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Painting Like Picasso

It’s 1907 and an unknown 25-year-old Spanish artist named Pablo Picasso is in Paris putting the finishing touches on a painting that would take the art world by storm. His painting depicts five nude prostitutes at a brothel in Barcelona. But, it is not so much the subject of the painting that is shocking, it’s the style. Traditionally, western painters conveyed women as soft, round, physically alluring creatures. Picasso’s prostitutes are not soft or round or physically alluring. If anything, the five figures look like disassembled bodies that have been reassembled into flat forms consisting of fractured planes in two-dimensional space. Furthermore, the women are looking directly at the viewer with confrontational stares, and two of the women wear African masks. When Picasso’s contemporaries saw the painting, they described it as ugly, raw, crude, provocatively sexual, and a horror. However, in time Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) would be considered Picasso’s first masterpiece, and a pivotal step in the emergence and evolution of a new style of art: Cubism.

When asked to replicate the famous work for an upcoming stage production (Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Nov 16-18 at The Grange Theatre), ArtisTree’s in-house talent, Adrian Tans, had mixed feelings. However, as the process unfolded and Adrian’s more intimate connection to the piece took hold, his feelings evolved.

Slightly...

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"Here's a little secret... I really don't like this painting.  In fact, I'm not a fan of Picasso at all. I know... I'm not going to apologize, I know it's because I'm simply unsophisticated. Despite the arguments with my brother over the years, who is a huge fan, I continued on in my opinion that Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, revolutionary though it may be, just isn't very good.  However, after having the opportunity to REALLY look at it, at every brush stroke out of necessity for its recreation, I've gained a new perspective and respect for the work."  

"Where once I saw perhaps a lazy patch here, an incongruous amount of detail there; now I found a latent amount of care and effort, just little "expressions", so to speak, all over the canvas.  I especially appreciated the white lines.  I don't know why exactly but in comparison to the big dark lines that define the central figures, the few white lines bring some sort of relief to the eye." 

"The "mask" faces are extraordinary as an example of raw creativity.  Which is exactly why those were the difficult bits to paint.  The mastery of the composition became more and more apparent as well as I drew it and then brought color to the canvas.  He brings your eye to the places he wants them to linger.  Painting those strange eyes of the central figures, his eyes some say, as untrue to the human anatomy as they are, felt right. They have a life and expression in them."

"In the 15 or so hours I spent on this I have to say that I've grown an appreciation I did not have before and would even say... I like it.  But, I still don't like to look at it.  I brought my brother up to my studio when it was finished saying, "do you want to see something funny?". Because of years of back and forth about Picasso, I knew he'd get a kick out of the fact that I was tasked with painting this large-scale reproduction like some sort of penance.  Sure enough, he walked in and started laughing! And then he did something I didn't expect, he asked for it when the play was over.  I appreciated that even more."

Adrian's finished reproduction:

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is featured in a play by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), called Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The premise of the play is that Picasso walks into a bar in Paris, The Lapin Agile, (The Nimble Rabbit) and meets Albert Einstein in 1904, before either of them has painted or published their famous works. Picasso and Einstein mingle with other colorful patrons at the bar, and carry on a debate that explores the tension between art and science in the twentieth century.

Audiences will be able to view this splendid piece while enjoying ArtisTree’s production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Saturday, November 16 & 17 at 7:30 PM  | Sunday, November 18 at 2:00PM

Learn more or purchase tickets at artistreevt.org, or call 802-457-3500!