You would think that, as Picasso was such a giant of the 20th century, everything that could have been written about him had been written. Whoever decided to focus the new exhibition at the Royal Academy on Picasso and his use of paper was a genius. With other artists, we might have had a few sketchbooks and collages, but Picasso had a life-long relationship with paper in all its forms.
‘Picasso and Paper’ starts with early works, moving to a self-portrait drawn when he was around 20 years old and ending with one drawn when he was 90. He did of course, like all children, draw before this first self portrait on show – indeed it is said that he could draw before he could speak and he was admitted to art school when he was 13 years old. This self-portrait was planned to be included in La Vie (1903) but he changed the identity of the artist to his friend Carles Casagemas who had died two years previously.
Picasso didn’t just draw and paint on paper, he sketched studies for other works, he made models, collages and sets for the ballet, took photographs and created etchings, books and lithographs, a selection of which is on show, along with his hand-printing press. Another self-portrait appears in 1918 when he was in his classical phase, creating portraits of many people of the era such as Ivor Stravinsky.
There is a link to the current exhibition at Tate Modern with portraits of Dora Maar and photographs by her of Picasso working on ‘Guernica’.
Particularly fascinating is the 1955-6 film ‘Le Mystere Picasso’ made by Henri-George Clauzot showing Picasso creating three paintings, on show here, on transluscent paper filmed from the rear.
A masterful exhibition that deserves a repeat visit and also hopefully will serve to remind us of the importance of free-flowing and creative drawing in this digital age.