Memoir X: The Humanity of Chardo Picasso

“Death can never defeat a good man’s legacy”, Richard Adio.

“Love is the greatest refreshment in life”, Pablo Ruiz Picasso.

The Queen and I are different in many ways, she is white, and I am black. She is rich and relative to her I am poor very poor. Lastly, she does not pay tax and I do. However, we do have one thing in common, we are both going to die. We do not know how, but it will happen.

The only thing that has a 100% success rate in this life, is our death.

“There is a first time for everything”. But we never think about the phrase, “There is a final time for everything”.

There is a final time for everything. I will have my final meal from KFC, I will have my final kiss and I will have my final breath.

Whether we like it or not, death is an intrinsic part of our life. We think we can outrun it and some of us even trick ourselves into thinking so, but it is futile.

However, it is natural to fear death, no one wants to think about their own mortality or even losing a loved one and who does. But in terms of our own death, I believe accepting the inevitable, gives us peace.

I believe life is a series of tests and losing a loved one is its greatest test. My friend once said, “Whether you are 13 or 30, losing a parent is something else” and she is right

Kanye West released his third studio album “Graduation” in September 2007, and just two months after the album’s release, he lost his mother, Donna West. Also, in April 2008, Kanye ended his engagement with Alexis Phifer

Within just a year, Kanye changed his sound. Kanye used his pain and crafted the project, 808s & Heartbreak. The project tackled subjects such as; fear of the unknown, self-doubt and heartbreak.

808s & Heartbreak was Kanye’s riskiest project, he was putting his career on the line. A “Kanye West album with no rapping from Kanye” was mindboggling to critics. To add to that, all the tracks featured him singing with autotune. It was a crazy move, especially after the trilogy of College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. However, Kanye stuck the landing. Although he divided his fans, 808s & Heartbreak ultimately changed hip hop forever. The album redefined what it meant to be a rapper.

Moreover, my first encounter with death, was when I was 7 years old. I had spent some time with family friends, and it had been a week or so since I had seen my mum.

When I entered my house, the atmosphere was different. My mum was happy to see me, but her body language was off. Five minutes had passed, and my mum broke the news to me. Her father, my grandfather had died.

During my childhood, I grew up watching films, cartoons and anime, and they all glamorised death.

It was on that day, that I learned the real world does not have; the infinity stones or regenerations or the “7 dragon balls”. Death is permanent, once you die, that is it.

It was very difficult for me at the time, emotionally I was still developing, and I never got the chance to meet my grandfather. My mum would always and even now tell me of the adventures they had, and the type of person he was. However, stories do not compare to seeing a loved one. Yes, pictures capture a memory. But it does not come close to seeing a loved one or giving them something as simple as a hug, or even hearing them say to you, “I’m proud of you” or “I love you”.

After my grandfather’s death, the idea of death was constantly on my mind. I would have happy thoughts and then suddenly descend into a deep state of melancholy. Next, I would sigh and then start to think about my own death. The thought of my own mortality would accelerate my heartbeat and then cause me to cry. I would have a mini existential crisis every month.

My fear of death became even worse because 3 years later, my mum lost her mother. Just like my grandfather, I never met her. I remember speaking to her when I was a child. However now, I have forgotten her voice. What makes it even worse was my grandmother’s wake keeping was on the same day as my 10th birthday party. It was strange, I reached the famous “double digits” but I lost a loved one. Family friends were saying to me, “Happy Birthday” and then to my mum, “I am sorry for your loss”.

After my tenth birthday, my own birthday never felt the same, even to this day I find it strange to celebrate my own birthday,.

The melancholy and the tears would follow me through to the end of my childhood. By my early teens, I developed thanatophobia the fear of one’s death.

However, I eventually overcame this phobia. When I was doing GCSEs, I did a speech about my phobia in front of my English GCSE class. I got a good grade as well.

