Picasso’s Bulls

When I visited London some time back, I also had the good fortune to see the Picasso exhibition curated by Sir John Richardson “Minotaurs and Matadors” at the Gagosian Gallery. Despite having seen many of Picasso’s works exhibited before (an entirely different and much more impressive experience than seeing them in books or online) this once again allowed me a grand experience.

It’s a known fact that Picasso in a way identified with the bull and with that in mind, his drawings depicting a bull when processing it through a reductive process might allow some insights, as all choices in the process were entirely Picasso’s.

First, Picasso takes on his usual role as the artist, expertly selecting, isolating for focus and removing visual elements–all with the intentions to find those essential elements of art in the subject but as the process nears the end, it becomes more apparent–intentionally or subconsciously, what he chose to reduce almost to extinction.

As is frequently seen in design and icons, the bulls head is often used to symbolise unstoppable strength, mind, mentality and tenacity while also sometimes fiercely imposing, can be enough to clearly identify the idea of a bull. The head of a bull was also enough for Picasso to suggest himself a bull when putting on a bull’s mask, as he would do but in the last image of the Bull Series, the head is as near to being completely gone as it can possibly be.

Similarly have the genitals of bulls been used to refer to the character and traits inherent to the masculinity and strength in the bull, just like people in some parts of the world compare themselves or parts of themselves to that of the bull but again in a final stage of reduction, Picasso almost completely castrates the bull in the last bull drawing.

Returning to Picasso, metaphorically identifying with and relating to the bull or better yet–the minotaur as half man, half bull said “If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.” In Picasso’s world, the bull portion of the minotaur was ultimately destined to fight for its life and die fighting–while man portion of that same minotaur still tries to make sense of it all.

The drawings are indisputably Picasso’s recorded expression as he chose every step of the way, which brings me to question if this was a statement on more than elements of design and abstraction, intentionally or unintentionally? Did Picasso feel burdened by his own success as he inescapably became a greater celebrity, seeing his identity, real strength and artistic freedom reduced to the point of being almost removed?

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