The self-catering little apartment we stayed in (I could totally have moved in full time) described itself as being a blend between Nordic Design and Mediterranean Warmth. What a combo! And a phrase that makes a useful lens through which to see Barcelona. Catalonia has often been referred to as a southern Scandinavia – industrious, ingenious, design focused but with all the flair and passion of its Mediterranean surroundings. Barcelona is fun and vibrant but according to What’s Up With Catalonia? not quite as laid back, and easy going as some of their more spirited neighbours.
A blend between these two poles strikes me as a good aspirational model for Scotland and the west of Scotland especially. Glasgow and Barcelona have a lot of similarities, both are comprised of practical, aesthetic storytellers who like to let their hair down. If Edinburgh can be the Athens of the North perhaps Glasgow can be the Barcelona of the North and in turn Barcelona can be the Glasgow of the South. I’m all about a future Scotland gettin’ its Nordic Design on but we should also embrace our Mediterranean Warmth (if not a literal warmth…).
We ventured out of our well cool apartment and saw all sorts that I would recommend including Gaudi’s charming Park Guell, the austere la Cathedral, the sublime Sadrada Familia, the informative History of Catalonia Museum. Also if you get to Barcelona, as well as generously portioned tapas and fresh seafood paella, eat a doughnut. Thank me later.
Here I focus on a trip to the Picasso Museum.
Before going to Barcelona I was not especially familiar with Picasso’s art. It was great then to discover vividly, before my eyes, the progression from his precocious youth – to mastering the techniques – to abandoning convention – to creating his own convention, his own language. The paintings were effective as a great sweep, there was the tension between the pieces which created a crackling atmosphere. Something you don’t get from a hodge podge of different artists is that continuing thread in the spaces between the art as well as the pieces themselves.
My favourite part of the collection was the culmination of the odd and startling of his latter work meeting the humane and beautiful themes of some his former works in the Les Meninas series. The paintings are a series of haunting interpretations of the classic ‘breaking the fourth wall’ renaissance painting wrought again and again with new emphasis and shifts in each piece. Incredible to see all these paintings, ostensibly of exactly the same subject, repeated over and over again in remarkably different ways. Incredible, enjoyable and often frustrating. Pleasing and disorientating and yet almost calming following the patterns of the bold colours and shapes. It was immersive choosing an element and watching how it evolved and devolved and disappeared and was resurrected.
The series is a sharp glimpse into human memory and emotion, watching how something searing and centre stage can be reduced to a line or a smudge in the corner. It is so that our memories and impressions shift and change as we paint and re-paint them. My favourite is the one painted 1956, September 18th. After taking a break from painting several paintings of the same subject day after day (to paint several other pictures of the same subject – this time pigeons) he returns and delivers one of the most detailed and ‘complete’ versions of the original scene. It is crowded like the initial painting in the sequence but less distant and cool. Still sinister but vibrant it shows the distinct figure of the silhouette opening the door on something it would seem he – and you looking at it – can’t hope to grasp.