasso, and wondering what new ideas it could possibly offer, and yet here I am, completely blown away by his unbounded creativity.

Given his treatment of the women in his life and his depiction of them naked and objectified, it’s clear he was not a nice man. In fact, if he were alive today, it wouldn't be surprising if he wandered into the Royal Academy and pissed all over the place, just to mark his territory. However, this exhibition reminds us that there’s no denying the raw and multifaceted talent that was Pablo Picasso.

Picasso and Paper is on at Royal Academy of Arts from 25 January to 2 August. Tickets are £18-£22 for adults and booking ahead is essential.

Last Updated 07 July 2020