Pablo Picasso, the first contemporary guitarist on #neuguitars #blog #PabloPicasso

Pablo Picasso, the first contemporary guitarist on #neuguitars #blog #PabloPicasso

In his essay “Poesia di sinistra e di destra”, published in 1946, the Italian intellectual, poet, director, essayist, writer Pier Paolo Pasolini defined art as “a natural fact, a natural fact of society”. Pasolini believed that art was a social fact, and that it was so as a means of communication, “the highest and most complete means of communication that we can use”1. A definition that anticipated cultural studies by many years and that followed in the footsteps left by Gramsci, moving away from the ideas of Benedetto Croce. A few years later, it was 1962, Italo Calvino wrote that Pablo Picasso was “the only man after Shakespeare who has expressed the world and himself totally”2. On the same page, Calvino adds that the name of Picasso refers us to a moment in the cultural history of our century in which the limits of the avant-garde seemed to have been overcome: Picasso was a myth and probably also the first contemporary guitarist. He was the first to bring the guitar from the popular universe to the world of the avant-garde.

1Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pasolini Saggi sulla Letteratura e sull’Arte, Tomo I, Mondadori, pag. 170

2Italo Calvino, Saggi 1945 – 1985, Tomo I, Mondadori, pag. 115

It was 1903. Pablo Picasso, in the midst of his “blue period” created a painting entitled “The Old Blind Guitarist”, a work created with the oil color technique on a board measuring approximately 121 by 92 centimetres, currently located at The Art Institute of Chicago Museum, in the United States. In the picture, we notice an old beggar, dressed only in unstitched and dirty clothes, leaning on a corner of an unknown street, playing a guitar. Apart from the guitar, which is colored with a brown tint, the rest is all made with blue, cold colors, which mean misery, loneliness and great pain for Picasso. In fact, the old man seems to be able to play his guitar with difficulty, suffering from the long years spent in this miserable condition, a condition that has nothing human about it. The only consolation for this sadness and loneliness seems to be carried by the instrument, in fact, both physically and symbolically, the guitar fills the space that the slender emaciated body leaves empty, with its rounded shape, which almost contrasts with the carved lines of the beggar’s body, old and tired. Perhaps it is the only livelihood for this old man, who takes comfort in its company and sound. The body is elongated, deformed and disproportionate in the features, an influence that Picasso had when looking at many works by the famous painter El Greco. In these paintings, the great Spanish artist, in these moving paintings, seems to want to put a spark of hope and strength, and that although these old men seem to be at the end of all hope, there is always a little consolation and joy, as can be the sound of a guitar.

November 15, 1913. Les Soirees de Paris, the journal dedicated to the artistic avant-garde, publishes a photo of a work by Picasso with the caption “PICASSO NATURE MORTE” which represents a guitar, like we have never been seen before . Picasso had positioned his unusually shaped cardboard guitar within a set of very different elements: sheets of faux wood wallpaper mechanically reproduced to represent a wooden panel, a folded sheet of paper with the image of a bottle of Anis del Mono, a traditional liqueur typical of Catalan cafés, a piece of wood shaped like a bow. The body of the guitar itself is crudely cut out of an industrial cardboard box, the composition is the result of a pioneering assemblage, an art form in which different things, some created directly by the artist, some not, are joined together to create a deliberately and visibly dissonant effect.

Those who believed that art required academic training and the use of traditional materials of excellent quality and durability were deeply shocked by Picasso’s still life. Several readers of Les Soirees de Paris, presumably shocked by this unconventional still life and by three other works by Picasso published in the same issue, canceled their subscription to the newspaper, confirming the remarkable capacity of these art forms to provoke and scandalize public. That still life finds another testimony in a photo taken between 1914 and 1916 in the Parisian atelier in Montparnasse at 5 bis Rue Schoelcher where Picasso poses for a slightly blurred and faded photograph that portrays him together with the Demoiselles d’ Avignon, the Smoker and a curious cardboard guitar hanging on the wall. Cubism with its collages torn from the newspapers, the faux-bois and their daring perspectives sound like a desperate attempt to bring art outside the conventional nineteenth-century quotations and also far from the prevailing impressionist carelessness. In 1912 the first three-dimensional objects manufactured with the assembly technique appear, at a time when Picasso is looking for new means and languages that allow him to go beyond the two dimensions granted to painting; in fact, this work moves away from the spatial limits of painting and at the same time contradicts the customs of sculpture. Previously sculpture was mainly dedicated to the representation of the human body: solid and hard materials were the places where the artist modeled and created through the practice of “removing”.

