Icons / May 2016

Rogue Genius

A man of immeasurable talent and immense contrasts, Pablo Picasso manifested many a rakish trait.

“He could walk down your street / And girls could not resist his stare / Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole... Well he was only5’3” /But girls could not resist his stare / Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole...”

Pablo Picasso” — The Modern Lovers

Though poetic, the lyrics to the above-quoted protopunk classic don’t exactly ring true. Learn a little about the life of this artistic giant, and, while it’s clear that many, many “girls could not resist his stare”, a lot of those very same females would probably have eventually referred to Picasso by the ‘A-word’ (or, perhaps, its French equivalent).

Picasso once said: “To make oneself hated is more difficult than to make oneself loved.” Being something of a superstar — a near-universally exalted genius, a giant, a master — this statement is probably truer for Picasso than for the average mortal. Testing his hypothesis, Picasso worked hard at fomenting loathing in those who adored him — openly carrying on with multiple women at once, making cutting remarks to his lovers and friends (often harshly dismissing their artwork, feelings or opinions out of hand), exiling formerly close confidantes — and even his own offspring — from his life for the most minor of slights. A self-centred empathy-deficient narcissist, he demanded the devotion and unswerving loyalty of his paramours and pals, yet rarely offered the same in return.

Though the work of his youth was typically rather pleasant, as he grew older and increased in standing, Picasso deliberately made his artworks ‘uglier’, more difficult, challenging the viewer with repellent, harsh, acidic combinations of colour and ever starker, more rugged lines. The subjects of his portraits — very often, the women with whom he shared a bed — were usually rendered in a manner designed to maximise their unattractive traits, the images of lovers growing increasingly grotesque as the capricious Picasso advanced toward the woman’s inevitable rejection and replacement. Still, for all his failings, and despite his often asshole-ish acts, Picasso remained loved — by long-suffering friends, family and females, as well as critics and the public — and remains, indisputably, the most beloved, influential artist of the 20th century, regarded by many as the finest of all time.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.