Words by Carol Emmas
Picasso may not have been large in stature but he certainly reached heady and prolific heights when it came to creating art. The linocuts currently showing at the Lady Lever Art Gallery are a testament not only to his never-ending talent but also to the fact he was firing work out well into his 80s and beyond.
While the Lady Lever Art Gallery already houses one of the UK’s finest collections, it’s a good coup to have one of the top 20th-century European modern masters grace its walls with 17 prints, including the three finished works.
What the exhibition does show, through the fitting curation by Xanthe Brooke (curator of continental European art, NML) and Lucy Johnson (senior exhibition officer, NML), is the larger body of work accumulated throughout the stage-by-stage process and how Picasso, alongside his printer Hidalgo Arnéra, took the prints through to their finished pieces – and what a precarious process it was.
The usual method for a linocut is to use several separate blocks of lino to build up the image and colour gradually and carefully by carving and gouging each block individually and overlaying the different colours. Picasso, with a mixture of impatience, lust for a challenge and a large dose of artistic confidence, preferred the risky reductive method of using a single sheet of lino, which left no room for error.
The exhibition prints are; Jacqueline Reads (1962), Still Life Under the Lamp (1962) and Nude Woman at the Spring (1962). In addition, there is a short film showing how Picasso perfected this technique and there will also be an interactive programme of talks and workshops over the following few months.
It’s great to know these images have travelled from Vallauris – a small village on a hill above Cannes, where Picasso and his wife Jacqueline Roque were living at the time – to the British Museum Collection (having been acquired with support from the Art Fund at a significantly hefty price tag), and on to the gallery walls at Port Sunlight, even if it is only for a short while.
The works are larger than I imagined and are delightful, definitive pieces that portray the confident, playful and effortless cubist style that Picasso was so spectacularly and singularly brilliant at.