Ceramics offered Pablo Picasso a relaxing break from his other mediums. He loved the alternative challenges brought about by this art form, and called upon specialist help in order to quickly get to grips with the nuances of this discipline.
A visit to a pottery exhibition in 1946 gave inspiration to Picasso for this art medium. Ceramics then started to become a significant part of his work, offering three dimensional opportunities for his creativity, just as sculpture had also done. An early relationship for Picasso proved very fruitful when ceramic specialists, Suzanne and Georges Ramié, were persuaded to offer open their considerable production resources to him. In return, they would take some commission on work that he produced. The benefits of this connection to Picasso went far beyond the use of the studio - they had untold experience in this medium which would help him to find new avenues for his ideas, and they also held valuable connections which could further promote his career. Clay items continued with mythological themes and pottery was seen by Picasso as a calming pastime as he appreciated the tactile nature of the development process. Animal shapes, such as owls and fishes plus face motifs appear over and over from his ceramics of this period.
A chance meeting with Jacqueline Roque from the factory was also an important moment, the couple later marrying in 1961. Having begun his work with ceramics in the late 1940s, he artist would continue to revisit this medium all the way up to his death in the early 1970s, leaving behind a considerable body of work which remains one of the most interesting genres of his career. The abundance of items from it that continue to be traded between different private collections has also helped to keep interest in it refreshed, as most of his paintings now reside in major art galleries and institutions where they are unlikey to move on from any time soon. The full body of his ceramics ran to around 3,500 items in total, which is quite an achievement considering it is still seen as a secondary element to his career by many. In truth, all of his mediums would crossover in ways that promoted each one, with drawing persisting throughout all the others, for example.
A quick browse of Picasso's ceramics reveals a flurry of platters, bowls, pitchers, jugs and vases. He may have been somewhat restricted by the expertise of his colleagues, who would likely have encouraged these types of items because of their own knowledge around them. Across each one he had a consistent style which drew on several clear themes, as well as drawing on his talents elsewhere, such as in the way each one would be hand painted with free and flowing lines of brightly coloured paint. He also re-used some of the themes from his paintings for these pieces, though not all would be suited for this alternative challenge. He could not implement huge levels of detail akin to his earlier traditional painting style, and needed to work with simpler designs that felt much more contemporary. He quickly found that animals and birds were well suited to his work, with his owl pitchers being highly memorable. Some of his best designs were reproduced into series of up to five hundred copies, allowing him to benefit financially from this work, as well as providing a reward for those who lent him the use of their tools and studio.
There was a real sense of fun within the designs that Picasso produced here, and he was known to be a huge animal lover for example. Combined with the calming side of ceramic production, this was clearly something that the artist loved to do and saw it as a welcome distraction from other elements of his work. The opportunity to learn from specialists in this field may also have taken away the early frustrations normally experienced by those looking to produce work with new mediums and it may even have reminded him of his early student days, where there was no real pressure on him whilst he worked. Enjoyment has always been a recipe for success, where artists are able to channel the best of their creativity whilst working in a relaxed manner. Some of the designs feel brisk and expressive, using abstract lines, as few as possible. This reminds us of his famous single line drawings of small creatures that are currently amongst his most popular artworks within the general public.
Whilst working within the ceramics field from the 1940s until his death, he would retain his connection to the Madoura pottery studio throughout. His friendship with Georges and Suzanne Ramié was key to him retaining his passion for this art form, whilst continuing to work in so many others. They were very helpful in allowing the creation of multiple editions of individual designs which allowed them all to profit substantially. Even items in series of 50 or 100 can still sell today at auction for tens of thousands of dollars, with a number of the rest of the output presumably damaged or destroyed by now. There are only a few famous artists who managed to turn their creative talents into an effective business, and releasing batches of work such as this was also found with etchings that could be printed in many series. The ability to offer limited edition collections also helps those with smaller budgets to capture original art, when Picasso's paintings, for example, would have been well out of reach for most individuals. This allows an artist's reputation to spread further within society.
