CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 2004
Picasso: Soul on Fire provides an excellent introduction for middle school, or older, readers to the man whom many would call the greatest artist of the twentieth century. The book accomplishes this potentially daunting task by focusing on seven pivotal art works by the artist and weaving an illustrated biographical narrative around them.
The text of the book is illustrated by two parallel but contrasting sets of visuals: the artworks by Picasso, himself, and the oil paintings by the book's illustrators, husband-and-wife team Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson (also the author). A typical double-page layout features a work by Picasso with text on the left-hand page while, on the facing page, an illustration depicts an event in the artist's life related to that work. Both text and visuals in Picasso: Soul on Fire highlight the theme that this artist's experiences, both positive and negative, provided the imagery and emotional energy which made up his unique style. One of the strengths of the book is the way that the text and illustrations join forces to convey the whole sensuous, messy process of making art. Dramatic descriptions of Picasso's working methods, for instance, are combined with close-up views of the artist's brush dipping into lustrous blobs of oil paint. The reader/viewer is able to see Picasso's environment through his eyes.
Sometimes inspiration is a difficult thing to come by. It hides when it is sought. When it is least expected, it appears. Picasso found inspiration by being open to it.
Considered on its own, the text is well suited to middle years readers. It uses a direct style with a concrete vocabulary that appeals to the senses. Rather than overwhelming the reader with a mass of art historical detail, Jacobson provides just enough information (about the Blue Period, for example, or the bombing of Guernica) to provide contexts for the chosen paintings, and to encourage curious readers to conduct some research on their own.
The illustrations by Fernandez and Jacobson contrast with Picasso's work in that they are painted with bold brush strokes in mostly neutral tones, with a few jolts of colour here and there. Heightened contrasts of light and dark add to the drama of the scenes. These illustrations bleed off the boundaries of the right-hand pages and in some ways overpower the smaller, more self-contained works by Picasso opposite them. One wishes that we could see the same level of detail in the Picasso paintings as we can in the illustrations. However, once again, this lack of detail could prompt viewers to conduct further research into Picasso's art in other books. Supported by the text, the illustrations do succeed wonderfully in communicating how the experiences of the artist - at a friend's home, at a café or in his studio - were transformed into art through his powerful imagination. In this respect, the book will provide useful insights for young artists who sometimes wonder where artists get their ideas.
Picasso: Soul on Fire features a couple of bonuses of interest to librarians, teachers and individual readers. First, a biographical timeline at the back of the book outlines the key events in Picasso's life. Again, the level of detail is such that the reader is left wanting more; additional research is encouraged. And second, when the paper jacket protecting the hard cover of the book is taken off and turned over, it is transformed into a poster illustration of Picasso - the perfect addition to any library, classroom, art room or bedroom wall.
Ann Stinner is a former art education instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.