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Guernica

A chance encounter

I was bumping around the streets of Madrid. Boring opener. I was part of the UN’s delegation from #Bosnia to the #Madrid Peace Implementation Council in 1998 (an unimportant part). Beyond this dull opener, was just the fact of being young, and being in Spain again! And coming from war torn Bosnia to post-civil war Spain held a certain poetic synchronicity for me. One day, or once-upon-a-time, having contributed substantially to Bosnia’s peace process, I bought a train ticket to Seville. I had a couple of hours to kick my heels. I floated fecklessly around the streets of #Atocha station (where those ghastly bombers would destroy so many lives a half dozen years later), enjoying my blithe-spirit moments and soaking up the grand streets that sprouted grand buildings that stood like a forest about me. I didn’t known what the #MuseoReinaSofia was – beyond the obvious – so I floated in there, as I might have floated anywhere. I glided down a huge stone corridor or two until I saw a small Picasso sketch – lit as though by a patch of torchlight on a chamber wall – another, and following the trail like a thread in a forest more sketches building on each other, outlines of familiar figures, a bull, a woman, woman with baby, flames and a horse screaming between its teeth. Then around a corner, in a huge chamber filled with light, my buoyancy ended with a cymbal-crash and there! Behold! At almost eight metres the canvas of Picasso’s Guernica spread across a wall. I had known it for years, of course, who could not! I knew it as shades of grey, printed in matt in art books and on postcards. But to have discovered it like this, in ignorance, led down a maze like Theseus until I came across this extraordinary, terrible luminosity. And it was luminous, as though it possessed its own interior life. Of all the things I’ve known about Guernica – Picasso’s iterations, his flirting with colour, the three weeks in which he painted it, its exile from Spain until the fall of Francoism, its stature as an anti-war emblem – I could never quite figure out the incredible luminosity, its ghostly incandescence. I knew of its layers, its lacquering, but it was not until today that I learned the source of its light – crushed glass which Picasso mixed with his paint.

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