John Szoke | Picasso in Wonderland | January 5, 2023
January 5, 2023
Picasso in Wonderland
Published by John Szoke Gallery
In 1965, Picasso was the ripe age of 84 and enjoying a tranquil life in the south of France, but this was no retirement. He had a critically successful life-long career behind him and yet he still sought out the thrill of new techniques, especially in printmaking.
His approach to linocuts was always unique but with today’s print, he boldly ventured to make multiple “passes” of the same linoleum plate as épreuves rincées (“rinsed proofs”). This technique was accomplished by printing the lino block in thicker white ink and then brushing the impression with encre de Chine (“Chinese ink,” sometimes called Indian ink, combining black ink with an aqueous binder). Afterward, he rinsed the print with water (usually in the shower) washing away any unabsorbed ink to reveal completely unique impressions each time.
The caricature-esque features of Portrait de femme de profil are a wonderful choice for this process. Picasso being Picasso naturally gravitated toward a mode that would best serve his medium. Her exaggerated head, with a looming nose and forehead, is reminiscent of early 19th-century drawings of the Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter by Sir John Tenniel in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. A story we’re no doubt all familiar with, Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole in pursuit of a less conventional world leads her into a sometimes-frightening realm of absurdity and distortion. Picasso’s world of shapes and textures was a wonderland of its own, expressing the odd and sometimes frightening reality of the 20th century.
Today’s subject hangs in a void. Her eyes are wide and all-seeing but what does she look at? The empty background is blank, a technical detail reminiscent of Renaissance portraiture that also creates a micro-narrative. Like Picasso who never stopped looking for new methods, this anonymous woman is forever searching. This might sound like a doomed existence; however, the thick black line across the bottom of the print acts as a whoosh of satisfaction. Despite the frustration and fear in the life-long rabbit hole pursuit of expression, Picasso knew when he got it right, motivating him until his passing at 92 years old.