Picasso, why not?

Gagosian is having yet another show of Picasso’s art coming up next month. Here’s one from December 2010.


The one next month is called L’amour Fou Picasso. I have yet to know what will be in it. The two books Gagosian published on Los Mosqueteros and Picasso’s Mediterranean Years are beauties. I wonder if he has more in the works. That’s why so many of these guys are such a mixed bag….At Gagosian one goes from the sublime Picasso to the ridiculous Koons.

Picasso almost never fails to rejuvenate my interest in visual form and energy. I just got yet another book in trade and this one is a monumental dooze. Each page spread has 8 or nine images and they go on for almost 500 pages.  I can’t believe how many of them I’ve never seen, on top of the fact of their high quality. It’s actually the single book on Picasso I’d recommend if I were only allowed to recommend a single book. Picasso: from the ballets to drama 1917-1926, Könemann

What is really astonishing for so many of us who grew up looking at Picasso, just how unknown the overall body of work is in its massive achievement. This is the time of Picasso.

Hold onto your seatbelts. In Picasso’s lifetime the total number of works that Pablo Picasso created is over a quarter of a million! Now no wonder we can keep being hit by surprise upon surprise of works we’d never seen

Turner made 19 to 21,000 by various accounts and I thought that figure was unbelievable.


About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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10 Responses to Picasso, why not?

  1. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s one of the late etchings that Picasso made in the last years of his life. He had an ulcer operation in November 1965 and had become a recluse, cutting himself off from all the social activity to concentrate solely on what would be some of the great late flowering works of any great master of Western painting. The etchings were made with the help of the two Crommelynck brothers. The etchings he made are extraordinary in the breadth of their imaginative range and variety of techniques and invention of figures in a dizzying array of stylistic mastery. It was a grand imagining of his whole life, from the early days in Barcelona through various Western artists central to him—Raphael, Rembrandt, Goya, Ingres, Degas and van Gogh. The ways of making figures are completely unique from etching to etching, and yet maintain complete cohesion across three entire series–each named for the number of prints in the edition… 60, 156 and 347. It’s almost impossible to locate the books that contain the series in their entirety. I’ve only seen the complete two volumes of them at our local library… never at any used bookstore or elsewhere in my entire life. I’m not sure why these prints haven’t been more accessible and widely available.

    I find these etchings some of the most thrilling prints ever made. Picasso seems unstoppable. The print above is so simple linearly and yet he gets this whole area of figures, each interwoven with the other other. Lines do double service and faces emerge out so simply and yet so forcefully perfect. It’s the joy of creating, of drawing… just like a child but with absolute sophistication and control. I can’t think of any other thing like this series of etchings. I love the woman sitting on the horse with the testicles of the horse echoing first the woman’s derriere and then her breasts. Just that simple movement of the two bulbous shapes. and then her arms billow out into that form of woven arms and hands. The Indian with the spear and the pilgrim?? It’s like a snapshot of multiple images occurring in the brain at once… And while these fantastically realized masterpieces are being made he’s completely isolated, without the least interest in the art world…. and the art world hasn’t the least interest in him. He’s consider all over with, not relevant. An old doddering man… finished.

    • Steve says:

      Bart… thanks for the wonderful walk through this Picasso etching, your analysis helped slow the journey down and pointed out the sights to behold. Picasso is so facile and fast that the viewer ( at least this viewer ) takes in the vision at lightening speed , which is a classic mistake with any Picasso work. In fact, it’s a mistake with any artist’s work that is made with mastery and purpose. But it should also be noted that Picasso unified his compositions so that the eye can see the whole at a glance ( perhaps this adds to the viewing speed ). He was so great, that he could make change after change to a work and still keep the unity clear. The casual viewer might see such an etching as doodling, but it is anything but mindless scribbling of symbols in a school notebook margin or telephone pad. These are profoundly serious master drawings, but done with the bold bravery of a child in complete concentration. He said once that it took a lifetime to learn to draw like a child.

