Etch a sketch 

Continuing its blockbuster trend, FAC highlights Picasso

Beginning with the reign of former CEO Michael De Marsche, part of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's programming has focused on high-profile shows built around legends and iconic figures.

Dale Chihuly begat Andy Warhol begat Peter Max begat Marilyn Monroe ...

The trend continues this summer with the most prolific artist of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso.

Picasso, as a word, is equivalent to Einstein as a household noun. Yet the FAC once again has taken the backdoor into an idol and deconstructed the legend with Pablo Picasso: Etchings 1966-1971. And again, the final result returns to the mythic status of the artist.

The 40 approximately 1-foot-square, black-and-white etchings that hail from L.A.'s Leslie Sacks Fine Art gallery have much to say about Picasso. Curator Tariana Navas-Nieves explains, "In all these works he's confronting his life ... His fears of aging, his fears of death, his feelings of becoming obsolete."

In the years leading to his death in 1973, Picasso lived reclusively in his French villa, speaking to few yet working voraciously.

"During this time, Picasso was probably the most productive that he had been in his entire life," says Navas-Nieves. "He produced between 1963 and 1972 approximately 750 works."

Many of these works were etchings like the proofs in the galleries of the FAC. Proofs, often "richer and sharper" than prints, are tests the artist makes before printing, and therefore are much more rare and valuable. Picasso would make only around 15 proofs, followed by an edition of 50 or so prints before he would scratch the plate (art-speak for destroying the master plate to avoid unwarranted reproduction).

Picasso advanced the practice of printmaking by combining multiple techniques on single plates, which offer different textures and tones. Navas-Nieves describes the free-flowing, sketchy quality of the prints as "effortless," adding that "with him, you have that energy and that spontaneous feel of actually seeing his hand creating the work."

Rightly so, since Picasso carved the plates himself, never using paper to trace his etchings. Rather, he drew into the varnish and metal, an extremely difficult process.

"The technical virtuosity of this work is certainly unparalleled," says Navas-Nieves, who built the show around five themes that she recognized in the collection: "The Theater," "The Circus," "La Celestina" (an eminent medieval Spanish tragedy), "Artists from the Past" and "Sexuality and Desire."

Navas-Nieves says that Picasso encountered and embraced these themes throughout his life, and the proofs represent a crystallization of the subjects. "Picasso tackled these themes with great passion and energy," she says.

Picasso's passion, sexually, is a driving force behind most of his work, especially etchings such as these. "For him, the sexual act was equivalent to the actual creative process and vice versa," Navas-Nieves says, "so they become metaphors for each other the sexual act became the act of creation."

To the untrained eye, all this may be hard to see at first in the etchings. But Picasso's staggering skills in the media emerge with thin, whimsical line work in some proofs and deep calligraphic, almost brush-like strokes in others.

Says Navas-Nieves, "That's what made him an artistic genius the fact that he really was a virtuoso in so many areas."


Pablo Picasso: Etchings 1966-1971
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Runs through Sept. 14; Opening celebration, Friday, July 18, 5-8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tickets: $7.50-$12;
call 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org for more.


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