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Thursday, July 11, 2019, 11:05
Picasso, painter and poet
By Cheng Yuezhu
Thursday, July 11, 2019, 11:05 By Cheng Yuezhu

A new exhibition in Beijing is shedding light on how the darling of the 20th-century art world was also an accomplished wordsmith in his own right, demonstrating his endless appetite for creativity in later life, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

The Cervantes Institute in Beijing and the Picasso Museum Malaga co-host the Picasso, Writer exhibition that runs until early September. (CHENG YUEZHU / CHINA DAILY)

A slightly surprising fact about Pablo Picasso, one of the world's most renowned artists, is that painting was not the only thing he liked to dabble with. There were also poetry and plays.

The recently opened exhibition Picasso, Writer taking place at the Cervantes Institute in Beijing is now presenting this unpublicized side of the Spanish artist.

Hosted in conjunction with the Picasso Museum Malaga, the exhibition includes facsimiles of Picasso's manuscripts, photos and publications, as well as four original engravings by the master. An accompanying documentary filmed especially for the exhibition offers an in-depth insight into Picasso's writing, painting and personal life.

In Picasso’s poetry, you sense a kind of nascent presence, like something that has just been born and is continuing to grow

Xi Chuan, Chinese poet and literary critic

Born in Malaga, Spain, in 1881, the artist was considered a prodigy early on in his life, but it wasn't until 1935, at the age of 54, that he began to write poetry.

According to Jose Lebrero Stals, artistic director of the Picasso Museum Malaga and curator of the current exhibition, Picasso continued to write, mainly in French or Spanish, until 1959. He left behind more than 350 poems, as well as three other literary works, including two plays.

As for the motivation behind Picasso's literary creations, Lebrero Stals says that writing may have offered him an alternative means of escape and self-expression other than just painting during the tumultuous times in 1930s Paris, the city Picasso had lived in since 1904.

Four original engravings by the master are also on display. (CHENG YUEZHU / CHINA DAILY)

In his poems, he often talks of his childhood, his family and his hometown, and Lebrero Stals believes these documents provide useful insight into both his personality and his Spanish cultural origins.

During a panel discussion ahead of the exhibition's launch, experts pointed out that, just as with his paintings, Picasso's poetry was not confined to any specific form: his scribbled handwriting usually lacked punctuation and was often heavily amended.

Picasso had a childlike heart and wanted to try his hand at everything, and he liked to experiment with different subjects and forms of poetry, says Yu Zhongxian, a writer who translated Picasso's poems from French into Chinese.

"For example, he likes to pile on the imagery in his poems and use certain recurring words, which to me resemble the color palettes of his paintings," Yu says.

He also says that just as Picasso's paintings often appeared as variations on a similar theme, his poems often centered around a single subject seen from a different perspective, or language.

Eugenio Carmona, a professor of art history at the University of Malaga, compares Picasso's poetry to a running river, in which his memories flow.

Picasso wrote down what came into his mind, recording his childhood memories and exploring his own origins, and the unstable, chaotic and ever-flowing nature of memories shaped the style of his poetry, Carmona says.

The original draft of a telegram, written by Chinese author and historian Guo Moruo, to congratulate Picasso on his 80th birthday. (CHENG YUEZHU / CHINA DAILY)

Chinese poet and literary critic Xi Chuan applauds Picasso's unceasing appetite for creativity: "Usually artists at the age of 54 can fall into a state of boredom, but Picasso retained his passion for art and an inexhaustible strength for creation ... In Picasso's poetry, you sense a kind of nascent presence, like something that has just been born and is continuing to grow."

Many of his poems were penned using Chinese ink brushes, as is shown by photos at the exhibition, which, according to Lebrero Stals, is a result of Picasso's love for Chinese calligraphy.

The exhibition also recounts the deep-rooted mutual affection between Picasso and China, exemplified by a previously unpublished document.

It is the original draft of a telegram, handwritten by Chinese author and historian Guo Moruo, which was sent to Picasso in 1961 on behalf of the Chinese government to mark his 80th birthday.

A previous set of drafts marked up with amendments by various Chinese art editors also illustrate the respect and recognition the artist commanded in China.

The final telegram congratulates Picasso on his birthday and applauds his efforts in fighting for peace and his contributions to the art world.

Picasso also had connections with Chinese artists, such as Zhang Ding and Zhang Daqian, who visited him respectively in 1956.

The exhibition will continue until early September before moving to Shanghai. The same panel of experts also spoke at a seminar for the Picasso - Birth of a Genius exhibition, which is currently running at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

Contact the writer at chengyuezhu@chinadaily.com.cn


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