Picasso's Guernica Beyond Politics - Hatto Fischer 2006
by Hatto Fischer
at Kids' Guernica Exhibition in Kastelli, Crete 2006, April 21
Picasso @ Lucien Clergue
Source: Guernica, la tapisserie au Grenier des Grands-Augustins, p. 6
What does the painting depict?
- The painting depicts people, animals, and objects in a space wrenched by violence, human despair and anguish. In search of light or answers it reflects the chaos after a bombing attack has occurred. Besides the killed warrior with broken sword there are various heads grouped to the left and to the right of the painting. They form respective triangles with most of them looking up in despair, revealed by their mouths wide open as if they cannot grasp what is happening or else in wishing to say something they realize at the same time that this is in vain. Clearly the light source does not flood over the entire painting but is again depicted as a light triangle to underline this search for peace nowhere to be found in the painting. Even the dead and fragmented bodies find no place to rest. It is heavy going, in vain, impossible, leaving the one figure on the right the arms stretched out in an upward direction. Alone the dialogue between the horse with turned head and the bull shows at that level a sort of recollection when fights had still another connotation or when horse and bull in the arena took on another symbolic meaning.
- There is human despair in this search for human proportions nearly lost after the bombing dismembered and ripped apart everyone to leave humanity disjointed.
- This large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war, and the cruelty of bombing civilians.
- By painting everything without color but only in black and white Picasso lets forms and contents create a sharp contrast to the screaming intensity of the scene depicted.
Language used in the painting of Guernica
The whole is expressed through its parts, in memory of Adorno's saying 'the whole is not the truth'
The art of Cubism tries to make air become visible: a kind of materialization of the ‘invisible’.
- Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), a style of painting he developed along with Braque using monochrome brownish colors, where they took apart objects and "analyzed" them in terms of their shapes. Picasso and Braque's paintings at this time are very similar to each other.
- Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), involving the use of collage and cut paper, the first time collage had been used in fine art.
The Guernica painting attempts to make ‘visible’ human pain often not seen. In so doing, Picasso depicts entanglement but also in reflection of Ancient Greece with its centaurs as half men, half horses something about life having become a half truth. Things, animals and people, once no longer let to live, are cut off from the rest of life. Hence everything appears more disjointed and dislocated than merely juxtaposed (the language of the Surrealists).
L'Accordéoniste, a 1911 cubist painting by Picasso.
A naked light bulb
This then requires that we all start from the beginning to interpret the painting while letting our imagination do the talking or rather we can enter the painting by creating an imaginary dialogue so that our eyes can follow what we see and express in order to discover more. So what about the central piece of that famous painting:
In the middle of the painting everything merges to disappear underneath a naked light bulb while the head of the horse turns around so as to let our eyes notice the one disjointed arm lying down below.
- Picasso expressed something beyond the imagination in anticipation of things to come.
- In particular the light bulb at the top centre can be viewed as something simple but frightening: a prisoner being kept awake all night long by a naked light bulb.
- Indeed it can be interpreted as the first sign of torture and violation of human rights in the modern age.
Very interesting is therefore the replica of the light bulb in the children’s painting.
Guernica mural shown in Bali August 2005
Style of painting
As to the style Picasso used, that can be best reflected on hand of a poem since that describes the twists and turns, the wondering what mankind is doing with water speaking out loud in the end when all the biting ends.
Poem by Picasso
Give tear out twist and kill I cross light and
Burn caress and lick embrace and look I ring
Full peals from the bells until they bleed
Frighten the pigeons and make them fly all
Around the dovecot until they fall to the
Ground already exhausted I will stop up all
The windows and the doors with earth and
With your hair I will hang all the birds that
Sing and cut all the flowers I will cradle the
Lamb in my arms and give it my breast to
Be devoured I will wash it with my tears of
Pleasure and of pain and send it to sleep
With the song of my loneliness by Soleares
And engrave with acid the fields of wheat
And oats and watch them die lying face up
In the sun I will wrap the flowers in news-
Paper and I will throw them through the
Window into the stream which repents with
All its sins on its back go away content
And laughing in spite of all to make its nest
In the cesspool I will break the music of
Wood against the rocks of the waves of the
Sea I will bite the lion’s cheek will make the
Wolf weeps with tenderness before a portrait of
Water that lets its arm drop into the bath tub.
The art of making out of objects art works
When Picasso had died, Andre Malraux went with Jacqueline to the house where Picasso had last lived. Upon opening the door, he saw many objects lying in the corridor. Andre Malraux looked down upon them and said: ‘Poor you, now you will never become art works”. Picasso had the genius to take a handle bar of a bicycle and transform it into the horns of a bull.
In view of the Cretan tradition of jumping over the bull and with the mythology of Minotaurus, it is hoped that we with the children manage to grip the horns of war and jump over it to land peacefully on the other side.
The flowing Imagination
“Picasso proceeds like a computer. He touches filled with excitement all possible solutions, which seem conceivable within an imagined form. He draws one line and foresees already others. Going from the tangible objects to the conceptual level and vice versa, he discovers within this richness of variation graphical techniques and structures within the drawings. The ‘completion’ of the form stands in the middle of his work. When repeating this, a new solution to the form is brought about. It all adds up to a cinema like graphic representation of the flow of the imagination.”
Werner Spiess, Picasso, 1986, p. 47
Picasso about children and his early art works
While remembering a child can say more than a genius if given pencil and paper, colors and the freedom of expression since it is exciting to see this continuity of creativity reflected in art, Picasso had here quite a different opinion.
“By contrast with music there do not exist in painting any ‘Wunderkinder’. What one takes to be an early maturation sign of genies is in reality the ingenuity of childhood. It disappears at a certain age, without leaving any traces. It is possible that this child shall become one day a painter, even a great painter, but then this child will have to start all over again at the very beginning. I for example never had this genius in me. My first drawings could have never been exhibited in an exhibition of children drawings. Almost all of them were missing this childish-leftist, naïve form of expression…I put very quickly behind me those studies of wonderful visions. In that age of a young boy I drew in a complete academic way, so much concentrated on details and exact, that I am today ashamed about them…”
Picasso’s early drawings
Already as a child he intimated his father who stopped drawing after seeing what his son can do. However, Picasso said about himself that he was never made any child drawings when still a child, for he drew what he saw: the real thing! The first painting at the age of 8 was Picador:
Against war and torture
What is the message of Picasso’s Guernica?
- With the arts resist any war since all of them end up killing innocent civilians with its perpetrators resorting to torture in a vain attempt to find evidence that their lies are really truths.
- The failure to uphold human rights during war and anti-democratic movements is the dehumanization effect that sets in once those seeking more power violate democratic ways based on respecting the freedom of others.
Aesthetics of Resistance
- More than anything Picasso’s painting was at that time neither accepted by the Fascists and the Extreme Right, in particular Franco who had become the dictator in Spain, nor by the Communists and Orthodox Left.
- Aesthetical criteria do play a role in the judgment of a painting this size and what message about human pain is deemed acceptable to society.
- Picasso did not fit into the usual categories of the arts: he failed to glorify war and its heroes nor did he depict workers struggling against Fascist and Capitalist power as wanted by those of the Communist Party and the extreme Left.
- “Aesthetics of Resistance” recalls the book by Peter Weiss in which he shows what happens when deadly silence reigns due to a reign of terror and command language silencing people and depriving them of their own human self consciousness.
Atelier of Picasso in Paris
(1936 – 1955)