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Picasso: Peace and Freedom

Written by Jane Davis, 21st May 2010

Coffee this morning from a really gorgeous Picasso: Peace and Freedom mug, £7.50 from the 'dedicated' shop in the final room of the Picasso: Peace and Freedom show at Tate Liverpool. I bought it last night at the reception to celebrate the opening of the show. Of buying, money, mugs and dedication more in moment.

But first, the show. It is terrific: go to it. It’s a big show: sketches, sculpture, headscarves, great, great paintings, so powerful, so full of damage and danger and love that they seem to hurt and comfort at the same time. The Charnel House - that a man could make such balanced beauty from utter horror, a miracle. The Dove of Peace paintings, sketches, poster, and scarves: lovely like spring mornings – hopeful. The Rape of the Sabines, made during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: vile, unutterably horrific, a concentration of violence. All the way through, you feel the presence of an obsession and belief, and that is deeply moving. Picasso joined the Communist Party in 1944 and stuck with it ‘til he died. A believer, not perhaps – post Stalin – a realist. Or perhaps the real realists are the true believers who carry on believing, no matter what happens.

That’s the show: go.

Then there is the shop at the end of this powerful rainbow of feeling. You enter with everything inside you touched, trembling, jumbled up and needing something... And there is the shop, waiting for you and your credit card, with its really lovely posters, and mugs, and fridge magnets. I bought the mug. I call it the ‘mug of connect me to this powerful feeling’. It is red and white and seems to stand for something beyond its lovely self. We all bought things – the till was ringing like Christmas bells and of course the Tate must make money and I actually admired that marketing savvy that allowed us, very well-heeled, reception attending, art gallery-going-mugs to buy. I would like to get money for The Reader Organisation in that kind of way: the Robin Hood principle. Sell to those who can buy. Use the money. I don’t think Picasso would have minded but Jesus might have smashed the shop up. Each to their own way.

Earlier in the day I had been driving to a meeting and passed the Sheil Road pub - on the corner of Sheil and Prescot Road. Outside that pub a drunk man sat on a stool with his back to the roadside railing, his face to the sun. He looked totally drunk. In the doorway of the pub stood a woman, utterly out of her mind  with drink, missing some teeth – a woman probably not thirty, her long hair falling over her shoulders, her long floral summer dress giving the immediate impression of a young girl in summer. But she was not: she was a broken woman in a broken pub doorway about to start talking to a broken man. It was 2.30pm on a very sunny spring day. I thought of my mother who died of drink aged 52. Here is life dying in front of us: it is not a lifestyle choice because there’s not much to choose between.

While I was looking at the pictures I kept thinking about that couple at the Sheil Road corner. They will never see this exhibition. Once, in a country church in France, I listen to a European choir of children from all the states singing Bach beneath a pretty blue and starry dome and thought of my mother who never had had such an experience and that made me cry and return to work at The Reader Organisation. Go see the pictures. Peace and Freedom.

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