‘He was an anarchist at heart’: Pablo Picasso’s grandson on the artist’s work, legacy and relevance

The name of Pablo Picasso has become synonymous with the very idea of art. Picasso, working from the early years of the 20th century and alongside such contemporaries like Albert Einstein and James Joyce, was responsible for ushering in the modernist movement in European art. On the 25th anniversary of Delhi Art Gallery, one of the largest private repositories of modern Indian art, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, grandson of Pablo Picasso, was in India. As the co-founder of Museo Picasso in Málaga, Picasso’s birthplace, Bernard Ruiz owns the largest collection of his grandfather’s paintings. His organisation Fundacion Almine Y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Para El Arte (FABA), known for supporting research and curation of Picasso’s art works, had released hundreds of never-seen photographs of the artist in 2014, allowing Picasso and his complicated life to be better understood historically.

We met him for coffee at Delhi’s Leela Palace. Soft-spoken and contemplative, he weighed each question carefully as he ruminated on the 20th century artist’s life, legacy and relevance today.

How would you assess Picasso’s relevance in the contemporary world? Is he only to be seen as a ‘historical artefact,’ or is there more to him in the 21st century?
I want to see Picasso as far more present, as far more living than just merely a ‘historical artefact.’ He is becoming a very important person for contemporary artists, and you should know that he was not at all accepted during the latter part of his life. Critics were opposed to the freewheeling lifestyle that he espoused.
But then late 20th century onwards, his star started to rise. Artists began to see his importance. Also, he was the first popular artist who went beyond just the confines of art and appealed to the masses. This is very crucial for younger artists who now look at Picasso and find sometimes an element which appeals uniquely to their own artistic sensibilities. You see, that was the genius of Picasso, in whose art everybody was able to find something which appealed to them, according to their own emotional needs. And that’s why artists today look at him and glean something all the time.

Picasso worked alongside such giants of the 20th century like Einstein and James Joyce, who in their own ways, tried to bring in alternate modes of looking and responding to art. How important is this need for alternative perspectives today?
Please remember that in today’s times, there is a huge backlash against what is considered ‘alternate.’ And it is truly the legacy of the 20th century which has been carried forward into the 21st, where the very idea of difference and alternative perspectives is sought to be demolished and replaced by what is uniform.
Picasso rebelled against this all throughout his life. Which is why we are now are sitting down and discussing his works and his life, almost a hundred years since he was born!
There is no one way you can approach Picasso or his art. He lends himself to different interpretations. Some come back shocked looking at the mechanised violence of Guernica even now. And yet that work is perhaps the greatest anti-war painting ever.
Others, however, look at the way that painting captures movement – of people, of violence, of lives both animal and human, as if what you’re looking at is not a painting but a documentary film.

What would you say should the role of the artist be in the 21st century, and how different is it from the role Picasso espoused?
Well, Picasso’s legacy has also been in redefining what art is. Earlier, before the Modernists and the Cubists, art had a particular definition, beauty had a particular definition. But Picasso – and also other artists like Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali – changed it. His paintings had African masks, disjointed figures, he eschewed any sense of unity, there were no beautiful swaying trees or nude subjects with graceful bodies like you found in the Renaissance paintings of say Titian.
And yet, when you look at Picasso, the beauty strikes you. Now, due to that legacy, today an artist is bold enough to not paint at all, or to not touch a canvas or clay. You can create art on your computer, an artist can do anything. And that was Picasso’s idea of art. That art can be anything. There ought to be no boundaries, no definitions of this is what art is or that is what art is. The range and possibility of artists and art now is so vast that if you paint a mural on a wall, that is beautiful art! This permanent interaction of the viewer with art and technology is redefining art. So although artists like Henri Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne all belong to the past, yet their identity remains very contemporary just because of the idea of art each embraced and how that idea was all encompassing.
Also, if I may briefly add, art as being an elite activity has disappeared. It has become more democratic. And Picasso had a role to play in this, in making art appeal to everyone.

What about the role of the artist as a political subject? I ask this because Picasso was also a fierce political animal. His embrace of Communism and his strong opposition to General Franco is well known. In today’s times, when fascism is an actual rather than perceived threat, what kind of role should an artist embrace?
History has shown that it is always the artist who has shown the way. Look at certain countries which are not totally democratic, in those countries it is the artist who has struggled against censorship, against repression, and produced great works of art. And Picasso espoused that role.
Politics and art now is very common. But you should remember, in the 20th century it wasn’t so. But Picasso responded to his times, the turbulent times, through his art. If you notice closely, there is a certain tension in his works. Take Guernica again, as it is his most famous work. Yes, it is violent, and yes, it depicts the bombing of the city of Guernica. But it is done so beautifully. It’s like there is an interplay between life and death, between war and peace, between the sublime and the ugly. This paradox influenced his life too, as it did his art. His politics stemmed from a recognition of this paradox.

We have spoken about Picasso the artist, what about Picasso the man?
Well, see, Picasso was an anarchist at heart. And while being a great artist, a great genius, he was also a human being, with the faults of a human being, and a very complicated human being at that. Besides, Picasso loved women, and women loved him back. But despite that fact, it also meant that he continually made matters in his household troublesome.
Like I said, Picasso resisted definitions, and sometimes this translated into his family life too, where he refused to be tied down, to be owned by a particular set of definitions. So he resisted. But at the same time, there were moments, and prolonged moments at that, when he was devoted to his wife, whoever he was married to at that time, he was a loving father, a doting grandfather. So yes, his entire life, as his art, was a paradox. A total paradox.

Now that you’re in India, I cannot leave without asking about the influence that Picasso has had on Indian art.
Well, see, Picasso lived and worked in Paris, as Paris was the cultural centre of the world at that time. And that meant many Indian artists too went and worked in Paris. Like all other artists, India was never away, and was quite plugged in the art scene.
So the influence and legacy is palpable here. I can see many contemporary Indian artists responding to and incorporating ideas from Picasso and transforming them into spectacular works of art, which speak both to the world, and to their own country. And that was Picasso’s legacy again – that although born in Spain, he was of the world, he embraced a global identity and refused to be tied down to labels of country, of nationality, of region and so on and so forth.

WHAT: Exhibition titled ‘India’s French Connection: Indian Artists in France’ to celebrate the Delhi Art Gallery’s 25th Anniversary.

WHEN: Between10:30 am- 7:30 pm, till 11 February, 2018

WHERE: Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road.

NEAREST METRO STATION: Jorbagh.

CALL: 011- 2468 2002.

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