Thanks to Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso began to see things in more than one direction. Georges Braque, Picasso’s cohort in Cubism, could draw in pencil a picture as devoid of representation as any contemporary artist, and did so in 1911. Juan Gris took Picasso and Braques’ ideas and turned them inside out.
“Picasso and Paris,” the primary exhibit of the “Pursuing Picasso” trilogy at the Arkansas Arts Center, serves these sips of art history and more with art from the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries by the Spanish genius and his contemporaries. These paintings, sketches, etchings, linocuts and more by some of the biggest names in Western art — the aforementioned as well as Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Andre Derain, Kees van Dongen, Paul Klee, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Fernand Leger, Edouard Vuillard — illustrate the rise of color and line at the beginning of modern art.
The star of the show is a 1963 Picasso owned by Harriet and Warren Stephens, “The Artist and his Model,” a large Cubist oil (51 1/8 by 76 3/4 inches) dominated by a brilliant green background against black lines. Picasso portrays the model by not painting her — the canvas is left white — but he lays it on thick, with bold primary colors and heavy outlines, to create the artist. The artist’s face is captivating, in profile and straight on at the same time. A skinny black hat balances on his head and a long, pointed-nose dog rests at his feet.
But the story of Picasso and his move to Paris (he was 23 at the time) kicks off with an 1897 painting by Cezanne, “Sous-Bois,” in which Cezanne uses his characteristic slanted brush strokes to suggest dimension and movement in flat space. From this and other inspirations, Picasso and Braque got the notion to depict objects from all sides at once and took the Cubist in a number of directions. As early as 1911, representation had flown the salon coop, as Braque’s 1911 etching “Composition — Still Life with Glasses,” which is really no more than marks on paper, shows.
On another planet, apparently Vuillard spent part of 1911 painting “Le partie de bridge” (1911), included in the show as an example of neo-impressionism. It is startlingly beautiful; the scene is a busily decorated room whose details are wrought with paint thick and thin in crimson and blues. A dab of pale yellow brings the focus to a woman reading a newspaper in the foreground, the bridge party, ostensibly the subject, is in the background.
A piece from the Arts Center’s collection, Gris’ “Personnage Assis” (1920) is an angular pencil on paper that combines sharp line with sinous, thin line with fat to create a stick of a figure, shaped by its exterior as well as body. Gris’ lines are clean and his images evocative.
Curiously, there are few Picassos from the early 20th century in the show, and those that are include a neo-classical pencil drawing, “La Sieste (Les Moissonneurs),” of voluptuous sleeping field workers, and another grim drawing of an extenuated couple, “Le Repas Frugal.” Much of the work is from the 1950s and 1960s, paintings and deft linoleum cuts. Another contribution by the Stephenses, “Taureau” (1955), derives its charm from its modern flatness, quick red pencil lines that describe the bull, penciled references to Cubist space and its solid black background.
The triology also includes works from the Bernie Bercuson collection of collaborative ceramic pieces that Picasso made at the Madoura factory in southern France and lithographs of work the artist did on cardboard. The ceramics — some of which are still being reproduced and may be purchased — are shaped and decorated by the artist, often with soft brushstrokes. The subjects are, for the most part, sunny — pitchers painted as owls, plates in familiar bull and toreador themes, abstract forms in primary colors. They are joyous, as are the lithographs of Picasso’s Cubist portraits made on cardboard. If you think your child could do one, set him loose with some paint. Underlying the childlike strokes is a hand that knows what it’s doing.
The show is free to members, $16 to non-members. The Arts Center hopes it can sell more memberships, banking on the idea that the Picasso show will prove a must-see event that shows non-members will see the error of their ways.
I hope they’re right — but I’ve got to say I would have balked at the price if I had not been a member. The ceramics were shown last year in Fayetteville and Memphis and the “Picasso and Paris” exhibit includes many pieces from the permanent collection that have had many trips to the wall. Still, they are some of the collection’s best.
The show runs through Sept. 3.
New gallery in North Little Rock: The Baker House, a bed and breakfast housed in a Victorian mansion in Argenta, has opened a gallery space. Currently, works by Sherrie Shepherd, Doug Gorrell and Carey Roberson. The address is 109 W. Fifth St.
Across the street, artist V.L. Cox has opened a studio inside the Arkansas Art Gallery, at Fifth and Main. Visitors can watch Cox paint and see examples of her work, as well as art by area artists Melverue Abraham, Patrick Cunningham and others. The gallery has new hours: Noon-8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Call 687-5959 or 786-1636 for more information.
The newest addition to River Market Artspace, a gallery that features a number of Arkansas artists working in all media, is Birch Tree Communities’s group of artists.
Birch Tree clients suffer from serious mental illness; for the past several years the non-profit has held classes that allow their clients to find expression through art.
Paintings on paper and photographs — all priced at $200 — are available through Artspace, 301 President Clinton Blvd.