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7. Transforming matter

Picasso often employed novel materials and techniques in his works. For instance, he used newspaper cuttings to create collages that added a new dimension to the pictorial surface. In sculpture he recycled commonplace objects, transforming them through manipulation. He also worked with unconventional industrial materials such as iron, metal or cement.

“Among the several sins that I have been accused of committing, none is more false than the one that I have, as the principal objective in my work, the spirit of research. When I paint my object is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for. In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish: love must be proved by facts and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.”
Marius de Zayas. “Picasso Speaks” in The Arts, May 1923, p. 315

Head of a Bull

Paris, 1942 | Bronze. Two pieces: bicycle handlebars and seat, assembled 1997, 42 x 41 x 15 cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. On temporary deposit at the Museo Picasso Málaga
© FABA. Photo: Eric Baudouin © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Head of a Bull

Bulls and bullfighting were part of Picasso’s visual culture since his childhood and the elements that comprise this theme appear in his output from almost every period of his career. While Picasso’s contribution to the history of art through the iconography of the bullfight is legendary as a whole, Bull’s Head is perhaps one of its peak achievements. This assemblage was first published in 1942 in the Surrealist leaflet La conquête du monde par l’image, a publication that included different works by artists of that movement. Bull’s Head is one of only two bronze examples based on a leather and metal original in the collection of the Musée Picasso in Paris. The present example was not, however, assembled by the artist but made later.

Some writers have related Bull’s Head to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel but while both works are certainly an assemblage of two elements, in reality they are conceptually very different. Picasso made Bull’s Head in the spring of 1942 in his studio on rue des Grands-Agustins, where he had recently installed himself. The work reflects an already established procedure in his working process in which he joined two completely different elements – in this case a seat and handlebars of a bicycle – in order to give rise to new meanings through their assemblage. Picasso proceeded via an internal process of grasping the polysemic nature of an object in a way that enabled him to re-contextualise a number of them in a single piece of enormous figurative force. The artist explained the moment of creation of this work to the photographer Brassaï: “One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled up together, I found an old bicycle seat right next to a rusty set of handlebars […] All I did was weld them together.”

Although they were later cast in bronze, Picasso insisted that the two elements should be completely identifiable separately: “[…] if you were only to see the bull's head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact.” This reflection encapsulates the essence of the sculptures of this type, in which Picasso did not intend the elements from which they are constructed (in this case bicycle parts) to disappear but rather that they remain completely visible in order to increase the visual effect on the spectator. This system of creating works from elements with different significances lies at the very heart of Picasso and reflects his remarkable knowledge of the nature of objects. The creation of sculptures from objets trouvés or thrown-away items reappears throughout his oeuvre, although Bull’s Head is perhaps one of the most striking and impressive possibly because its seeming simplicity makes it the most complex. 

Text: Eduard Vallés