If Pablo Picasso was an African, his peers would have, in accordance with naming traditions, added the trait of an animal to his identity. A lion, leopard, elephant, or crocodile etc. He would perhaps best be called “Picasso the great chameleon”. A preeminent artist known for his longevity, the ability to change and adapt to the world of art that surrounded him and to see things with a double vision that generated images as if they were in three dimensions, long before computers made this possible. A painter with an astute, creative mind and the ability to merge with what was going on around him and emerge from it at critical moments in the medium’s history with a slightly different identity. A political animal both dubious and opportunistic, with the guile to not only measure the pulse of contemporary art but to add to its rhythm. And the mythology of this great “African chameleon” would be that he did not undergo a transformation just once but repeatedly over his life time.
A brilliant seam in the strata of painting’s geology connects the painters Titan, Rembrandt, Goya, Turner, Monet, Matisse, Miro, Beckmann, DeKooning, Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Diebenkorn, Richter, Stella, Agnes Martin, Guston and Picasso. It reveals a rare but reoccurring practice that has added significant paintings to art’s history. Time, pressure and heat, forged remarkable bodies of work to percolate at the end of each of their lives. The late works question the reading of an artist’s oeuvre within a fixed discourse of artistic and cultural identity. The often belated, recognition of their late achievements, confounds earlier and perhaps premature notions of the character and beliefs that shape artistic identities. The late showing of artistic brilliance provides examples of how shifts in practice undermine or solidify identities. Artists today, who do not want to suffer the indignity of having their identity ventriloquised by others, can take something from Picasso’s identity permutations. Focussing on the collection of late Picasso works held in the Barcelona collection, the issues of artistic identity can be an inspiration to painters today.