Picasso & Mourão: Collage and Insight into its Artistic Production

Discovering Artists’ Personality Profiles in the Works of Analagous Mediums

Danielle L. Newns Fein

Here, we explore the nature of the exhibitory climate in London at the moment, focusing on two artists’ formal work with collage. Comparing and contrasting two artists’ qualitative approaches to the medium of paper collage, the post ultimately allows the reader to decide as to whether or not different fundamental personality traits/demeanours play a role in the aesthetics with which the viewer is presented.  

Currently on display in London is ‘Picasso and Paper’ at the Royal Academy and ‘Painting with Paper’ at Mount Gallery in Mayfair which displays collages of Olivier Mourão (b. 1946).[1] Relevant to the conversation at hand is The Royal Academy’s inclusion of Picasso’s innovative period of experimentation with collage[2] between 1912 and 1914, a medium defined as the assemblage of disparate materials. Mount Gallery’s exhibit presents Mouråo’s selection of the use of paper on canvas, though interestingly contrasting Picasso’s engagement with the artform. The question here: Are the two exopheres of each artist influenced by their personal demeanours, or are there more complex issues of historical influence and moods at play? This question would be best—or least—answered by the artists themselves, however, one can ruminate nevertheless.

In his 2017 Paris Review article, ‘How Picasso Bled the Women in His Life for Art,’[3] Cody Delistraty discusses Picasso’s temperament: Marina Picasso, one of Pablo’s granddaughters, came forward in her memoirs, expounding on the artist’s narcissistic character: ‘No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius,’ she wrote, continuing on to write that ‘He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him.’ Delistraty’s article describes a man of no moral or ethics, but one who literally described women as ‘machines for suffering.’

Picasso with (left to right) Paloma, Maya, Claude and Paulo. Christmas at La Galloise, Vallauris 1953

However, here, the question remains: how does this canonically innovative artist’s cruelty and crass behaviour relate to the birth of collage and his formal rendering thereof?

‘Picasso and Paper,’ at The Royal Academy celebrates that ‘[n]owhere is [Picasso’s] protean spirit more evident than his relentless exploration of working on and with paper.’ Dr Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed[5] emphasizes that the phase of ‘Synthetic Cubism’ is one in which Picasso transformed the direction of canonical modernism; an artistic movement in which design is ‘stressed nakedly,’ the subject-matter effectively eliminated for the substitution of the mass produced material. The collages which Picasso produced, without breaking the pictorial plane, seem to pose questions to the viewer regarding what an object might look like when disassembled or dismembered yet still legible enough to be examined. It is as if the works psychologically demand of the viewer the perceptual and conceptual to visually and intellectually recognise the object.[6][7]

One early production of Picasso’s collage from 1912 was Violin, which is presently on display at The Royal Academy Exhibition. This piece demonstrates the dissembling of a familiar object in order to tease the mind of the spectator, according to Dr Willette, a demonstration of how, through Picasso’s collage work, he creates a world in which visual elements are given multiple functions. With no attempt to copy the ‘real’ world, Picasso borrowed objects from that world, such as the newspaper used in Violin, in order to create a conceptual universe of his own.

Picasso, Pablo, Violin, Paris, 1912, Laid Paper, Wall-Paper, Newspaper, Wave Wrapping Paper and Glazed Black Wave Paper, Cut and Paster onto Cardboard with Pencil and Charcoal.

Moving forward to Olivier Mourão in the 1960s—in great contrast to the mixed media of Picasso’s conceptualization of collage: Mourão translates the investigative nature into collage’s representation of objects and people in unique way, and one that is quite distinguishable from Picasso’s work. For example, Mourão hand-makes and dyes the majority of the paper he uses for his collages. The paper is often rich in pigment and boastful in textural qualities.

Paint is a secondary addition to the works: first the artist calibrates the paper for the collage for the tableau in mind. Once the vision is complete, he then, and only then, quickly utilises acrylic paint directly from the tube in order to complete the work. Mourão has described the painting process as taking less than two minutes. Peruvian Folk Girl (2016) exemplifies this process and the textural outcome, creating movement, of Olivier’s labour:

Peruvian Folk Girl, Olivier Mourão, 2016

Peruvian Folk Girl is a brightly coloured work of the artist, made primarily from hand-crafted paper which is carefully placed to illuminate her seemingly pleasantly dancing figure. However, there remains a complexity, a contradiction in the work which is formed after the artist applied the acrylic. The girl is assumed to be dancing delightfully with carefree hips and gesturally open arms, however the paint that locks onto her eyes entices not the viewer, but is deepened away from the spectator who at first has laid his own eyes upon an illuminating form. The paint almost creates a hollowness to not only her visage, but also though to her entire figure, so coloured in such a joyful and delicate fanciful undertaking. 

Conversely, the artist himself harbours not a trait of detachment in his personality. He has been described as welcoming friendly; owner of Mount Gallery Irina Zonabend has met Olivier and many of his friends: ‘a most generous and giving person,’ seems to be a common characterisation the artist’s persona.

Olivier in his house.

Some art historians place much emphasis on the relationship between the biographical nature of the artist and the production of work. If one exercises that perception here, one will find Olivier’s gentile and protective treatment[8] of women and appeasing use of colour as a reflection of his gracious reputation.

The joy that is expressed through carefully constructed materials laboured over by Mourão’s hands in order to provide viewers with textural movement seems to be related to the generous and light-hearted man as described by many. The cerebral collage work of Picasso, internal and unemotional with his described narcissism and mechanical nature might be alluded to in works such as Violin, for it is not the material focused upon, but the way in which one can deconstruct. Absolutely subject are these theories. What do you make of the relation between the authors of collage and their historically personal temperaments?

[1] According to the artist, he had met Picasso as a youth in Brazil whilst, long before his teenage years, the country was applauding his children’s portraits, as his profuse talent as a painter had been discovered by the age of eight.

[2] Defined by Dr Jeanne Willette as ‘mixed media:’ ‘everything and anything that can conceivably adhered to, attached to, or pasted onto a canvas, piece of paper, or any kind of flat ground’ in Willette, Jeanne, 18 February 2011, Phases of Cubism: Synthetic Cubism, ‘Art History Unstuffed’ [online]. Last viewed 8 February 2020 at https://arthistoryunstuffed.com/phases-of-cubism-synthetic-cubism/

[3] Delistraty, Cody, How Picasso Bled the Women in His Life for Art, ‘The Paris Review’ [online]. Last viewed 10 February 2020. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/09/how-picasso-bled-the-women-in-his-life-for-art/

[4] Delistraty, 2017.

[5] Willette, Jeanne.

[6] Willette.

[7] The present author indulgently wonders what Walter Benjamin (through the eyes of his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction of 1935) might have thought of the aura of these collages with the notion that they were built as parts of mechanisms. 

[8] The author refers to Olivier’s treatment of women, as, in the author’s opinion, the pieces in the exhibit seem to assert a literal respect in his depiction of the female form. This can be expounded upon piece by piece.  

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