The independent London newspaper

A curiosity that inspires

13 August, 2020 — By John Gulliver

One of Picasso’s murals being removed from a building in Oslo

DRIVEN by the endless curiosity of an artist, Isabel Langtry flew to Oslo last week to “study” the historic murals painted by Picasso on public buildings before their removal amid great publicity.

The murals were painstakingly protected during their removal – and no doubt Isabel – who had flown into Oslo for the first time in her life – watched and drew inspiration.

It all happened on August 6, an auspicious day, which Picasso would have been aware of, for it was on that eventful horrific day 75 years ago that the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima – often cited as a war crime – by a US B29 bomber killing more than 100,000 men, women and children, many horribly burned to death, many erased in minutes from the intense heat, just leaving eerie shadows behind of their bodies.

It was on that day – a brutal echoing cry of history – that Isabel watched the removal of the murals considered to be great works art. If Picasso were alive he would have given a wry smile because if, as an artist, he had achieved fame well beyond the ever-widening circles of art lovers, it was as a man who used his art, at times, to promote the cause of peace – hence, of course, his historical cry against the ravages of war in the painting Guernica, as well in his drawings of Peace Doves – one, strangely enough, on a wall in Birkbeck College, London University.

Isabel Langtry in Oslo

But I am digressing. Isabel, principal of Hampstead School of Art, had been drawn to the murals five years ago when the Oslo authorities announced that for safety reasons the three buildings the murals covered had to come down. Petitions were mounted. And Isabel, naturally, rallied to their defence.

Hence, she found it impossible not to be there during their removal from public gaze since appearing in the late 1950s.

What drove Picasso to apply his art to these walls in Oslo, then a more modest place than the modern, oil-rich city, with its new opera house, of today? I can assume it would have been his enduring curiosity as an artist to try new art forms – a relentless experimen­talist, drawn well before other Western artists to, say, African art, what else can one expect?

Isabel, a sculptor with a growing reputation, is also an artist with an infinite curiosity, a quality to be found not only among visual artists, of course, but also other creators of art.

The atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima

Inspired by a Picasso art exhibition at the Royal Academy of his works on “Paper” she has organised a special event at the HSoA this weekend where she will be directing sessions on how to express art on paper.

When I spoke to her this week she had just returned from her five-day trip to the “beautiful” city of Oslo and was eager to open the coming sessions – enthusi­astic, and as curious as ever as to the road she and her students will take at this course.

Her excitement at seeing the murals came through in an email last week in which she described them as a “revelation” enabling her to appreciate not only their size – they each covered a sandblasted area of about 20 square feet – but also how they were able to “move in the beautiful light of Oslo”.

She left, she said, feeling “inspired” for her “Picasso Paper Heads” course this weekend.


Share this story

Post a comment