Rivets, riddles and blots

Picasso in 3-D - Picasso
April 5, 1996

The first of these two generously illustrated books on Pablo Picasso examines the artist's varied graphic techniques, the second is an exploration by a photographer of the artist and his sculpture. Both stress innovation but in scope, depth and academic level, they bear little resemblance.

Inside the Image is based on an exhibition held in the United States. One hundred and twenty-five illustrations in juxtaposition, etchings, lithographs, linocuts, engravings, aquatints and hybrids between them, are arranged to show evolutionary trends and to explore particular subjects (like the Spanish picaresque and the artist's obsession with the old masters). The emphasis is on his less fashionable late period.

Four interlocking essays draw together the views of a pioneering collector, a printer who worked with Picasso and recent research in the field. Two of the contributors knew the artist, relationships which add their own dimension.

Peter Ludwig discusses five decades of obsessive collecting in an interview with Janie Cohen. Aldo Crommelynch catches the man in the act of creation, dispensing with admirable concision the actual printing techniques. Karen Kleinfelder rivetingly unriddles Picasso's nightmarish blots. For the artist, seeing was certainly about desire. But she finds infinitely more in the blots than the carnal longings of an elderly gent.

Cohen rounds up by interpreting the complex narratives and layered imagery in two prints from the erotic 156 and 347 suits. When the latter were first exhibited in Paris in 1968, some were hung separately because they were considered pornographic. Times have changed and now they are all accepted as art.

Provocative quotations, mostly by the artist, are prominently dispersed throughout the book. The unconventional format suggestively parallels Picasso's own experiments. Though I am not sure the cover "comes off", the inside is attractive.

Picasso in 3-D is still more personal. Edward Quinn had the good fortune to observe the artist at work over 20 years. Forty-seven full-page illustrations include the bull's head constructed from a bicycle and a sequence on Picasso choosing from piles of masonry the components of Woman with a Key. Bold photographs of the work are interspersed with more domestic theme shots.

Little of Picasso's huge body of sculpture was seen in his lifetime, but a large group was shown in Paris 30 years ago and an all-sculpture exhibition in the Tate Gallery the following year. More recently, another Tate exhibition focused on the relationship between his sculpture and painting. I cannot help thinking that the catalogues produced for this exhibition would be ideal for general educational purposes.

One presumes Quinn's book is an introduction to the subject. His essay suggests a 10 to 12-year-old audience, but so pared is the text that it is impossible not to distort facts. It concedes its failure to relate the chosen sculptures to Picasso's vast oeuvre; this does not make it acceptable. The few illustrations mentioned by name in the text are not all included, and the illustration pages bear no numbers, which makes cross reference difficult.

Sally Festing is the author of Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms.

Picasso in 3-D

Author - Edward Quinn
ISBN - 0 500 23708 5
Publisher - Thames and Hudson
Price - £12.95
Pages - 80

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