Art and essay
Alberto Lucas López
Immoderate, provocative, subversive, fascinating, brilliant… Picasso. His journey from child prodigy to icon of art revealed the extent of his talent and the inexhaustible fire that fueled him. Few artists have been as prolific and influential as Pablo Picasso. Over the more than eighty years of his career, the creator of cubism constantly reinvented himself and pushed himself to innovate and overcome the limits of artistic expression, achieving the status of genius that brought him world fame.
With the infographic presented on these pages, published in the May 2018 edition, National Geographic pays tribute to the Málaga artist, universal exponent of Spanish culture. Picasso was one of the most productive artists in history, and in amassing such a legacy, he covered an inexhaustible array of themes. The result is dozens of thousands of works that touch on or deepen countless subjects. The National Geographic project presents a meticulous analysis of the themes in the artist’s work, grouping his pieces into twelve main categories. These twelve major themes −differentiated from one another by their color tone− were in turn divided into subthemes. The size of each of these shapes is proportional to the number of works created by Picasso addressing that specific theme.
In order to transport the reader into a Picassoesque dimension, the infographic was created using techniques, shapes and colors commonly found in the work of the Málaga artist. Included is the iconic Guernica, symbol of anguish and death following the bombing of the Basque town with the same name by German Condor Legion air force in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War; the bull and the artist’s love of bullfighting, which grew out of his visits to the Malagueta bullring as a child; and the harlequin’s rhombuses, symbol of the bridge between two worlds; among others.
The work is intended to provide an overview of Picasso’s obsessions, presented as an informative piece painted in oil on canvas, with an original size over 1.5 meters in length. A rigorous analysis represented artistically.
Every project grows out of in-depth research. In this investigation, ideas take shape; in my case, through pencil sketches on paper. I spent so many hours analyzing (and almost always enjoying) Pablo Picasso’s legacy that, unconsciously, I began compulsively doodling Picassoesque shapes next to my notes and possible designs for the future infographic. There was no intent behind those pseudoillustrations. They were simply residual shapes that had become engraved on my brain as I went through the books. An unconscious act like that of twirling a pen around your finger as you think.
And from an unintentional doodle on a classic treemap, already mutually agreed upon as the final structure for the graphic, the idea was born. From an involuntary act, a complete, definitive concept emerged. When I think about this happenstance, what comes to mind (bridging the barriers) is The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (Also known as The Large Glass. 1915–1923) by Marcel Duchamp. The Dadaist chess player spent eight years working on this project, declaring it “definitively unfinished” in 1923. In 1927, while the work was being moved from the Brooklyn Museum, it was heavily damaged. But Duchamp expressed satisfaction with it following the incident, declaring it complete once he had reassembled all of the fragments. An unintentional event turned out to be the essence the work needed.
The philosopher and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “Do what you fear and the fear will disappear.” Being willing to make mistakes is the root of any creative exercise. Embracing the error. Setting out to make mistakes. And from the error, you redo, reject, undo, add, build, eliminate and begin again. It is a long process, with many errors and only one correct answer. Having a good idea is as important as refining it until you achieve the best version of it. And in order to reach that point, you have to take on things that are completely new to you. In my case it was, among other obstacles, learning to paint in oil. A shared challenge, as the credit goes not only to the artist, but also to the people who made it possible. The people who made it possible to explore, attempt and make mistakes. An exceptional context of creative freedom for which I have the executive team at National Geographic Magazine to thank.
Creativity is not an ability, or a skill, but a personal decision. Requiring yourself to occupy unknown territory. Unknown because no one has ever explored it before. A place that causes intense discomfort. A creative creator is independent. They distance themselves from established designations, even though this may entail negative consequences and quite probably mistakes. Leopoldo María Panero, a Spanish poet who spent more than forty years locked away in psychiatric institutions, asserted: “An author who is not creative is a scribe attempting different handwriting.”
This infographic does not fall within any genre. The aim was to use artistic language as a channel for information. The subject matter required that connection between visual impact and information. At first glance, the reader is aware that they are about to immerse themselves in the world of Picasso, even though this is not one of his works. The infographic has the special charm of a piece of art without being one. I don’t know where the artistic intent ends and the information begins. I’m not even sure that it is necessary to consider this question and set the boundaries. I suppose in some way I feel obligated to define this project, as this text forms part of a book on journalistic infographics. I would label it a “visual essay,” with essay being understood to mean a relatively brief literary (and visual) work, subjective yet truthful in appearance, and rigorous in its information, in which the artist tackles a humanistic theme in an artistic manner, and where they display a certain stylistic intent.