Although we do not deal with painting and art, we probably know his name. If you ask most people the name of a painter, they will probably answer you “Picasso”. Pablo Picasso is one of the rare artists who became a legend while living thanks to his works. In this article, I will introduce you to one of his most famous works, Guernica. Although I thought about promoting this work for a long time, I always postponed this idea, but the war on the Russia-Ukraine line unfortunately made it inevitable for me to introduce Guernica.
Guernica is an oil painting (wall painting) on a huge canvas, about 3.5 meters tall and 7.8 meters wide, by Picasso in 1937. This painting is currently on display at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, Spain. The artist made this painting at the request of the Spanish government to be exhibited at the World’s Fair held in Paris in 1937. It depicts the bombing of Guernica by warplanes on April 16, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. Franco, the fascist in Spain, made his name in the history of war brutally by bombing a small town called Guernica in the Basque region, even though it was not a military target to German and Italian planes to show his power. Although the number of victims is controversial, many civilians in the town lost their lives and many were injured. The painting about this massacre, on the other hand, has its name written in the world literature as the most famous painting of anti-war. It has also evolved into one of the most famous political paintings.
At first glance, the colors used stand out. A monochrome design was realized by choosing black and white tones as color. Monochrome design uses tones of a single color or black and white. In this way, the artist creates a harmony (harmony) out of contrast. In fact, this relation of opposition may be emphasizing an important point: Existence… A reference to a truth that the philosopher Anaximander, one of the important representatives of the Miletus School, said: “Everything exists with its opposite”. There is no white without black, no black without white. White is pure light, it symbolizes existence; black is darkness, symbolizing the absence of light. In most cultures, white and black are associated with life and death. War is also a border between life and death. Picasso took advantage of the symbolic power of colors and painted a bloody attack without using red, as art critic Jonathan Jones said (1). This perfect harmony, fed by the contrast in Guernica, disturbs people instead of giving them peace. It is also worth noting that. The feeling of discomfort in the painting is of course also created by the effect of the chaos in the composition, but it is obvious that the gloom of black and white colors feeds the chaotic structure of the painting. Obviously black and white monochrome design; it seems like a newspaper page dealing with the bitter news of the war. As might be expected, newspapers used to be mostly black and white. The texture of the figures in the center of the picture strengthens the impression of a newspaper page. Also, black and white bring to mind the lifelessness of the war, and gray the ashes of the war that burned everywhere. In addition, Jonathan Jones states that Picasso forces us to think through black and white colors (1).
There are many symbols in the picture. These symbols keep the effect of the picture up to date. First of all, everything is pictured inside a room. While the room depicts the confinement within four walls, it also makes one think of the helplessness of innocent civilians caught in the middle of the war. Like the people in the same room, those in the war unfortunately have nowhere to run. We think the room is dark, even though there is a flashing light bulb at the top. Because a woman in the right part of the picture sticks her head out of the window and looks inside with the weak light of the kerosene lamp in her hand. The horror he experienced as a result of the scene he encountered is depicted with his mouth hanging open. On the left is a wailing woman and her dead baby in her arms. In this way, Picasso once again reveals the devastating effect of war on civilians. He also strengthens his composition by positioning the big-eyed bull in the same place. There is no doubt that the bull is one of the symbols of Spanish culture. However, it is difficult to determine in what sense Picasso used the bull. The light bulb on the top is almost like a picture inside an eye. One of the meanings of the word bulb, which corresponds to the Spanish word “bombilla”, is bomb. The light emitted by the bulb symbolizes the explosion of the bomb. Again, one of the figures in the center of the painting is a horse that screams its pain, perhaps for the last time, because it was hit with a spear. Beneath the horse is the corpse of a soldier who was in pieces with a broken sword in his hand. In the place of the soldier’s broken sword, flowers are growing and it is in contrast with the general picture, like the hope that will end the war. We can understand the helplessness of a man who understands that he cannot save himself from the whirlpool of war, through the fact that he is engulfed in fire in the right part of the painting. The tongue of some figures resembles a dagger, the smoke is smoking on the top of the mountain, a woman on the right staggers towards the center and focuses her eyes on the light bulb, etc. These elements increase the power of the destruction that the painting creates in our minds.
No matter how we look at it, Picasso’s works allow us to see completely different landscapes and make new meanings. However, there is an element that we should not forget while trying to interpret these works. It is the thought of the artist that directs his art. Picasso “I paint things not as I see them, but as I think.” he made his point clear. Although the artist cannot remain indifferent to a social event in this painting, according to him, art is always for art. Guernica will continue to scream the bloody history of humanity as an artist’s timeless signature, more than we look at, deeper than we see, heavier than a war.