Monday, November 28, 2016

Seeing Guernica in Madrid, Spain

Picasso's Guernica
During my days in Madrid, I got lost over and over again, and in that lostness, I was able to eat great food and see great art. It seemed like Madrid was just one big maze, and in that maze, I could not find my way out. (Nor, did I want to.)

Being in such a maze led me to different tapas bars, and I would stop inside and order a Spanish champagne called Cava, and order some food.

There was one place called the Serafina, and I went there six times. The owner got to know me.

The first night I ordered risotto (Italian rice) with duck and truffle oil. I threw some salt on it and each spoonful was rich and fatty and bursted with flavors of robustness.

Another dish I enjoyed was these pieces of squid, which were cooked in champagne and served with caramelized onions over thin french fries. It tasted sweet and salty and from the sea.

I ate alone each time, but I did not feel lonely. Often times, I would just sit and eat and daydream about a life that could be. Other times, I would reflect on all the art I saw.

Often, I'd read from The Old Man and the Sea. It was the first time I read the novella. I was drawn into the story.

If this is what it's like to be lost, then I hope I'll never be found. Because, after one's found, can one be lost again? And if this is what it means to be lost, then I don't need to be found either.

I went to the Prado again. The first time was better, two years ago, but only because everything was new then. And because it was new, it was all exciting.

This time around, however, I noticed myself studying the paintings and trying to understand what the artist was trying to say. I could see what messages the artist was trying to stress, clearer than last time.

Hemingway stated that studying drawings and paintings helped his writing. Being at the Prado, I could see why.
Fighting Cats by Goya
One new painting I found, was one of Goya. He painted fighting cats. I so wanted to bring it home.

I thought that Jeh Pan, my cat, would appreciate seeing his European relatives on the wall. I think the right one looks more like him.

The day after I went to the Prado, I went to see Picasso's work. It was in seeing his works, that I knew the dead spoke to me. And I understood what they said.

I saw his famous Guernica. When I saw it, I could feel the awakening of a force inside of me; I could feel the great force of his human spirit.

To understand Guernica, you have to understand the Bombing of Guernica. During World War II, the Nazis bombed the tiny village of Guernica, in northern Spain, where women and children were mainly living. The affair horrified people, as the military attacked helpless civilians. The artists of the time were particularly in shock.

Picasso, then living in Paris, read the accounts of the Bombing of Guernica and decided to do something about it. He decided to paint what is now known as the great Guernica.

It's a 25 foot by 11 foot painting (which is very large indeed), done in black and white, in a cubist style, representing the horrors of war through fragmentation and fracturing and splintering and splitting of realities. It took him only 35 days to complete.

In preparation for the painting, he drew several sketches, which I saw as well.

Those sketches spoke to me. In those few lines, it was as if I was touching the pulse of a master artist. You could see the control and power in the drawing, and you could feel the force behind the artist.

But nothing could prepare me for seeing the final and actual work. I was in awe.

In Guernica, one piece, I could see the fragmentation, the incoherency, and the horrors of war. I could see how people in power destroyed the lives of the innocent, only to maintain and gain control. I saw the destruction of realities, and the pain and the torture of humanity. For me, if there was any main message, it was this: Is there any meaning behind this quest for control? 

You could see the brokenness of the bull and the horse (both Spanish national symbols). The whole work, echoes to its viewer, whether any kind of reality is left. You could see the horrified mother, who lost her baby in the bombings. And if you study the painting hard enough, you could see the secret harlequins and symbols of death, imbued into it. Nonetheless, it's very present (even if one can't see the themes consciously).

And lost in that hopelessness, though, the artists of that museum spoke to me, even though they're dead. And their message was very clear to me.

Although they have guns, germs, and steel, we can fight back by capturing the animus of the human spirit. These artists did so with their paintings.

I realized I can do so too, and have been doing so, with my words, words that capture the truth of the human essence. For they may have guns, germs, and steel, but we have something more: the expression of the soul - which rages and wages on, even when the guns have been shot, germs have been eradicated, and the steel has been pitted, rusted, and melted.

Picasso and the artist of his time are dead. But they still live on and have a conversation with us.

And they're able to do so, because they gave of themselves and their lives and their energy to stop the present evil of their days. And even if they considered themselves to have failed, they gave everything of themselves to try and fight on.

For certain, I was inspired, inspired by the dead, inspired by the dead, whom still live on in and through their works.

The story goes, that an SS officer entered Picasso's building in Paris (because he couldn't return to Spain), and upon seeing Picasso's picture of Guernica, asked him, "Did you do that?"

Picasso replied, "No, you did."

I was inspired. And that inspiration, gave me great hope in knowing that the work I've done (and will do) is not in vain. For even after my flesh and bones rot away back into earth, I know that an artist's work will live on.

While reflecting upon all this, in a tapas bar in Madrid, drinking my cava, I was reading Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, who incidentally had conversations with Picasso. I found my favorite line.

In it, it says, "But I will show him what a man can do and what a man can endure." That's right: I'll show them what a man can do and what a man can endure. And the people watching will shout: "Olé! Olé! Olé!"

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