Linocuts: Part 1 - Finding Form

May 19, 2021
Still life with fruit bowl
Nature Morte au Verre sous La Lampe (Bloch 1101), 1962, linocut, 24 7/16 x 29 9/16 inches

We last left Picasso in the South of France. He’d met Jacqueline, his last love and muse, and during the period had purchased three homes in three different towns. Despite the spread, Picasso’s geographical dedication remained to Vallauris – there, he’d spent a lot of time honing his pottery craft (which, of course, had led to Jacqueline, who had been a saleswoman at the studio in which he worked – maybe it wasn’t pottery he liked so much, after all). For this he had a special connection with the community, and so for local events (bullfights, ceramic shows), he volunteered his time and talent to making posters. You may be thinking: how nice, it seems Picasso had settled down. In fact – the stage had been set for the final great stylistic period in his chronology, defined as the others were by a trademark compulsive energy and relentless innovation. But also, and this exceptionally, by color. Today we explore Picasso’s linocuts.

            Linocut is a linoleum-based printmaking technique whose simple production has lent it an association with early advertising. It is most comparable to woodcut, in that the creator cuts material away from the flat surface of a block. When the block is inked with a roller, the cut away places don’t take any ink so that, when inked and printed, the cut away pieces become the remaining composition.

So, why linocut over woodcut? Linoleum is an inexpensive material; it is more supple and lighter than wood. For that, it can be done with more speed and less effort than needed when working with wood.* Despite the softness of the material, the artist can still lay fine lines – as we see above, in Nature morte au verre sous la lampe (B1101). The tabletop takes every glancing shard of light from the exposed, dangling bulb, and the background is cut and cast with minutely articulated shadowing. The effect is painterly and detailed, and it is hardly believable that Picasso cut this intricate work from a piece of plastic – especially knowing that, once run through the press, the composition would appear in reverse; he had to cut into the block and create the composition backwards.

            Well, believe it. It is true that Picasso would not have mastered the technique – he may not have even dabbled in it – had he not met the printer Hidalgo Arnéra. Arnéra made signs for the local shops in Vallauris. After stumbling upon his studio, Picasso watched how Arnéra took a linoleum sheet, cut text into it – and it was ready to print. No cumbersome stones, no heavy plates.

This was another part of the appeal; though Picasso had relocated South, his printers were still located in Paris. In order to see an impression of his image, stones and plates had to be couriered to the Parisian studios. Weeks could pass between creation and impression. This was frustrating for Picasso, who utilized the systematic nature of printmaking to study his own creative process. Recognizing the immediacy of linocut, and the geographical perk of Arnéra’s studio, Picasso plunged into experimentation, adapting his own motifs to the technique and working closely with Arnéra – just as he had with Lacourière throughout his creation of etchings and Mourlot when mastering lithography.

But of course, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. As I alluded, Picasso’s wonderful experiments in linocut were simultaneously a foray into color. Color had never really been the focus of Picasso’s prints; suddenly, they were exploding with it, defined by it. And in true form, Picasso’s future linocuts would not just use color – they would reinvent its use.

I’ll leave you in suspense there. Until next time, wishing you a safe, happy, and warm weekend.




*Lieberman, William S. TK TEXT TITLE, (TK PUB DATE) (pp. 11-12)

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