      • trueoutsider says:

        Steve, what I’ve long loved to do and what is the easiest way to analyze and discover the achievement in this late work is to just copy it by hand looking at it… without even taking one’s eye off the Picasso drawing even…. so that you follow the lines and see how effortlessly they create the characters and forms. What separates them from anyone else’s doodling is the cornucopia of images, the dynamic rhythms, contrasts and enormous variety of marks all employed to create a harmonized whole. There’s nothing obsessive and mindless about the marking. He’s seeing, as you say, just like a child where the thing itself is so real there’s no gap between what he’s seeing in his mind and what appears in front of him on the page…. It’s easy enough to do this by the way…. all you need to do is make a quarter of a million works of art. … You might not reinvent Western Art in the way Picasso did, but I wager you’ll be making some unique and interesting work. The key is you make all these pieces by attempting to make works out of your own perceptions and not copy whatever prevailing styles are available.

        Authenticity and originality are still available to any artist. Don’t let the critics and sell out commercial artists convince you otherwise just because immense fortunes are being doled out for asserting this falsehood.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    This is how the falsehood was constructed. The American contemporary art world asserts that it has discovered the real geniuses of the 60s. Picasso is a nobody, finished … of no importance. Not even worth looking at what he’s doing down there in Southern France. Let’s focus ourselves on the work of the real masters…. greatness resides with Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Jim Dine, Andy.., What was that question I asked… How did we go from de Kooning to Paul McCarthy? There we have some of the stepping stones.

    It’s also why nobody in the art world can see or understand great art. They never bother to look at it. They never bother to look at Picasso. They never bother to look at the Old Masters. They just look at the latest shallow creation. They can all paint as fast as Picasso. It just doesn’t occur to them that Picasso painted laborious Academic paintings as a teenager before he began to simplify. But many of his later paintings are painted over weeks and months of changes. Each work demands something different. And there’s also the matter of a quarter of a million works of art.

    Modern American and international critics actually that a Basquiat with its crude lack of any kind of development or invention is like Picasso. They really can’t tell the difference between a painter who re invented painting. And someone making third rate Picasso imitations. Pure kitsch. It might as well be Thomas Kinkade being passed off as Monet.

    What does this clunky inelegant foolishness by an artist too lazy to bother to learn to draw, but spending most of his time spray painting words on inner city walls in order to get attention, all the while club hopping and being with the scene …

    have to do with this man who made a quarter of a million pieces of art over his lifetime in one of the most disciplined displays of creative endeavor a single human being has ever accomplished:

    • Steve says:

      I have revered Picasso since before I became a painter. I might go so far as to say that he got me over some early hurdles of confidence failure, showing me how to be brave and excited with paint rather than tentative and narrow. He’s the greatest painter’s-block smasher that there ever was. Basquiat on the other hand has never given me even a breath of inspiration. There’s an article in last month’s Harpers by one of my favorite art critics , John Berger, an essay extolling Basquiat’s truth-telling. I read it and couldn’t make the connections that Berger was claiming to see. I honestly think that this time Berger got this one wrong and was really stretching for meanings that aren’t there. And I recently saw a Basquiat interview in which he tried to be coy and mysterious, ala Bob Dylan, but he didn’t have Dylan’s lightening quick mind to back up the posturing. But Picasso, he’s the painter of our times, nobody else comes close, in my view. I don’t care what the art world says about him any more than he cared.

      • trueoutsider says:

        I saw the Berger piece to. Tried to read it but thought it about as shoddy as all the other stuff puffing up Basquiat. It’s a little hard to take anything seriously written by him after his complete obliviousness to post-Guernica Picasso. Has he written anything on the Gagosian Picasso shows? I’ll try to look that up.

        Basquiat is an a mediocre artist at best if one has any awareness of all the ingredients that have to be present in a solid work of art, and that goes triple for a great work of art. I can see describing Basquiat’s work as showing early promise and energy. But describing those things at the level of hype out there is unbelievable. There’s a film made of Basquiat that exposes how little serious work he was doing, in favor of club hopping and career building. It’s an insult to artists everywhere, including Picasso with his quarter of a million works of art to throw Basquiat up as a great artists. Basquiat’s work was just squeezed out, much of it when he was cocaine addicted.

