Tuesday 23 July 2019

A dark side painted by Picasso's women

Siobhan Hegarty regards McAvera's play on the victims of an artistic giant as a human insight

Siobhan Hegarty

WHERE does the realm of eroticism and sensualism end and the domain of pornography and perversion begin? And was Pablo Picasso capable of telling the difference?

He once famously remarked "sex and art are the same thing" -- and, indeed, the artistic expression of sexuality was an intrinsic part of his genius.

Picasso was a sadist who abused his women -- wives, lovers and muses alike; beating one until she was unconscious and taking pleasure in holding a lighting candle to the face of another. Promiscuous all his adult life, Picasso viewed women as sexual objects there to meet his sexual needs.

He wooed them, adored them and abused them in turn and, when he tired of them, discarded them cruelly. Much of his life's work focussed on sexual themes such as voyeurism, prostitution, impotence and sexual violence.

Could his genius have been born from his own perverse sexual appetite; rared on the destruction of these women and matured on the back of their broken lives?

Artistic sexuality (with themes such as sadomasochism, torture, rape and even bestiality) has, of course, been around for centuries.

In 1863 Manet stirred controversy in the art world with his Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, which depicted a nude female having a picnic.

Indeed, the term 'pornography' itself was coined by a 19th-Century art historian who used it to describe erotic art and statues. In his paintings, Picasso blurred erotica into pornography and pornography into erotica, as easily as he mixed his colours.

Picasso's Women is a series of eight one-woman plays by Derry-born playwright and author Brian McAvera, three of which are currently being presented by the Focus Theatre in the New Theatre in Temple Bar.

It is billed as "a passionate, erotic, funny and moving evening of theatre probing into the love life of Picasso through the eyes of three of his lovers." McAvera gives the great master's women a voice; a voice which resonates from beyond the grave.

Picasso's Women has been extensively produced elsewhere to huge critical acclaim. No less a person than model Jerry Hall has performed one of the plays in Picasso's Women at the Malvern Theatre in the UK. A prophet not hugely recognised in his own land, McAvera, a father of two daughters, now lives in Co Down with his wife.

Indeed, he admits to being "an outsider looking in" here; attributing his "outsider" status to his work in the early Seventies which dealt with the Troubles. I spent an hour in his company before going in to see the play, an hour in which it became clear just how deep an insight he has into the great artist: "Picasso's sex drive had a very positive effect on his art, but a very negative one in terms of its effect on other people. Picasso was small and stocky. But he had a magnetic presence."

Gorgeous, graphic and, at times, grotesque, Picasso's Women lived up to its billing -- it was indeed a funny, erotic and moving theatrical experience. The first monologue Fernande was by actress Aisling McLaughlin. Aisling gave a stunning performance in which she subtly allowed the personality of Fernande to slowly flower. A performance full of raw emotion, Aisling held the audience spellbound as the abuse she suffered at Picasso's hands was drawn in vivid strokes -- a truly memorable performance.

The second play was Olga, played by Cathy White. Olga was Picasso's first wife and a ballet dancer, and the woman who gave him his only legitimate child. Cathy is possessed of a big stage presence, and her portrayal of Olga -- a loud, slightly coarse Russian woman -- was beautifully captured.

The final one-woman monologue Gaby, was played by Barbara Dempsey. The funniest of the three plays, Barbara delighted us with her humour, while simultaneously horrifying us by her strong portrayal of a woman damaged by a sadistic genius.

Run chronologically, the plays span most of the 20th Century and chart the course of the artist's long life; from the madness of war-time Paris to his reclusive demise in 1973.

Picasso might not have known -- or cared -- where the sexual boundaries lay, but by his own lack of them he vividly sketched how important some boundaries are.

Picasso's Women is currently running in the New Theatre, Temple Bar at 8pm, until November 3. Matinees October 20 and 27, 2pm. Bookings (01) 670 3361.It will run at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum Town Centre at 8pm from November 5 to 10. Matinee, November 10, 2pm. Bookings (01) 2969340.

See Emer O'Kelly, Living Section

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