"Why was Picasso so sloppy with that edge?" I found myself asking. "He could have tried a bit harder."
Then I heard my brain telling me: "Wait, from a distance, it's brilliant!"
Having the opposite problem of most modern art, these paintings showing at the Musée Picasso in Paris tend to photograph quite well - yet when seen in person up close, the paintings contain flaws that alternately drum up judgement and seek forgiveness.
This is how Picasso challenges us and delights us. His paintings construct a maze of obstacles: for us to fail against or race through:
1. Colors do not match reality (Faces are green, purple, yellow)
2. Forms do not match reality, (Hands have six fingers, faces have two noses)
3. Ragged execution. (Lines are not solidly drawn, areas appear scribbled)
How much can we accept? The point of oil painting is to be smooth and convincing, and Picasso's paintings complicate even this basic quality. Picasso shows us the failure and rawness of oil paint through both abundance and scarcity - at times, the paint appears utterly scraped, on the canvas. In other quadrants of the same scraped-up painting, Picasso dispensed with entire gobs of paint from the tube itself.
Picasso was such a flawed person that can be hard to look at his paintings once we remember that he didn't agree to a divorce with his wife, so he stayed married on paper yet estranged. His wife, denied the divorce and freedom that she wanted so badly, had to scrape by for decades without support until she died of cancer. Meanwhile Picasso, still married on a technicality, still possessing all of his property and fame, enjoyed a sequence of affairs with ever-younger ladies. He doesn't inhabit the same moral abyss as Paul Gauguin or Caravaggio, but he was still pretty bad. Picasso's interpersonal life would never go so freely unchecked in our time, given modern justice systems and the court of the internet. Yet, one feels that even in his own time, in other places on Earth, he may have been chased out of town with pitchforks.
Picasso tended to cover his canvases with bright colorful underpaintings, then slather white all over it. Next, he would scrape away the white overcoat paint to reveal the colorful underpainting. You can see this technique at work in the painting above - it is much like Magic Scratch Art that we have today. The delicacy of the lines reveal a vibrant, thriving underlayer of confidence - the painting looks thrown together until we realize that Picasso planned this underlayer all along.
It's moments like this where The Forgiveness sets in, and the part of us that huffs "I could make a better painting!" suddenly retracts and realizes: "Wait a moment, a lot of these paintings look rough, but it turns out they were delicately planned."
Sometimes I ask myself, an endless romantic:
Given what a scamp Picasso was, did he truly love women after all? Does any semblance of deep love show in his paintings? The frantic drive to capture a face and the application of both gobs and scrapes feels like total desperation until suddenly, Picasso reins it all in with tidy, studied composition. He doesn't love his subjects eternally, but he loves their moments.