        I recall a story from his biography that he painted his entire Bischofberger show in Switzerland by having the canvases all prepared in advance. When he came to the gallery he just knocked them off one after another. That’s bullshit, not art. Picasso was emphatically doing nothing like that. Picasso’s Cubist paintings are masterpieces of concentration and revision.

        And, no, Basquiat wasn’t that intelligent, at least as far as anything that ever comes out of his mouth in the film I saw or various youtube videos. He studied Warhol. He modeled his whole strategy on Warhol.

        The American Avante Garde was in it’s collapsing phase with Warhol. Basquiat is a parody of that collapsed phase. For Berger and of course the New Yorker critic, call him Sheckdahl ( I can never get that Dutch spelling) to champion Basquiat defines the absence of of all critical sense. Incidentally, Scheckdahl wrote disapprovingly of the Cezanne Card Player paintings at the Met. It’s all of a piece, and logical. Of course Checkdahl disparages Cezanne and lauds Basquiat. If Cezanne is a great painter, Basquiat’s painting aren’t viable. So Cezanne must be diminished and “over”. Painting with depth and complexity is passé. The party painter with pizzazz…. at least before that pizazz and party ends will rule.

        There was a Rolling Stone reviewer questioning Dylan about painting not that long ago and he asked Dylan what he thought of Warhol. Dylan gave him a scathing look, replying Warhol wasn’t a painter at all, but he was an interesting social phenomenon to look at.

        I found I agreed with much of what Dylan was saying. His remarks on painting were far more perceptive and salient than any art reviewer I’ve ever read. Just like the remarks of the novelist Will Self I read not long ago. Great artists in other fields can instantly detect how false the art world has become. Intelligent people with no self-interest in playing in the false art world see it completely clearly. They can write the truth because their bills aren’t being paid by the galleries and dealer and art magazines that are all interwoven to promote a lot of false hype.

        Will Self is a blazingly brilliant novelist. Here’s a piece he wrote on contemporary art and how it functions. He’s not know for pulling any puhcnes.:


  3. trueoutsider says:

    I read from Richard D. Marshall that, “Basquiat is keenly aware of the historical and contemporary manipulation and misuse of natural and human resources that benefit few, and continuously lead to the subjugation and exploitation of many, invariably minority groups.”

    It really doesn’t matter if he doesn’t learn how to paint. Thelonious Monk went to Julliard, eventually through hard work and complete discipline becoming one of America’s greatest African-American composers, which is to say one of America’s greatest composers. Art isn’t about skin color. It’s not about the artists being keenly aware of subjugation and exploitation of minority groups. Do cranks like Marshall think Duke Ellington and Thelonious were making art about the subjugation and exploitation of minority groups.

    The guy exploiting minority groups is Basquiat. While great African-American had to struggle to make the greatest music the 20th century ever heard. Basquiat sits on his laurels ripping it all off by scribbling Charley Parker and Miles Davis’ name on his canvases. One could hardly think of a greater insult to those two geniuses of labor and industry. Sweat and discipline.

    And if we want to look at great African American visual achievement, why aren’t we looking at retrospectives of this great genius at the Whitney, instead of the mediocre at best Basquiat.

    Why not celebrate the works of greats like Bob Thompson or Romare Bearden. :

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Picasso was 87 years old when he did the 347 series of etchings with the help of the Crommelynks. A large group of them are a series of variations on Raphael and La Fornarina that are masterfully inventive… all done one after the other. Here are some of the large group.


  5. Stephen Torton says:

    I worked for Jean Michel Basquiat for almost a year and though everyone is entitled to their opinion , liking disliking Jean’s work is really a personal thing and I have no problem with it not touching either of you guys. But I am quite sure that Jean Michel Basquiat’s sincerity , hand work,intuition, and talent was real. He was extremely focused and did not prefer clubs to painting, and did not dabble. It is actually not my intention to convince you because that would be impossible and frankly I do not care what you think, why should I , but your misinformation is to be corrected, and I am writing a book which hopefully will establish his methodology and determination for those openminded enough to see a real modern genius at work.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    Steve, thanks for writing in. My mind isn’t the least bit closed. Obviously yours is as you write that “frankly” you do not care what I think. So perhaps we can at least agree on whose mind is closed and whose isn’t.