A pleasing personal aspect to these ceramics is that the artist would make use of many of them within his own home, and always started off each project from the perspective of aiming to produce something that held a clear function. Whilst most who get hold of an original ceramic item from his career today will store them away with great care, or perhaps put them on display just as they would a painting or sculpture, the artist himself had a desire to use some of them himself and enjoyed this unique element found with ceramics. He maybe based his designs on items that would work best within his own house, and we also know that he kept many pets during his lifetime, and so his animal iconography would have fitted well with that. Most of the animals and birds we refer to as his "pets" were actually just in and around his living arrangements, such as the pigeons who regularly wandered around his home upstairs. It would not have occured to him to have a pet in the formal sense, but he just loved to be around these creatures on a daily basis. Eventually they would start to appear in his work too, across a variety of different mediums.
Whilst drawing on Greek mythology and bullfighting, most of Picasso's ceramics were of human or animal portraits. You will see the image of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, many times. They actually met within the studio that both of them worked in for several years. He would sometimes give away items as gifts to friends and family and generally found a great enjoyment in doing so. His famous dog, Lump, would also appear in other pieces, again as a sign of those relationships that he considered most important. He liked to give creatures a real personality of their own and did so with some creative amendments to their natural form. For example, there were fish with happy smiles and large eyes, akin to the way in which many children's cartoonists would design similar figures. He would also link the shapes of items to the animal that they portrayed, such as a pitcher which carefully creates the main elements of the face of an owl. This was clearly an artist who was enjoying life, expressing happiness in his work that derived from his personal life. This positivity is always likely to be well received by today's public, who prefer upbeat, contemporary styles such as this.
Picasso would vary his techniques, in collaboration with the specialist advice that he received throughout his time in the shared studio. Oxides and glazes can be found, and he also varied the firing methods as well as experimenting with engraving as well. He was careful in adding a stamp or other form of certification to each of his creations in order to ensure that their sale value was ensured. He also wanted to be clear and transparent around how many editions of each design had been created. There have been a number of publications that have focused on his work in this medium and he remains more generally one of the most researched artists in European history. Items from these limited edition sets continue to come up for sale at auction every now and again but a flurry of fake copies have also appeared in recent years that much be carefully avoided by choosing the most trusted sellers. For many reasons, it is easier to forge such a piece rather than one of his paintings, because of the numbers involved and the lack of uniqueness around each individual design.
Although their styles were slightly different to Pablo Picasso, you may also be interested in the ceramic creations of Joan Miro, Josep Llorens Artigas and Joan Gardy Artigas. Miro himself had already created a form of typography within his drawings and paintings that he was looking to carry across into other mediums and he drew on the specialist skills of others, just as Picasso would do. In a way, his work bears similarities because of his use of abstract forms that were based on real things but adapted to fit his own world. Miro used items such as the night sky constellations to inspire his designs, and also started to make use of natural objects that he found lying around, including pebbles. He would in their case bypass the entire pottery process and jump straight to the decorative touches of paint. Both men would create a large body of work within the ceramics discipline that perfectly complemented the styles incorporated elsewhere. Artigas father and son would become the most famous Spanish ceramic artists in terms of specialising, and Miro was very fortunate to be able to make use of their considerable knowledge and passion for this art form.
You will not find a major art institution that specifically specialises in the theme of Picasso's ceramics, and most of these pieces have been dispersed into a large number of private collections all across the world. This has made it harder to document them all, but some work has been done with a number of recent publications that have at least outlined the various designs and listed the number of variants of each that were produced at the time. There have been a few smaller galleries who have been able to pull together exhibitions of his work in this medium but they are distinctly rare and will likely become even more infrequent over time, as their own collections of work is sold on to private buyers. Much of what he produced was sold directly from the studio in which he worked, and so they would initally have had roots in the local and national community but the popularity of the artist has put them in great demand, meaning they have since changed hands many times.