Pablo Picasso worked his way through all the artistic conventions controlled by the cultural authorities of his time and once he had understood their dynamic he proceeded to turn them upside down. He perceived clearly the connection between art and its transcendent power and the inevitability of power elites to usurp and manipulate that powerful influence to control society. Throughout his life he thumbed his nose at the attacks on his art and those against him personally. He innovated incessantly and worked across all mediums making him probably the first true pre-digital, multi-media artist. Picasso was not only a painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramicist, he was also a stage designer, poet and playwright. He invented or co-developed a range of styles across many media forms. He is recognised particularly for the co-invention of Cubism, both analytic and synthetic with fellow artist and collaborator Georges Braques. Cubism, probably more than any other style of pictorial convention opened up extensive inquiry into the science of visual perception and the investigation of spatial realities in the 20th century and still dominates contemporary image making today.
He is a contradiction in terms though, as he was a "communist" until the day he died yet remained for the most part quietly apolitical during some of the most turbulent events in human history. An example of this incongruity is "Guernica" his large painting documenting his opposition to the brutality of the combined German and Italian air bombing of the Basque town at the request of Franco in April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This contrasts with his opposition later to UN forces intervention in Korea to halt the communist takeover even after news of widespread massacres and appalling human suffering depicted in "Massacre in Korea". There are also many questions surrounding his time in Paris during WW2 where he lived relatively carefree when many other artists were imprisoned or lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. It would be unfair though to target Picasso for his ideological convictions but it does shed some light on what appears in retrospect to be a relatively charmed life.
Pablo Picasso is the first artist in history to have enjoyed a mass audience during his lifetime and so was the first truly modern art persona. He has been a difficult source of inspiration for me as i'm always aware of his long shadow looming over art history. One of my favourite quotes of his, "Art is a lie that leads us to the truth" is still one of the best summaries i've heard on the nature of art. In many ways he pushed open the door of freedom for subsequent generations of artists including myself yet in the words of a frustrated Jackson Pollock, "Picasso you bastard, you've done it all" is a sentiment many can empathise with. It can be awkward trying to look around the mountain of his original achievements if you are painting with art historical legacy in mind. Nevertheless love him or hate him, Picasso was and is an idiosyncratic "giant" of modern culture.