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Picasso: Peace and Freedom

May 21, 2010
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Coffee this morning from a really gorgeous Picasso: Peace and Freedom mug, £7.50 from the ‘dedicated’ shop in the final room of the Picasso: Peace and Freedom show at Tate Liverpool. I bought it last night at the reception to celebrate the opening of the show. Of buying, money, mugs and dedication more in moment.

But first, the show. It is terrific: go to it. It’s a big show: sketches, sculpture, headscarves, great, great paintings, so powerful, so full of damage and danger and love that they seem to hurt and comfort at the same time. The Charnel House – that a man could make such balanced beauty from utter horror, a miracle. The Dove of Peace paintings, sketches, poster, and scarves: lovely like spring mornings – hopeful. The Rape of the Sabines, made during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: vile, unutterably horrific, a concentration of violence. All the way through, you feel the presence of an obsession and belief, and that is deeply moving. Picasso joined the Communist Party in 1944 and stuck with it ‘til he died. A believer, not perhaps – post Stalin – a realist. Or perhaps the real realists are the true believers who carry on believing, no matter what happens.

That’s the show: go.

Then there is the shop at the end of this powerful rainbow of feeling. You enter with everything inside you touched, trembling, jumbled up and needing something… And there is the shop, waiting for you and your credit card, with its really lovely posters, and mugs, and fridge magnets. I bought the mug. I call it the ‘mug of connect me to this powerful feeling’. It is red and white and seems to stand for something beyond its lovely self. We all bought things – the till was ringing like Christmas bells and of course the Tate must make money and I actually admired that marketing savvy that allowed us, very well-heeled, reception attending, art gallery-going-mugs to buy. I would like to get money for The Reader Organisation in that kind of way: the Robin Hood principle. Sell to those who can buy. Use the money. I don’t think Picasso would have minded but Jesus might have smashed the shop up. Each to their own way.

Earlier in the day I had been driving to a meeting and passed the Sheil Road pub – on the corner of Sheil and Prescot Road. Outside that pub a drunk man sat on a stool with his back to the roadside railing, his face to the sun. He looked totally drunk. In the doorway of the pub stood a woman, utterly out of her mind  with drink, missing some teeth – a woman probably not thirty, her long hair falling over her shoulders, her long floral summer dress giving the immediate impression of a young girl in summer. But she was not: she was a broken woman in a broken pub doorway about to start talking to a broken man. It was 2.30pm on a very sunny spring day. I thought of my mother who died of drink aged 52. Here is life dying in front of us: it is not a lifestyle choice because there’s not much to choose between.

While I was looking at the pictures I kept thinking about that couple at the Sheil Road corner. They will never see this exhibition. Once, in a country church in France, I listen to a European choir of children from all the states singing Bach beneath a pretty blue and starry dome and thought of my mother who never had had such an experience and that made me cry and return to work at The Reader Organisation. Go see the pictures. Peace and Freedom.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. louise permalink
    May 21, 2010 9:44 pm

    ummmmm thinking shall i go or shall i not,The way you describe this is very persuading ,but then again persuasion is what you shine at !!!!
    I tend to hit the snooze butoon when i hear the word art but have been known to quite like art,etc although often dragged stamping my feet(I SHINE AT FOOT STAMPING)but often leave saying under my breath”actually i quite liked that.(NOTE the word QUITE)
    The last time went to the Tate i was told i was annoying(me)as i looked at the pictures and repeatedly said “I could do that “.oh well should i go and look or shall i stay here and think , THAT IS THE QUESTION ?????

  2. Ella Jolly permalink
    May 23, 2010 11:33 am

    Jane I loved this post and feel very very inspired – thank you.

  3. 'a reader' permalink
    May 23, 2010 9:16 pm

    For the woman in the long summer dress, and a story

    I shared a journey with a woman in a long stripey dress – she was old but she seemed young, tenacious and astute to the world’s ways. It was hot, measuring only a few days ago in our time, but the season changed, shifting,’ to a bright fozen day in the early morning’.

    She took me through a troublesome and worn path, ‘deep, deep the road went’ a man passed through our journey, he carried a hunters bag from which a small closed beak hung down. I watched the beak dipping into the living air but it was lost and dried up with no more breath in it to remember how life felt.

    We reached a city and my companion’s journey ended. I left her to turn back in the story and find the man with the bag. I gave some water to the small closed beak. I heard my companion’s smile (the woman in the long dress), warm and glistening like a newly born Phoenix taking flight, just like the small beak opening up to the drops of water.

  4. 'a reader' permalink
    May 24, 2010 7:25 pm

    Any chance sometime of your BBC ‘Why reading matters’ clip on home page to play with accompanying ‘text’ – I have no sound at all, people’s lips are moving but nothing happening.

  5. 'a reader' permalink
    May 25, 2010 2:26 pm

    Thank you! (it can’t just be coincidence). I now have some sound which makes it a little easier to work out what is being talked about – good stuff too.

  6. Sue Garner-Jones permalink
    May 26, 2010 12:46 am

    Hey Jane,

    Your post is like a passage from Ulysses (though I understand your syntax better!) or maybe Dubliners is a more appropriate comparative.

    I am a child of those streets (went to school in Butler Street, like my mum, who went on to Sheil Road School, too) and something of these spaces gets burned into you so the names are instant semiotics of the laughter and despair; I don’t remember the sights and sounds but they are, as Carson McCuller says, ‘the we of me’.

    Is drink, as Jude thinks in his obscurity, the last refuge of the despairing worthless? Or do we go on, if we can, because we must, if only to help those who cannot and to ‘bear witness’ and wrestle with the perpetual ‘why’?

    Paint, look, write, read, buy mugs, sell them, take part: the art of living is in participation.

    Very poignant post: ‘kudos’!

  7. John Cole permalink
    June 1, 2010 1:00 pm

    Please go to the Picasso exhibition…..you won’t regret it.
    …and thank you Jane for the original item….deeply moving

    I felt that I learned so much from seeing and experiencing this man and his art – the exhibition covers 6 rooms of masterpieces and also includes short video film clips of Picasso painting a large wall mural that is simply breathtaking to see his confidence of stroke as he fills the wall with instant images. there is also a short film clip of him fashioning a dove from a clay vase….simply magical.

    I had always previously thought that a genius was someone from whom great art and creativity flowed….and we had to interpret its meaning….and determine what relevance it might have for contemporary society.

    Seeing this exhibition made me realise that for Picasso….the process was completely the other way round. He was deeply moved by the contemporary events of his lifetime…..and he laboured to interpret these events into his work and the symbolism of his art…..that was his genius.

    The exibition also has some great quotes. For example, when he was living in occupied Paris, the nazis would often visit him with bribes of food and extra coal. Disdaining these offers he replied “a Spaniard is never cold!”

    There are lots more….but you need to visit this exhibition….its probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to see so much work from the man described as the greatest artist of the twentieth century.

    So…see you there.

    John

    Also, re the Sheil Road pub scene…..have a look at Picasso’s painting ‘The old man with guitar’….another slice of realism….only this time captured in oil and canvass.

  8. aquamarine permalink
    June 9, 2010 9:03 pm

    I’d love to go the ‘The Reader Cafe’ if only it existed, to buy a coffee and a slice of cake and listen to a lunchtime poetry reading.

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