The Artist PABLO PICASSO

Famous as no artist ever had been, he was a pioneer, a master and a protean monster, with a hand in every art movement of the century

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His "classical" mode, which he would revert to for decades to come, can also be seen as a gesture of independence. After his collaboration with Braque ended with his comment that "Braque is my wife"--words that were as disparaging to women as to Braque--Picasso remained a loner for the rest of his career. But a loner with a court and maitresses en titre. He didn't even form a friendship with Matisse until both artists were old. His close relationships tended to be with poets and writers.

Though the public saw him as the archetypal modernist, he was disconnected from much modern art. Some of the greatest modern painters--Kandinsky, for instance, or Mondrian--saw their work as an instrument of evolution and human development. But Picasso had no more of a Utopian streak than did his Spanish idol, Goya. The idea that art evolved, or had any kind of historical mission, struck him as ridiculous. "All I have ever made," he once said, "was made for the present and in the hope that it will always remain in the present. When I have found something to express, I have done it without thinking of the past or the future." Interestingly, he also stood against the Expressionist belief that the work of art gains value by disclosing the truth, the inner being, of its author. "How can anyone enter into my dreams, my instincts, my desires, my thoughts...and above all grasp from them what I have been about--perhaps against my own will?" he exclaimed.

To make art was to achieve a tyrannous freedom from self-explanation. The artist's work was mediumistic ("Painting is stronger than me, it makes me do what it wants"), solipsistic even. To Picasso, the idea that painting did itself through him meant that it wasn't subject to cultural etiquette. None of the other fathers of Modernism felt it so strongly--not Matisse, not Mondrian, certainly not Braque.

In his work, everything is staked on sensation and desire. His aim was not to argue coherence but to go for the strongest level of feeling. He conveyed it with tremendous plastic force, making you feel the weight of forms and the tension of their relationships mainly by drawing and tonal structure. He was never a great colorist, like Matisse or Pierre Bonnard. But through metaphor, he crammed layers of meaning together to produce flashes of revelation. In the process, he reversed one of the currents of modern art. Modernism had rejected storytelling: what mattered was formal relationships. But Picasso brought it back in a disguised form, as a psychic narrative, told through metaphors, puns and equivalences.

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