    As a matter of fact, I’d suggest you consider that anyone considering Basquiat to be a painter of any consequence at all has to have their mind entirely closed to who painters of consequence really are. The term “a real modern genius” means absolutely nothing. Genius is genius. A painting genius has to be viewed in reference to other painting geniuses of the past.

    All you’re saying is Basquiat is a genius compared to a Keith Haring, Warhol, Schnabel, Rothenberg, and so on. None of these people can draw. None of them can paint worth a damn. None of them have more than modest talent. They’re all fine as run-of-the-mill illustrators. They’re far below the level of a brilliant illustrator like Saul Steinberg and many, many others. Because Wall Street has created and promoted these geniuses and lavished money over everything does not make them geniuses. Just the opposite. It doesn’t even make them good painters

    All we have now is standards for art that are so totally eroded that there are no values whatsoever for judging what is or what isn’t great. Jasper Johns can’t draw or paint worth a damn. Neither could Rauschenberg. Rosenquist and Wesselman are commercial billboard painters, and hardly standouts at that as they have no imagination whatsoever if what they’ve produced is any indication of what’s inside their heads.

    All we get are pompous claims by people like yourself. You’re going to write about Basquiat’s “methodology”? Give me a break.. Oil paint sticks and paint on canvas or board is a “methodology”. You’re talking pompous and empty artspeak.

    One could talk about the methodology of Rubens. But talking about Basquiat’s methodology is purest nonsense. Is it true, as I read in Hoban’s book that Basquiat’s entire first show at Bischofsberger was done by Bruno preparing all the canvases and Basquiat scribbling over the lot of them just prior to the show? That’s a methodology? That’s the methodology of a 6th grader.

    Get real, man. Why don’t some of you guys get real? Read something. Learn something. Look at something. Outside of the bloody hype machine of Con Art, where a bunch of flim flam artists exclaim in wonder in unison over whatever looks like it’s a big middle class crowd pleaser. And let’s face the obvious. These “high art” collectors have totally banal and middle class tastes. Guys like Casino Steve Wynn and Media Moguls and Oil Barons are hardly the stuff of fine art connoisseurship with deeply discriminating taste.

    Here’s a question you might start with by starting to make comparisons…. Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Susan Rothenberg, Kenneth Noland, Jasper Johns, Basquiat….

    Are they all the same level of genius?.. Everything they paint is a work of genius?.. Some paintings are not so good while others are work of genius?

    How about a simple question: Is Basquiat a better painter than Susan Rothenberg? Robert Hughes, the overinflated gasbag himself, has written that Basquiat is junk and Rothenberg is a great “modern genius.” I’d suggest if you’re going to call somebody a great artist, you might at least have some notion of what kind of standards you expect a work of art to possess, other than how large the price tag for it is.

    I think Basquiat far better than Rothenberg. At least his work is direct and honest even if he doesn’t have the drawing or painting skills to go anywhere with it. I find Rothenberg to be just like Hughes, an overinflated gasbag. Completely pompous work saying nothing whatsoever, just throwing paint around without even bothering to commit to any kind of visual statement whatsoever. I call it art for art’s sake. And I call art for art’s sake rubbish. Basquiat wasn’t that bad at least. I actually don’t mind his work at all as a kind of jazzed up kid’s work.

    He just ain’t a “modern genius”. That’s bullshit hype and if you don’t know it then you’re the one who’s “misinformed”, not me.

    The “Modern Genius” art world is a totally phony hustle. The big lie. The only people who believe in it as “brilliant” are the delusional people inside it and the credulous low level public who love Andy because they love Hollywood celebrities and a tinseltown reality. As I continue to say. I like comic books and nice illustration as much as the next guy. And these so-called geniuses don’t even make it, as far as my taste goes, to the level of really good comic book or illustrators. This is no doubt why great comic book drawing like a Crumb or a Chris Ware are now being hustled into the fine art world as great fine artists. It just has nothing to do with fine art.

    None of this is the same as what Van Gogh or Cezanne or Goya or Rembrandt did. You might at least admit that if you had any honesty.

    I’d also say that Basquiat might have had the talent to make himself into a good artist, if not a great one, if he hadn’t sold himself out for the big bucks at an early age.

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