As the Picasso Cohort of UX Academy get started this month, we thought we’d take a closer look at the story of Pablo Picasso’s life and work, and pay tribute to his extraordinary range of talents.
Primarily famous as a painter and sculptor, he also left a lesser-known body of work as an illustrator, graphic designer, and political activist. In this piece, we briefly tell the story of Picasso’s career, present a showcase of some of his book illustrations and poster designs, and provide a heap of links to more of this great artist’s prolific output.
The story of Pablo Picasso
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on 25 October 1881 in Málaga, southern Spain. Even as an infant, his artistic flair was clear: in their book Picasso: Master of the New, Marie-Laure Bernadac and Paule du Bouchet report that Pablo’s first syllable was “Piz!”, as in “Lapiz!”, or “Pencil!”
His father, Don José Ruiz Blasco, was a professional artist. He would let the young Pablo help with his work, initially by getting him to finish the feet on his paintings of birds. Bernadac & Bouchet also recount the apocryphal tale of how Don José vowed to give up his day job once he had recognised the extent of his son’s talents:
One evening Don José left his son a huge still life to complete. Upon his return, he found the pigeons perfectly finished, their legs so lifelike that Don José, deeply moved, brusquely handed Pablo his brushes, palette and paints, telling himself that the talent of his son was greater than his own, and that from that point on he would no longer make art. (Picasso: Master of the New, p. 19)
In fact, his father continued painting, but we can readily imagine the pride and joy that Pablo’s family must have experienced as they and others began to recognize his prodigious talent.
As a teenager, Picasso sailed through every formal test of artistic ability. At the age of 14, he took the entrance exam to Barcelona’s Academy of Fine Arts, known as La Lonja—whereupon he completed a month’s work in a day. Within a couple of years, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, amid similar industry and acclaim. The Academy’s formal educational structure, however, did not suit Picasso’s restless nature, and he soon stopped attending classes.
As a young adult, Picasso flitted between Paris and Barcelona, moving between the two great cities no fewer than eight times between 1900 and 1904. He also endured significant poverty during his early years in France, perhaps the most extreme period of which came in 1902-3, when he shared a single room with his friend Max Jacob. The pair worked different hours, and slept in in shifts; they even shared a top hat.
Initially uncomfortable with selling his own work, by 1909 Picasso had struck up a professional relationship with the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Picasso was now selling quite a lot of canvases, and hardship was becoming an increasingly faint memory.
Artistically, he had by this point moved through a number of personal stages, including his famous “Blue” and “Rose” periods, which are distinguished by their very restricted color palettes. As the result of a period of interest in the angular abstractions of African art, Picasso also effectively inaugurated the Cubist movement with his controversial 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
In the decades that followed, Picasso moved through a number of Cubist styles, before returning to work that was more realist and, later, to some extent becoming a peripheral figure in the Surrealist movement. He also became a prolific sculptor, creating an estimated 4,000 sculptures and ceramics during his career.