Mention Pablo Picasso and most people think of his Cubist paintings. However, an exhibition that opened this week at the Norton Simon Museum illustrates his efforts in another medium. “States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945-1960” shows several compositions through multiple states of design, showing how his treatment of the images evolved.
“States of Mind” features 86 prints, many presented for the first time in decades, from the Southern California museum’s considerable collection of Picasso works. The Norton Simon Museum owns more than 700 of the artist’s works, one of the largest collections anywhere, including 228 prints from the period featured.
At the end of World War II, Picasso developed a new interest in lithography. The process involves developing an image on a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate that has a smooth surface. That image is then printed onto paper. Unlike engraving and etching, lithography is a flat process. It uses the repulsion of grease and water to transfer an image from the stone or plate onto paper. In its simplest form, an artist can draw directly onto the plate with a greasy crayon or other item. This is then chemically fixed, inked and printed in a reverse image.
Picasso liked the flexibility of lithography. It offered him unlimited possibilities to shape and reshape a design. Painting by contrast rendered a more final work; developing different versions to show of the subject matter required starting over.
So, the artist headed to Mourlot Studios, a Parisian lithographic workshop, to explore a new direction using the lithographic technique to illustrate the development of a composition. Each version of the composition is called a state and, in Picasso’s case, the states are very different from one another.
The artist felt he was at “the moment… when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself.” Lithography, however, facilitates altering the stone or plate repeatedly. This allowed him to experiment with his new interest in “movement” or successive permutations of a particular composition. From November 1945 to the 1960s, he created over 400 lithographs. Many feature the same subject matter in different sequential stages or states based on his state of mind (hence the exhibition’s title.)
Picasso would develop a lithograph and print the design (state one). Then he would rework the image on the stone (sometimes subtly, sometimes considerably) and print again (state two). He would repeat the process multiple times to completely transform a composition. For example, his “The Bull” series went through 11 renditions shown in the Norton Simon exhibit. These go from a classic depiction of a bull to a line item simplistic version. (Roy Lichtenstein’s homage to Picasso’s bulls is also currently on display in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center.)
Picasso chronicled his love life in his work by creating print portraits of each new partner. “Head of a Young Girl” is a series of 10 states he created when falling in love with painter Francoise Gilot. He also did a companion series (with not as many states), “Head of a Young Boy.” Those are self-portraits of himself as a child that he made in his 60s.
“States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945-1960” will be on display at the Norton Simon Museum until Feb. 13, 2017. The museum is in Pasadena, Calif.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Norton Simon Museum: States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945–1960
Los Angeles Times: New exhibition in Pasadena peeks into Picasso’s ‘States of Mind’
Photos by Dyanne Weiss