One of the pleasures of living near Edinburgh is being able to see the major Festival-time exhibitions once the biggest crowds have gone. Although family circumstances are not the most conducive, I had the opportunity yesterday to see "Picasso on Paper" at the Dean Gallery. And I'm extremely glad I went.
As the title implies, the exhbition consists of works on paper: drawings, etchings, lithographs and linocuts from throughout Picasso's career*. It is simply stunning. I knew that Picasso changed style and approach with similar alacrity and innovation to Miles Davis in jazz, but to be presented with the development so clearly and richly was a revelation.
Some people think Picasso overrated. Personally, I found the work by turns beautiful, intriguing, vulgar, moving, funny, tender, disturbing and exciting. One can dislike the style and even the content, but there is no question about the man's astonishing creative imagination and technical ability--he was almost constantly innovating techniques, even in processes he'd only just learnt. Such emotional, stylistic and technical range is surely one of the things that makes for greatness in art.
Picasso's combination of endless reinvention and technical genius must be a challenge to any creative artist who encounters it. It could be enervating--you might think "How can I ever match that creativity in my field?"--but I came away from the show exhilarated and fired up. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that comes out in my writing. Discernable effect or no, I'm glad of the stimulus.
Incidentally, "Picasso on Paper" is apprently the first major Picasso show in Scotland. Let's have more! There is an accompanying exhibition, "Picasso: Fired with Passion", at the National Museum of Scotland. I haven't yet seen it, but it's on a bit longer. I hear it consists mainly of ceramics, as the title might lead you to think.
*I really mean throughout: the earliest piece was made when he was 17, the latest when he was 90.