By this point, you could say I entered the last stage of grief, acceptance. When I was in sixth form, my best friend lost her father. In my 22 years on this planet, I have only attended one funeral and that was my best friend’s father. My mum never allowed me to attend funerals during my teens. I would say, “Can I come?” and her response was always, “You’re too young” or “It would be too much for you”.

However, for my best friend, I ignored my mum. Attending the funeral helped, it allowed me to look at death from a different angle.

It taught me the death of a loved one should not stop a person’s life. But in fact, be the thing that galvanises a person’s life.

When I ask my mum what my grandparents were like, my mother would say, my grandfather was kind and caring. My grandmother; determined, disciplined and a woman with a steely attitude.

That’s the biggest weakness death has, it can take a person’s physical being, but it can never take a person’s impact on the world.

Why do I love navy suits, navy overcoats and blue shirts? I was inspired by a photo of my grandfather.

Why is 808s & Heartbreak my favourite Kanye project? Because Kanye used his mother’s death and his break up with Alexis Phifer to change hip hop forever.

Why do I love Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period art? Because he used the death of his close friend to redefine what the colour blue meant, and its relationship to sadness, sorrow and solitude.

Born 25th October 1881, in Málaga, Spain. Picasso was the firstborn of three children to both Don José Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y López.

Picasso was thought to be stillborn, after leaving his mother’s womb he did not make a sound. But, after 5 minutes, the artist made his first cry. Picasso’s father was an artist and he made his living from painting animals although, he was not a successful artist, he was also an art teacher and a curator.

Moreover, Picasso was drawing before he could even talk, his first words were alleged to be “piz”, short for lápiz Spanish for “pencil”. When he was three, he would be taken to the Spanish bullrings and it had a profound effect on him. Picasso was fascinated by how the matadors controlled the raging bulls

At just the age of seven, Picasso’s father began schooling him in both drawing and oil painting.

The family eventually moved to Coruña, Spain, when he was 10. It was here, that his father was teaching at Guarda School of Fine Arts and a year later Picasso would start his studies here. Picasso’s father saw the speed at which his son was developing, and he was amazed. Don José saw Picasso as a child prodigy, he knew that his son had surpassed him. Don José was so certain of this, that he gave his brushes and easel to his son and vowed to never paint again.

1895 and Picasso’s sister, Conchita died. She died of diphtheria a bacterial infection that causes sore throat, fever and swollen glands. The death left the artist traumatised because she died at such a young age.

After Conchita’s death, the family moved to Barcelona. Picasso’s father took a position in Llotja School of Fine Arts, while there he persuaded the officials to allow Picasso to take the entrance exam for advanced classes at an early age, he wanted to enhance his son’s skills. Picasso passed this exam and studied at the school for 2 years. An exam such as this takes a typical student one month. 13 years old Picasso on the other hand, a week

In 1897, Picasso won a medal at the Fine Arts General Exhibition in Madrid. October that year, Picasso began to study at San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid.

Picasso’s time at the academy and Madrid was very crucial because it exposed him to many legendary Spanish artists. For example; Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya and Francisco Zurbarán. It was here Picasso learnt about realism. Don José wanted him to be a famous classical painter. However, Picasso had other ideas, he wanted to break the established rules. As a result, after a couple of months, he left the academy to pursue his own artistic Identity.

1898, Picasso leaves Barcelona and moves to Horta d’Ebre. The following year, he returns to Barcelona and spends his time in the café, Quatre Gats. Also while there, he meets the young artist, Carlos Casagemas and they become very good friends.

1900 and Picasso was enjoying a bohemian lifestyle. Picasso would enter brothels and wake up the next morning surrounded by naked women. It is here we see the beginning of Picasso’s fascination with the female body

Once Don Jose found out about his son’s lifestyle, he immediately ceased all financial support. Picasso was annoyed by this and on October 1900, both he and Casagemas left for Paris.