In “Guitar” Picasso breaks with this tradition, depicting an object decontextualized from its daily reality, using poor and recycled materials, a technique that will take the name of “constrution”. “Guitar” is one of the composition experiments made with the papier collè technique, now more abstract and synthetic, with the addition of colour. In this regard it seems that starting from 1912 both Braque and Picasso, in reaction to the criticisms made by friends and colleagues, who considered the two artists’ painting too static, decided to reintroduce color and to elaborate new radical creative solutions. October 9, 1912; Picasso from Paris wrote to Braque that he remained in Sorgues in southern France, where he had spent the summer together saying that: “I am using your latest papery and powdery procedures. I am in the process of imagining a guitar and I am using a bit of dust against our horrible canvas.” His words herald the beginning of what would become, over the next two years, a radical, far-reaching creative period. They also suggest the presence of a new creative obsession, perhaps begun in Sorgues, with the guitar as subject and principal instrument. Its appearance coincides with the introduction of a series of unconventional materials, cardboard, newspaper, wallpaper, sheet music and sand, and equally unconventional processes, in particular collage and construction /deconstruction, in the creation of Picasso’s works. Picasso’s letter to Braque clearly credits his friend with inventing what he describes as “your latest papery and powdery procedures” with reference to the now lost paper sculptures Braque had worked on in his summer sojourn in Sorgues and probably to his more recent two-dimensional paper collages, along with his practice of mixing sand and other substances in his oil paints. All of Picasso’s works created since then demonstrate his evident interest in these new techniques, particularly in applying “a bit of dust” to his canvases and paper supports. And it is almost certain that his cardboard constructions, as in the case of Guitar, composed by joining together paper and cards of different types, were conceived with the awareness of Braque’s three-dimensional paper works.

The Spanish artist could not have known that his intervention would have decisive consequences for all of the art of the 20th century. The most unexpected materials have been used for works such as “Guitar”, often very humble things, which constitute their charm. The work has the same dimensions as the real object, but the shape has undergone manipulation: the interior has been dissected, opened as are the objects represented on the canvas. “Guitar” is made up of pure intersections of simple geometric figures, shaped and modeled so as to allude to the object represented. The technique is simplified to the point of being more like a sketch than a finished work. The curved line reappears even though it is still associated with the musical instrument. Alongside the charcoal, a material with which Picasso will love to work, the usual means are grafted, such as newspapers and wallpaper, real citations of everyday life. Despite the apparent coldness of this composition, we also find in “Guitar” symbolic elements that refer to the outside. The newspaper clippings, in this as in other works of the same period, often tell of war episodes, pacifist demonstrations, strikes and episodes of violence. Guernica was close. The void that is generally perceived through the hole in the center of the sound box is filled by Picasso with a cylinder that can be seen in all its three-dimensionality and recalls the tubular shape of the eyes of some African masks. This sculpture allows us a completely different perception of the object. Not only can the guitar be seen, but it can be analysed, piercing it and seeing its interior, its essence as an instrument that produces sound, music. What was the guitar for Pablo Picasso? A return to his land, that’s for sure, but also sinuously feminine lines to adapt to his creativity. The “popular” vocation of his art then finds an ideal icon in the Guitar. The tavern, the songs, the flamenco, the writings Lopez and Madrid, Spain. Between 1914 and 1916 Picasso dissects this theme with the usual energy and lightness that distinguish it. The tradition of Italian luthiers has its roots in the Renaissance. Lutes, violas, violins and mandolins are the story of executive mastery and the triumph of the Mediterranean imagination. Not many years after the guitars of Picasso, John D’Angelico in his workshop on Kenmare Street in New York builds his revolutionary instruments with an innovative design, among which the New Yorker model with deco-style mother-of-pearl inlays stands out for its quality and elegance. Guitarist greats like Pete Townshend and George Benson embrace those absolute masterpieces. Picasso’s time is one in which styles are all contemporary and one can begin to be ‘absolutely modern’. Picasso, who makes the discontinuity of styles his own and inserts it into an artistic and public discourse which transforms into a new style in how much style, is one of the cultural heroes of the last century, free from all ideological servitude and author of a meta-language that means beyond any code. I’m one of those who like to think that nothing happens by chance in the sense that certain facts, certain extraordinary-looking coincidences if they are really the result of chance, almost seem to touch the world of magic. I still have to say that the thesis of this speech has to do with the history of the relationship between modern art and popular culture with the fixed idea that this relationship is one of the main and most alive aspects of the history of art of our age . “Guitar” cannot fail to refer to the considerations of Pasolini and Calvino, arousing an immediate reflection on the relationship between the two spheres of high and low culture, the “high” and popular art forms. Art as a social factor, art as the highest form of communication. Picasso already had it all figured out, more than a century ago.

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