Picasso's granddaughter talked about the influence the Spanish-born artist had on pop art and other influential artists, including Ohio State's Roy Lichtenstein.
Jack Cowart speaks about Roy Lichtenstein’s work while Diana Widmaier Picasso listens during the Lambert Lecture. (Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons)
By Adam King
Roy Lichtenstein, Ohio State’s almost professor, had just finished his tour in the Army during World War II. His fascination for cubist art — and his reverence for Pablo Picasso — led him to the artist’s front gate in France. Here was his living inspiration, the man who had influenced his own artistic journey just feet away, but he couldn’t go in, let alone knock.
Sandro Miller’s 2014 work, “Irving Penn/Pablo Picasso, Cannes France (1957),” from the Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich – Homage to photographic masters series, Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
(© Sandro Miller / Image courtesy Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago)
Of that moment, Lichtenstein, who helped pioneer the 1960s’ pop art movement with his re-imagination of Picasso’s work, would later be quoted as saying, “What would I say to him that would be of any value to him?”
Lichtenstein, who graduated from Ohio State in 1946, died in 1997 without ever having met Picasso. But his works are homage to the master, and one, Picasso Head, is currently on display as part of the After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts, which runs through Dec. 31.
His works also were central to the discussion during the Lambert Family Lecture Nov. 13 at the Wex, which featured an armchair talk between the artist’s granddaughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, and Jack Cowart, founding executive director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, about Picasso’s wide influence.
For artists who inspired pop art, such as Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Picasso’s works were the jumping-off point for their visual experimentation, said Widmaier Picasso, who is co-curator of the current exhibit Picasso.mania in the Grand Palais in Paris.
“There was something liberating for Lichtenstein to be able to create something new from a Picasso,” she said.
Lichtenstein saw his first Picasso, the masterpiece Guernica, in 1939 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art with his sister and mother. He likely saw it again during its Columbus appearance when he began his studies at Ohio State.
Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Ohne Titel (Picasso). (VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn for Hans-Peter Feldmann
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)
After graduation and graduate school at Ohio State, Lichtenstein taught for a time at the university, but he was denied tenure. He moved to Cleveland and later New York, where his career blossomed. He dabbled with various art genres through the decades, but surrealism was always present.
“Roy was never afraid to change his subject matter or his serial work that interested him but did not interest the market,” Cowart said after Widmaier Picasso noted artists and collectors dismissed Picasso’s late work as evidence of senility. “Roy learned courage from Picasso.”
While Picasso drew his inspiration and instruction from art history’s masters such as El Greco and Rembrandt, he believed art shouldn’t exist outside the moment. Quoting her grandfather, Widmaier Picasso said, “‘For me art is never past or future. If a work of art doesn’t live in the present, then it hasn’t succeeded at all.’”
Early on, Lichtenstein, who always viewed himself an abstract artist, often worried about looking too much like Picasso.
“Roy was trying to become an artist when Picasso was a contemporary, not in age but very much alive both in stylist, intellectual and creative ways,” Cowart said. “He always takes the air out of the room. How do you find space for yourself? Roy never let you see he was sweating, but he was insecure.”
Later in life, however, Lichtenstein felt he “smartened up” and improved upon cubism.
As the lecture drew to a close, Cowart summed up Lichtenstein’s thoughts on the man he knew but never met. In quoting Lichtenstein, Cowart said, “‘Picasso himself likely would have thrown up looking at my paintings. Or maybe he would have fallen in love with my work and then destroyed all of his.’”
Cowart and Widmaier Picasso share a light-hearted moment at Mershon Auditorium. (Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons)