Thursday, October 26, 2023

In the Labyrinth: Picasso’s Graphic Work

Lucien Clergue, Portrait (1956).

“Mystery is the essential ingredient of every work of art.” – Luis Buñuel

Who and what do we see when we study the splendid photographic portrait of Pablo Ruiz Picasso captured by the esteemed Lucien Clergue in1956, when the Spanish artist was at the height of his powers? Having been adopted as a global cultural citizen beyond all mere geographical borders, the words who and what are both applicable in his unique case, as someone who was as vital and revolutionary in painting as his countryman Cervantes was in literature three hundred years earlier. So when Clergue memorialized that dramatic face, some four decades after the artist first reinvented the history of art at the turn of the last century, recasting it in his own image by collaborating with Georges Braque in the revelation of Cubism, and with roughly another two tumultuous decades still remaining in his titanic aesthetic mission, what sort of portrait telegram did the photographer manage to send us all in the future, and yet further into the future of the future? His portrait seems to whisper: behold, a living archetype.

Picasso’s elusive and mercurial character, a persona he appeared to perform as if he lived on a stage, still has the capacity to allure and amaze us. With good reason, and these powerful works on paper assembled here are an accurate indication of exactly why. He was a towering figure who looms large in both the art world and the world of popular culture, a gargantuan artist beyond most limits and even any definitions. Gazing at the overwhelming confidence in the awesome face of the man behind these prints, I am often reminded of the words of a favourite Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector: “He had the elongated skull of a born rebel.” I do hope so, Clarice, but all the landforms of his skull grew inward, like stalagmites, rather than upward and out. His Guernica painting from 1937 was one such interior landform, but then, so are his many masterful prints: each one is a mountain peak in reverse on paper, a spritely graphic Everest.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Child Is Father to the Man: Nowhere Special

Daniel Lamont and James Norton in Nowhere Special.

The Irish movie Nowhere Special came out in 2020 but never made it to these shores. A friend put me on to it, and I saw it in the only form currently available to North Americans – on an imported disc that you can only access if you have an all-regions DVD player. It’s a small, intimate picture about a working-class man named John (played by James Norton) who has been raising his three-year-old, Michael (Daniel Lamont), by himself since his partner abandoned them and moved back to her native Russia. Now John is dying of cancer. The film is about his struggle, through the services of an adoption agency, to find foster parents for Michael while he tries to figure out a way to prepare the boy for his departure. In some ways Nowhere Special reminded me of another recent small-scale Irish film I liked, The Quiet Girl, about a shy little girl whose parents send her to live for a few months with her aunt and uncle in the country before the birth of their fourth child, and who finds more love there than she’s ever been shown by her immediate family. The director of The Quiet Girl, Colm Bairad, has a more sophisticated technique than Pasolini, and the movie counts visual splendor among its virtues. Nowhere Special is closer to many TV movies that used to pop up in the seventies and eighties, but the writer-director, Uberto Pasolini, who based his script on a true story, barely takes a false step. His understatement suggests to me a kind of honor – a refusal to sentimentalize or otherwise falsify the difficult subject matter.