TOKYO – A little-known aspect of Picasso, his literary work, is shown in an exhibition inaugurated on Tuesday at the Cervantes Institute in Tokyo that brings together texts written to himself, with his most intimate feelings, his fears and his attempts at redemption, but also the images that he captured in his paintings.
Picasso entered the world of literature late, at the age of 54, in 1935, at a time of personal turmoil due to his divorce from wife Olga and following the Paris convulsions that would lead to the Spanish Civil War.
These are poems in which, as Yasujiro Otaka, historian and professor emeritus at the University of Waseda, told EFE, Picasso “not only ignores the subject and the predicate, but we also find no punctuation.”
Otaka said that the Spanish artist began accumulating these writings during what was probably the biggest gap in his life as a painter, as from mid-1935 he hardly produced any oil paintings or sculptures for almost a year.
In these texts, he adds that Picasso reflects feelings of guilt and atonement, and in them “the words overlap with the motifs of his paintings” with themes such as bullfights or his favorite bites.
According to Jose Lebrero Stals, artistic director of the Museo Picasso Malaga, the painter began to write possibly because those texts take him back to his origins, to his native Malaga, “to a space of safety from the past (…) at a time in which the artist had many doubts.”
While also presenting this exhibition from Malaga, Lebrero recalled that Picasso’s “little respect” for syntax inspired French writer and poet Andre Breton’s surrealist creations.
“Picasso’s writing is not surreal, but Andre Breton would have wanted Picasso to be a surrealist writer,” he added.
The texts were practically ignored during the painter’s career and only emerged half a century later, Otaka said, when 350 works published in 1989 were collected.
For half a century, Picasso’s work was hardly talked about and little attention was paid to it, the Japanese expert said.
The exhibition at Cervantes was brought to China last year, although the Tokyo version is complemented by objects and books that bring Picasso closer to Japanese culture. It collects copies of original writings exhibited in the National Picasso Museum in Paris.
These are writings made with Chinese ink or pencil, some colored, mostly manuscripts and only in one case with typed text with numerous handwritten corrections in red ink that, in the end, look more like a painting than a poem.
Also notable is a composition made between May or June of 1935 in which Picasso’s words, with several crossed out, are followed by a sequence of numbers with no apparent meaning that end with words about loneliness and, again, another sequence of figures.
“Picasso writes for himself, he does not write to publish books (…) His poems are creative acts in private, it is a way of knowing oneself, of exploring, of knowing his own fears, his own doubts, his own anger,” Lebrero said.
“The poet Picasso,” he added, “arises in a natural, organic way, without any will to share his secrets with the rest.”
The exhibition includes photographs of the artist with authors such as Pablo Neruda or Rafael Alberti.
With such an unorganized writing according to traditional canons, Otaka commented on the anguish suffered when Picasso’s words have to be translated, for example, into Japanese.
Otaka said that when Breton had to translate these texts into French, it was as if the original spirit of Picasso’s words was lost.
“In those words,” he added, “there is a rhythm, sounds that are always very difficult to reach when translating them into Japanese.”