Picasso and the other faces of Malaga

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The Cathedral: The Baroque ornamentation here could have influenced Picasso.
The Cathedral: The Baroque ornamentation here could have influenced Picasso.


Beaches and monuments, cuisine and exuberant fiestas vie for attention in this Mediterranean town.

In the foreseeable future, Indian visitors to Malaga might be able to order idlis, dosas, puri bhaji...

He was born here, in this small Spanish Mediterranean town. Or, rather, it was small then, but very old. Twenty-seven centuries ago the Phoenicians had established a settlement here. Among their successors, down the ages, had been Romans remembered by their amphitheatre, and ‘Moors’ from North Africa who had built a fortress, the Alcazar, on top of a hill overlooking the town.

His father was an art teacher named Jose Ruiz Blasco. When the child was born on October 25, 1881, he was named Pablo Ruiz Picaso. According to Spanish custom the last surname is that of the child’s mother who, in this case, was Mario Picaso Lopez: Picaso being spelt with only one ‘s’. The name ‘Picaso’ was only a formal appellation. When Pablo was nine years old, he painted his View of Malaga Harbour, showing considerable pictorial talent but, more significantly, he signed it ‘P. Ruiz’.

Phases of creation

His initial years in Malaga left a lasting impression on the budding artist. The brooding blue of the sea on cloudy days, the joyous pink of geraniums nodding in window boxes, the vivid radiance of the gold-encrusted altar and the stained glass windows in the cathedral: all these were later to emerge as the leitmotifs marking the various phases of his 73 years of continuous creation. During this period he produced an incredible 20,000 works of which 155 are collected in the Picasso Museum, Malaga. This is only one of the 26 in this capital of the province of Costa del Sol. The tourist trade associates this region with sun, surf and retirement. Some years ago we attended an international tourism conference in Torremolinos, further down the Costa del Sol. It was full of middle-class Brits; and pubs, burgers and fish-and-chips outlets catering to their home-away-from-home needs. In contrast, though Malaga does have pavement restaurants on its beach-front, they still serve Spanish food and vendors barbecue sea-food on sand-filled beached boats at the edge of the surf. There are, also, town-council supported yoga programmes for senior citizens and one of the tourism officials we met greeted us with a ‘Namaste’. In the foreseeable future, Indian visitors to Malaga might be able to order idlis, dosas and puri bhaji on its Mediterranean shores. Hopefully, many of them will also make it a point to visit the Picasso Museum and get an insight into the wide ranging achievements of a truly remarkable artist who left an indelible mark on world art.

The Picasso museum is in a graceful building awash with Mediterranean light and air: a delicate blend of Moorish arches, Renaissance and contemporary Spanish architecture. Our very knowledgeable guide, Jose Antonio, led us through the life of Picasso as reflected in his paintings. Picasso, according to him, was obsessively attracted to the female form to the extent that he even portrayed his son emphasising the child’s feminine features. Since the paintings in the Museum cannot, normally, be photographed, we shot a picture of a copy of this portrait made by a pavement artist outside the cathedral.

It was only after Pablo Ruiz moved to the avant-garde art capital of the world, Paris, that he dropped ‘Ruiz’ as being too plebian, and adopted ‘Picasso’ with the double ‘s’ in emulation of Matisse. Picasso always responded to things happening around him. His starvation years in Paris brought about his melancholic ‘Blue Period’. When he was 23, however, he became infatuated with Fernande Olivier. His passion for the lady launched him into his Rose Period.


It was then that he began to experiment with Cubism based on the concept that ‘Strength is Beauty and a Straight Line is Stronger than a Curved Line’. Since a flower is both beautiful and weak and an arch is curved but much stronger than a horizontal on two perpendiculars, this was, clearly, specious reasoning. Picasso, however, was not concerned with logic but with his own vision of the world. His vision then moved on from cutting up an object into cubes, to shuffling those cubes about haphazardly. His depiction of a cup, for instance, showed a glimpse of it from the top, another from the bottom, a third from the side all at the same time. He carried this multiple viewpoint into sculpture and pottery resulting in the most bizarre icons.

Then, another woman entered his life: Marie-Therese Walter. Picasso’s artistic expression took another, more delicate, more sensuous, turn. He abandoned the harsh statements of cubism and allowed a gentle classicism to influence his work with curves and luminosity like in his portrayal of a Girl before a Mirror. Such tenderness, however, seemed to be alien to his restless assertive spirit. Now from his Mediterranean heritage of myth he began to draw dark and disturbing images of Minotaurs and Bulls and the underlying cruel glory of a Spanish bullfight. He hated the Spanish Civil War and when, on April 28, 1937, the small town of Guernica was destroyed by the bombers of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Picasso erupted with heart-rendering anguish. His Guernica is a harsh and cruel allegory of excruciating torment: hands claw, mouths gape open in silent agony, beasts trample mercilessly amid ruined buildings. This was an early vision of the hell of war that we have now become used to: the evil wreaked by a fundamentalist creed that has no conscience, driven brutally by its own insane compulsions.

Picasso lived for 36 years after that, ceaselessly exploring new avenues of expression powered by his inner fire. For many of his admirers, however, Picasso’s subsequent work never equalled the gut-wrenching ferocity of Guernica. The Picasso Museum is only one, though a very important one, of the many faces of Malaga. The beaches, monuments, cuisine and exuberant fiestas also vied for our attention. But, for us, most of those faces will have to wait for another, more leisurely, visit to the capital of Spain’s Coast of the Sun.



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