While there, Picasso was exposed to two extreme lifestyles, the upper-class and the lower class. During his time in Paris, he was mostly poor, Picasso would even burn his own work, to keep himself warm. Additionally, while in Paris, Picasso and Casagemas encountered a female called Germaine Pichot and Casagemas fell violently in love with her. But due to his sexual impotence, their relationship suffered tremendously. On several occasions, he would repeatedly ask Germaine, “Do you love me?” and “Marry Me?”. All her answers would be “No”. Casagemas was faced with unrequited love and it led to a deep depression and alcoholism.

At the end of 1900, Picasso and Casagemas decided to return to Spain.

Even after his rejection, Casagemas still wanted to pursue Germaine. So in 1901, he returned to Paris, by himself. After one last confrontation with Germaine, the artist committed suicide.

The series of events were as followed; it was late and Germaine was in a café, Casagemas walked in with a gun. Casagemas pulled out his gun and fired it at her but missed. The presence of just the gun caused Germaine to faint. After that, Casagemas pulled the trigger on himself.

Picasso was in Spain when he heard the news and was shocked. The unexpectedness of Casagemas’ actions caused the artist to sink into a deep depression. Picasso was so stunned, that he did not attend Casagemas’ funeral.

The first piece that Picasso used to comment of Casagemas’ death was Death of Casagemas (painted 1901)

In this piece we see a deceased Casagemas lying in what appears to be a coffin. His skin appears to be pale green; this is referring to the process Pallor Mortis. After a person dies their skin starts to go pale. Next to Casagemas is a light, we see it emit the colours red and orange, but it also emits the colour turquoise. Perhaps Picasso is using this flame to symbolise his hope and optimism, and how it has gradually diminished after Casagemas’ death. As well as that, Picasso may have used this piece to foreshadow at the time, that his art is undergoing a transition.

The Death of Casagemas

Regardless, Picasso’s art did undergo a transition, as months passed by, the colour in Picasso’s work started to disappear. By winter 1901, all that remained on his easel was the colour blue and thus Picasso’s blue period had begun.

The blue period would last until 1904, Picasso would move between Paris and Spain. During his travels, his art would focus on a variety of subjects. Such as the marginalization of the poor in both Paris and the cities of Spain.

In 1902, Picasso was facing difficult times, he was living in poor conditions. He would see people from beggars to destitute women on the streets of Paris, all this poverty along with Casagemas death fuelled his art. His depression and bleak environment were forming his artistic identity. From an economic viewpoint, the blue period was probably his worst, people began to lose interest in his work due to it covering such dark and difficult topics.

For example, The visit [Two Sisters] (painted 1902).

Picasso was inspired when he visited a woman’s prison called St. Lazare in Paris, the prison had nuns serving as guards. If we use Christianity to analyse this piece, the posture and gestures of both women are similar to the conversation between Mary, Mother of God and the mother of John the Baptist, this is also supported with the use of dark blue, art has always depicted Mary wearing dark garments. Additionally, the woman holding the child is Christ. Moreover, when I look at this piece, it reminds me of my mother and her sister, who lives in America. They are very close and without fail call each other at least once a week, they are each other’s confidants. We can also see this idea of trust in this piece.

The visit [Two Sisters] (painted 1902)

If we continue to look at how Christianity appears in Picasso’s work, we can also look at Mother and Child (painted 1902).

This piece as well could be referring to the relationship of Mary and Jesus, just like the Two Sisters, we see a woman wearing a dark blue garment, Mary and she is holding her child firmly, Jesus. We also see the woman using her own garments to protect and clothe her child. It is because of this act; we can see the unconditional love the woman has for her child.  With regards to myself, this piece reminds me of my mother and me. One of the earliest photos I’ve seen of myself is me in my cot when I was a couple of hours old, and next to me was my mother sleeping.

Family is also a theme Picasso explored during this period, with pieces such as The Tragedy (painted 1903) and The Soup (painted 1902).

The Tragedy is a symbolic piece to me because it represents the dynamic of my own family. In the piece, we see a scared young boy in the middle of what could be his own parents, it seems as if he must choose a side or he must be a mediator between the two. From his facial expression, he feels uncomfortable being in this situation, and this is evident from his facial expression and his body language. I can connect with the boy because when I was growing up, I too played this role. Occasionally my parents would argue, and I would be drawn into their arguments, being an unwilling third party.

