Chapter Five: Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso’s Cat Before a Mirror

You could have an interesting time and very likely get lost if you took a hike through the mind of Pablo Picasso. No guarantee the experience would be pleasant; in fact, you could probably take for granted that mostly it wouldn’t be.

Picasso was one of the most brilliantly creative artists who ever lived. From cubism to modernism, he was there at the creation of movements that might never have gotten off the ground without the infusion of his talents. 

Pick out any painting by Georges Braque, Picasso’s co-inventor of cubism. Look at it for a long time and try convincing yourself Braque’s style would have so shook the art world that painting was forever revolutionized. 

What the pair did was create images on canvas that showed viewers what an object looked like from multiple angles and dimensions, all coalesced on a flat surface. When they could just as easily have painted flowers in a pretty glass jar. 

Pablo Picasso was amazing for showing us the world in a way we would never otherwise conceive it, expanding our awareness of the world around us by lifting constrictions in space and time.

But for me, what really blew the lid off was when Picasso began slicing and dicing human psyches as if they were banjos and clown costumes. Not only did he aspire to give us a fuller picture on a single canvas, he did it with raw, honest insight into what makes each of us different from every other.

As a painter, he recreated our strengths and weaknesses, our pride and our fear, and so much more and got it all on one flat surface. Unlike expressionists who followed, Picasso’s pictures always looked like they might be about something recognizable.

In Girl Before a Mirror, he portrays Marie Therese Walter, his young lover, pondering her own

Cat Before a Mirror / © Deborah Julian

reflection. There are a million ways to interpret this painting, all of which might be right, but the one constant is that the mirror reflection isn’t much like the girl standing before it.

The Marie Therese that Picasso sees is soft and bright. The reflection she sees is dark, sad and even a little foreboding. To me, it looks like she, at least in this moment, sees an ugliness about herself that defies the reality that others see. An alternative interpretation is that she is projecting herself as aging in an unattractive way.

Cats know how beautiful they are and don’t get hung up on the vanity of it. Vanity implies doubt, right? Cats have no doubts. 

To complete Picasso’s Cat Before a Mirror, Sam had to climb a stool to get a look at himself in the mirror. Even projected into cubism, he seems pleased with what he sees. Or he might be wondering who the beautiful cat behind the glass is. 

True to Picasso, he shows us himself from multiple angles, all at once.

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