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1964-1965 Familiar Gazes

Within the body of work produced by the artist in the early 1960s following his decision to settle permanently close to the Mediterranean and to live surrounded by a small family and professional circle, the mystery of its expression frequently derives from the seeming completeness of his everyday satisfaction. Picasso looked at himself in the mirror of longevity with the aim of encountering the personal solidity that might offer him the opposite of an entire life devoted to art, its history and its future. Now, in portraits of this type, which could be seen as specular projections of a distant self, the painted subject suggests messages written on the face of a man dissolving himself in the vulnerability of the gesture, which only aims to record and does not aspire to recount.

“A child sees the face of its mother, it sees it in a completely different way than other people see it, I am not speaking of the spirit of the mother but of the features and the whole face, the child sees it from very near, it is a large face for the eyes of a small one, it is certain the child for a little while only sees a part of the face of its mother, it knows one feature and not another, one side and not the other, and in his way Picasso knows faces as a child knows them and the head and the body.”

[Gertrude Stein. Picasso, 1959, pp. 14-15]

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Another hindrance to the acceptance of his late works is the apparent clumsiness of their technique. The supposedly better informed opined that the artist was over and done with, that he was a senile, clumsy old man and that his hand had lost its skill [...]. I would say that far from being this, Picasso’s problem was that he still had too much skill. According to the artist his greatest problem had always been skill. He maintained that he had always had to fight against it, making things more difficult for himself and by extension for others. It is certainly the case that on occasions his skill makes him give the best of himself, just as with his ingenious attempts to conceal it; but rarely in his late paintings. Virtuosity is of course always present, above all in the infinite variety of formal inventions and the marvellous plasticity of his painting. And with regard to the latter it’s worth remembering that Picasso had never liked easels and that as he got older he increasingly painted sitting on the floor, in other words very close to the canvas. Hence the changes of direction in the brushstrokes. He could walk around his work but not distance himself from it; this explains the effect of his late paintings—their alarming closeness—. Everything is within reach [...]

No, the clumsiness of Picasso’s late paintings is excessively deceptive. The apparent carelessness of his style conceals an incomparable dexterity. The essence of these works is that Picasso was determined to preserve the directness and spontaneity of his initial burst of inspiration. He didn’t want to risk it by focusing on the torrents of virtuosity that sometimes disfigure his drawings. What mattered to him was being as free, loose and expressive as possible. In his old age, Picasso had finally discovered how to take any liberty with space and form, colour and light, reality and fiction, time and place. The only liberty that he didn’t allow himself was that of abstraction of any kind.

Text: John Richardson. "La época de Jacqueline". In: Gert Schiff (ed.). Translated from: Picasso, su última década, 1963-1973. [Exhib. cat.]. Mexico City: Museo Rufino Tamayo, 1984, p. 65.