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Guest Post at "A Writer of History"

A Writer of History, 2019


Long before his surname became a worldwide synonym for tangled mish-mashes of human and animal form, Pablo Picasso was nothing but a struggling young painter from Spain who possessed an ability to make tenderly lifelike works – increasingly melancholy in temperament – that repeatedly failed to sell. Arguably, however, such haunting images are more powerful today than the abstract figures that followed them, for which Picasso is best known. These frequently autobiographical, socially conscious products of his tumultuous youth are what inspired my novel The Blue Period. The book tells how tragedy, want and an outpouring of empathy for the human condition led an artist in his late teens and twenties to depict the downtrodden in lonely, nocturnal shades.


Unquestionably, creating historical fiction about Picasso's early years came with much to grapple with, including that many readers admire his paintings but feel well-deserved loathing for his persona later on in life. He behaved awfully toward women (and men) after the soaring fame he experienced exploded into bouts of full-blown egomania. Others might have difficulty imagining a cultural icon  who died at 91 still in post-adolescent throes.


But focusing on a prolific artist also afforded me rare opportunities as a writer. Vast troves of artworks available in museums, books and online served as invaluable aids as I pieced together a narrative, establishing the story's timeline and providing me with fascinating windows into what one of my main characters was seeing and feeling.


Picasso's father, himself a painter and drawing instructor, drilled the crafts' fundamentals into his son when he was small. There is a visual record of Pablo's upbringing in Málaga and A Coruña, including domestic, seaside and bullfighting scenes, and then there are the somber, religiously themed canvases he made after the death of his sister. Indeed, the trauma this event inflicted on the family helped imbue Picasso's oeuvre with its sometimes-violent streak. In all, these images aided me immensely in depicting the artist's childhood.


Likewise, when I sought to reconstruct the look and feel of where and how a maturing Picasso lived in Barcelona and Paris, or what his households, friends or lovers were like, there were  paintings, pastels and drawings allowing intimate glimpses both of his surroundings and what was going on inside him.


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Read the full article on M.K. Tod's blog, A Writer of History.