Art Scene: Cabin Fever and Pablo Picasso

By , Columnist

February 17, 2012

PARIS.  Guillaume is back on Gitanes. Thirty a day. We’re sipping an 11am cognac in Paullie’s. It’s brilliant to find a café that still smokes. Paullie wears his smelly green cap over his eyes and plays endless Hubert Rostaing and Django tracks. That way he never reads or hears about squeaky don’t-do-this laws. 

Guillaume says St Peter never slammed the door on a guy just because he had nicotine stained fingers. So be it.  Guillame is my favourite philosopher. Paullie is his grandpère and knew Picasso and says when the midwife thought Picasso was still-born, his uncle blew cigar smoke up his nostrils.  He choked. He screamed. He became Picasso.

So we’re sitting here because I had cabin fever in my studio across La Manche.  As beautiful as it is and as a painter I should know, nearly two weeks of the snow white stuff, flat batteries, steaming soup and the Krug cellar shrinking I declared enough is enough. The lane is a mile away from the house. Nevertheless, on went the squelchy boots and I trudged. Hardly Scotty of the Antarctic, but my lone explorer thing took on I-may-be-sometime proportions. I was off to see Paullie’s late friend at Tate Britain, the Picasso and Modern British Art.

This show explores the influence Picasso had on seven major British artists: Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney.

CRI_212002.jpgPicasso, born 1881, died 1973 (not bad for a smoker says Guillaume) covers enormous historical and political diversity all expressed in the various phases and forms of his art. This is Picasso the chameleon.  See how his work fascinated and impressed then and now. For example, what Picasso achieved in the singular Nude Seated On A Rock took Henry Moore an entire room to achieve.  Hockney’s response was weak, but since then he has moved on somewhat. 

This is an exhibition of time spans.  Put yourself, say, in the year that he was born 1881: that was the year Britain, after three imperial wars, pulled her forces out of Afghanistan. Do we learn? Does art reflect life? One of the attendants says it’s like everything else: we only see what “they” let us see. She meant government. What about the government of The Tate?

For example:  JMW Turner bequeathed 300 of his masterpieces to the nation alongside 30,000 watercolours, drawings and sketches.  I wonder how he would feel knowing that most of it (like government records) is safely stored in its dark hold, seen only by the occasional scholar?  Bet that was not quite what he had in mind. Mind you, February’s for Valentines, not chestnuts.  Which is why, with one eye on my mental Eurostar timetable, I trotted off to pick up the preview bumph on next month’s Sweethearts, Artist Couples at the Pippy Houldsworth gallery in the very smart Heddon Street.

Sweethearts’ is put together by Houldsworth and Kathy Battista, director of contemporary art at the Sotheby’s institute in New York. They’re trying to explore the influence that one artist exerts upon her or his partner. Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons, Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton, and Ian Davenport and Sue Arrowsmith are among 10 couples on show. Could be really worth a visit: 21 March to 21 April.

Paullie mutters under his greasy green cap why don’t I do a double act exhibition with My Number One Fan? Gaullaume, wonder cynic from le 5e arrondissement (or at least his grubby bit) says that’s because My Number One Fan is writer. Writers aren’t artists. I wonder if that’s what Picasso told Proust and Joyce that night in 1922 when they dined just along the way at The Majestic. Paullie’s father was a waiter. Another cognac, another Gitane, another growly cough from Guillaume and we’re off on that. Who cares what time the next train leaves Gare du Nord?

ArtScene Quote of the week

It’s only the masters that matter - Pablo Picasso

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments are…

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