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How Picasso influenced me

Atul Dodiya prepares for a tribute to Picasso in Barcelona and reflects on the legend’s impact on his work

“I knew I wanted to be a painter when I was 10 years old, and made my acquaintance with Pablo Picasso around the same time. The sheer genius of his work bewildered me. I longed to see the originals, but the closest I got to his work was reproductions in the copies of TIME magazine that I would pick up from the raddiwallah. When Picasso died in 1973, I remember carefully cutting out every single newspaper article I could find about him. I was 14 at the time – the same age at which he was already painting his realist masterpieces. 

Picasso’s influence on my work wasn’t technical: our subjects weren’t similar, neither were our styles. It was much greater – it was ideological. His openness to experimenting is something I have tried to emulate.

When I finally got to immerse myself in his original paintings, I was 30 and in Paris on a scholarship. I would go to the Musée Picasso over and over again. If you look at his work from the early Blue and Rose periods to when he invented Cubism to later still, when his works turned Classical at the time of World War I – the change is staggering. His ability to learn and unlearn and then do it all over again gave me courage to open myself up to all the things I knew I had inside me, but hadn’t the confidence to express. My first solo show in 1989 had been broadly categorised as “photo-realist”, but when I returned from Paris, I began to allow myself to be receptive to new kinds of influences – like Bollywood poster styles and calendar oleographs of gods and goddesses that were not necessarily seen as high art. (Picasso, too, had taken up pottery and ceramics, which are considered more decorative art forms, but lent them an unbelievably high standard.)

Later, during the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, I channelled my fury and helplessness into my ‘Shutter’ series and watercolours, which nodded to Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy.  Picasso’s iconic Guernica, in which he expressed his sorrow at the bombing of a village in his homeland [Spain], has served as the ultimate inspiration for all artists who use their work to revolt against injustice.

The other thing that delighted me greatly was just how prolific he was. Pablo Picasso created so much powerful art – no matter what the medium – until he died at 92. After having followed his work for the better part of my life, I still come by new works I didn’t even know existed. 

When [curator] Michael FitzGerald asked me to be part of this show, I hadn’t even realised that nearly 15 of my works directly referenced the master until Michael brought it to my attention. Such has been his impact on my life. I have adored him since I was a little boy dreaming of creating art. This exhibition – in his namesake museum, in his homeland – feels like coming full circle.”

‘Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions’ will be held at Museu Picasso in Barcelona from March 6 onwards.