Young Picasso

We heard from award-winning director Phil Grabsky.

Milly Maloco

17 Jan 19

For most, Picasso is such an iconic name. How do you hope to showcase him in Young Picasso?

There is little question that Pablo Picasso is considered a giant of the 20th century. For some, he is the greatest artist of all time. Yet how much do people really know about him? I always want to know where an artist comes from, what were his or her influences, what was happening around them, who else was painting at that time and influencing them? I want to know 'why' this small boy from Málaga becomes such a superstar. We gained privileged access to every major Picasso museum and with their help, I think we really do reveal that extraordinary journey – that ultimately led to an impoverished 26-year-old painting a work that changed art history forever.

"I always want to know where an artist comes from, what were his or her influences, what was happening around them, who else was painting at that time and influencing them?"

Did you make this documentary out of personal interest in the work of Pablo Picasso? 

I came up with the idea of Exhibition On Screen in 2009. No-one had thought to bring major exhibitions and the lives of artists to the cinema in this way before and I have to say people thought the idea was crazy. The only cinema chain in the UK that had faith in my vision was Picturehouse and I remember that our first film on Leonardo sold out almost all the 41 cinemas. That was the birth of Exhibition On Screen. Right from the beginning, I have wanted to make this film about Picasso – first of all I was busy establishing the brand and making other films on Manet, Munch, Monet and some artists whose first names don't start with 'M'! But 4 years ago I started the ball rolling on Picasso and, fast-forward, the film is done. It's making me very happy that those who we have worked with in all the major Picasso museums are very pleased and complimentary about the film.

'Young Picasso' -  Why did you focus only on the youth of Picasso, and what years of his life does this cover?

So much focus on Picasso is always him as an older artist – where he has almost reached a certain age and doesn't change. The Tate's recent and fascinating show '1932' is a good example of that. He is already established, has his look, has an established personality. But with all my biographical films such as the composer ones on Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Haydn too it is always fascinating and essential to go back to the beginning and ask, 'why them?'. I don't think people do know that much about what made 'Picasso' – including why he painted under that name for example. It's a gripping tale to really enjoy in the cinema. A great story, extraordinary images, superb locations, fascinating insight from those that know his story in great detail including his own grandson.

Did you personally learn something new from the process of making this film, and can we expect to discover something new about his life and art from watching?

I've been making art films for over 20 years and have been to plenty of Picasso exhibitions too but I learnt a HUGE amount. I really had not appreciated the importance of Málaga and indeed La Coruña and Madrid. The influence of his father, the influence of other artists in Barcelona, his poverty in Paris – oh, and so much more. Perhaps most striking was the quality and breadth of his art – right from his teenage years. There is a very clear journey from his first sketches to the 1907 painting that changed art: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. I also have to add that the museums we worked with in Barcelona, Málaga and Paris are among the finest in the world – wonderful places to spend time.

Those who might not be familiar with Picasso's work from his younger years, could you tell us your favourite painting from this period and why?

That's very tough. There really are dozens to choose from. We have lots in the film from his famous blue and pink periods – all of them I would happily hang on my living room wall. But there is one that is fun and stands out – not because it is a great painting, but it captures a moment of youth, enthusiasm and ambition. It is called Picasso arrives in Paris – and it shows him having just arrived for the first time in the city that all artists dreamt of getting to. He had never left Spain before and he and a friend, fellow-artist Carles Casegemas, in matching brown corduroy suits had come from Barcelona by train in third-class carriages and had arrived at the Gare d'Orsay (now the famous museum). The excitement of Paris was almost too much for them. And, as fate would have it, one of them killed himself and one of them became the artistic master of the 20th century.

What can audiences expect next from Exhibition on Screen?

Cinema is the ideal place to see such films, to explore such biographies, to luxuriate in such paintings. Young Picasso is obviously next but coming soon we have Rembrandt and then Van Gogh & Japan. Both are absolutely gorgeous and gripping. Meanwhile, we are busy already on the next season. But we ask a favour of you all: Exhibition On Screen needs your help: please try to bring one extra person next time you come to Picturehouse to see one of our films – because if you and a guest or two can keep coming, we can keep making films like this.

Exhibition on Screen: Young Picasso is in Picturehouse Cinemas 11 & 18 Feb.