Moreover, the soup can be looked from two perspectives. The old woman could be giving the soup to the small child or the woman could be receiving the soup from the child. There is no visible answer because their facial expressions are so ambiguous. It is because of this notion, that I feel that this piece is delving into the relationship between a parent and their child. Because, when I was young my mother looked after me, even in sickness. As I transition into adulthood and she enters old age, I see it as my own responsibility to reciprocate that favour, so the soup could be representing kindness or love.

The soup picasso

Picasso’s work would also delve into solitude. A good example is Blue Nude (painted 1902)

Blue nude was the first Picasso painting I fell in love with, the reason why is because of its minimalistic nature. Picasso draws an outline of a naked woman who is in the foetal position. The foetal position is one of the oldest protective positions known to humans. While in the womb, we assume the foetal position because it protects and minimises any injuries to our neck and chest. When we are cold, we assume this position to reduce our surface area; as a result, we lose less body heat. When we have suffered from a situation that induces extreme psychological stress, we also assume this position, this is done to remove us visually from our surroundings. With the figure of this piece, we can assume she does this because of the third example. By assuming this position, she has isolated herself. The woman is isolated but is hiding her face from the viewer, her pride outweighs herself induced isolation. The woman is strong. It is because of this, whenever I look at this piece, I feel a cathartic release.

Blue Nude (painted 1902)

Spring 1903, Picasso began painting La Vie (painted 1903) and this was the blue period’s masterpiece. Picasso used this piece to overcome his depression and grief. It was through La Vie, he immortalised Casagemas.

In La Vie we see a male who represents Casagemas and to his left, a female who represents Germaine. Also, we can see the female resting her hands on the male’s chest. Picasso uses this piece to present to the viewer the life Casagemas could have had with Germaine, he paints a “what if” scenario. The male and female are naked and are close to each other, by Picasso doing this he is telling the viewer that the two figures are indeed a couple and have a sexual relationship. Picasso also presents the pair, the prospects of having a child. This is done by a female holding a child. It is in this piece, Picasso gives Casagemas a dynamic he has always a longed for since the day he met Germaine, a family dynamic. Furthermore, behind this interaction, we can see a pair consoling each other, this could be representing Casagemas and Germaine. Beneath them, is a single figure in a foetal position, this could be Casagemas. The juxtaposition we see is very powerful because Picasso presents to the audience; the “what if” of Casagemas’ Life and the tragic reality he lived. Lastly, if we go back to the title, “La Vie”, it is French for Life. Perhaps Picasso is trying to tell us, what he thinks the “meaning of life” is.


In 1904, Picasso decided to move to Paris, permanently.  He moved to Bateau-Lavoir. Upon settling, Picasso had a new resolve, conquering Paris’ art scene. Picasso would reintroduce colour into his art and would use the circus to influence his work. Picasso’s new lease of life would give birth to his next period, the Rose Period.

Picasso went through a tempestuous period during his early adulthood; but by using his sister’s death, Casagemas’ death and his depression, he redefined the meaning of the colour blue. It is because of Picasso, I believe that today we associate the colour with tranquillity, sadness and loneliness.

Picasso is known as the greatest artist of the 20th Century because of his cubism period. But in my opinion, he receives that recognition from me because of the blue period. The blue period was where he showed his humanity. Picasso did something that no artist could do at that young age, capture the sadness that was ubiquitous in society. Same can be said with Kanye West, during the period of 808s & Heartbreak.

With regards to my own humanity; I get that from my family and friends. My humanity is an amalgamation of all the people I have met.

When it comes to the end of my life, I hope my essence and what I stood for remains with my children and their children. Call it wishful thinking but hopefully till 3005.

“Love is the greatest refreshment in life and death can never defeat a good man’s legacy”, Chardo Picasso.

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