Picasso’s Ps and Massacre in Korea (1951)

Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s partner after the Second World War, described how Picasso developed a new style. To illustrate poetry handwritten by Pierre Reverdy, he began using bold straight lines "ending in full circles looking almost like wax seals.”  

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Captions for image(s) above:

Picasso, Illustration for Reverdy's poem, The Song of the Dead, p.29 (1945-48) with the poet's handwriting.

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What Gilot failed to recognize was that the straight line with a round shape on top was Picasso's way of drawing the P of his signature. It was the foundation of his new style. The signatures at left are taken from works of varying dates but the P on all of them generally maintain the same pattern. On the example at left, Picasso even put a halo on the P to signify the sacred nature of his art and ability.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Picasso's Illustration for Reverdy's poem with examples of Picasso's signature between 1907 and 1962

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When he later illustrated other poems by Luis de Gongora, he fused the P into Gongora’s name to assume the identity of the great Spanish poet. Note how the bottom of the G resembles the hairs of a paintbrush bending in action while the top ends in the “P”: a straight line crowned by a rounded shape.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Picasso, Cover Illustration for a book of Gongora's peoms

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Similarly Picasso made the stem and petals of the central flower in this still-life resemble both the P of his name and an eye, the internal eye of his mind. See how in the diagram below the flowers emerge from a one-eyed abstract head veiled within the vase.2 In confirmation the right-hand flower resembles a paintbrush while the opening of the vase is the mandorla-shape of a vagina. Each flower is a conception in his mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Picasso, Still-life with Flowers and a Fruit Bowl (1943)

Bottom: Diagram of detail showing head in vase

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That leads us to Picasso's Massacre in Korea modeled on both Goya’s Third of May 1808 and Manet’s Execution. Note how the soldiers have similar "P"s at the end of their weapons (see detail below).3 The dark circles represent the hole in the gun's barrel bent, Cubist-like, to face us. That means, in turn, that the soldiers are both shooting the women and, on another level of meaning, towards the painter who once stood where we now are in front of the painting: the painter is painting himself. Just as both Goya and Manet indicate through other means that their soldier-painters are painting the artist himself so does Picasso with the twist of the gun barrel towards us.4

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Picasso, Massacre in Korea (1951)
Bottom: Detail of Massacre in Korea

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Picasso's soldiers are commanded by an officer at right who is posed like a female artist Picasso once drew holding a brush and palette in the same manner.5 Thus, the officer's sword is a "paintbrush" and his shield a "palette". The victims in anguish represent the creative struggle in Picasso's mind while conceiving an image, somewhat akin to the pain of childbirth. In consequence, one of the victims is clearly pregnant in a visual play on the concept of conception. One can also read a political message into this image, as specialists like to do, but it would not have been Picasso's primary concern and would definitely have been secondary to the meaning explained here. It would also involve, as a result of the underlying meaning, inexplicable visual inconsistencies. Besides, as in Manet's Execution, the artist is at work on the wrong side, the one the artist disliked. In addition, think about which scenario is more likely: soldiers shooting nude women (as on the literal level) or artists painting nude women (on the peotic one)? The women are nude in reference to their "role" as an artist's model and as a mere idea, not physical beings, in the artist's mind.

Picasso's use of his own initial is little known, or perhaps even unknown, by Picasso specialists. Gilot, his partner, failed to see it in the illustrations for Reverdy's poem. Unfortunately, the literature on Picasso is too large for a definitive statement.  Nevertheless Its importance cannot be exaggerated. It appears in works from nearly every period yet has probably never been discussed as a common theme before, one that Picasso practised widely. Once seen, the meaning of an image changes drastically.  For other examples we have shown here see Picasso's Musician, Dancer, Goat and Bird and Picasso's Faun Flutist .

Notes:

1. Picasso was not religious but, fully aware of how previous masters had identified their creative ability with the divinity or Christ within their soul. When asked about why the emergence of a new artist can be recognized in 10 or 12 canvasses, he replied, as he often did, with the half the truth. "Something sacred, that's it. We ought to be able to say that word, or something like it, but people would take it the wrong way, and give it a meaning it hasn't got. We ought to be able to say that such-and-such a painting is as it is, with its capacity for power, because 'it is touched by God'. But people would put a wrong interpretation on it. And yet it's the nearest we can get to the truth." Hélène Parmelin, Picasso Says...... (New York: A.S.Barnes & Co.) 1966, p.32

2. The one eye is open to exterior reality, the other as so often in blank (or closed) to symbolize insight. See the theme Insight-Outsight.

3. The legs of the victims in Manet's Execution form the letter M for Manet, as first revealed here, but it has been known for many years now that the Emperor resembles Manet himself.

4. This is one of those visual inconsistencies on the literal level that cannot be explained without access to the poetic level.

5. See Picasso's Swords.

 

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 02 May 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.