Picasso first made paper cut-outs when he was a child of seven--he recalled borrowing his Aunt Eloisa's scissors to snip little dolls, animals and flowers for the amusement of his sisters Concha and Maria. He later fashioned paper figures to entertain his own children. Picasso was a frequent visitor to Matisse's studio following the end of the Second World War and admired his friend's innovative manipulation of forms cut from painted papers. In 1954, the year of Matisse's death, Picasso made cut-outs from photographic paper, in collaboration with André Villiers. Thinking of earlier cubist sculptures, such as the famous guitars that he assembled in 1912-1913 from cut and folded papers (Spies, nos. 27A, 29, 30 and 48A), he began to execute, once again, sculpture composed of strictly planar, rather than modeled volumetric forms.
Picasso's produced his first series of sheet-metal sculptures in the spring of 1954, four heads titled Sylvette (S. nos. 488-491), which were based on a young model he was then painting and drawing. He cut and folded cardboard maquettes, which the workmen in a local Vallauris metal shop turned into sculptures. He made a second group of heads, this time inspired by Jacqueline, in 1957 (S. nos. 494-496).
In November 1960 Picasso returned to the Vallauris factory which Lionel Prejger, the owner of a local scrap-metal and demolition business, had just taken over. They agreed to collaborate on a series of bent and folded metal sculptures, and during 1961-1962 Picasso produced about 120 works, including Tête d'homme. A workman named Triola, who had previously assisted Picasso in the shop, was now foreman, and the entire project was supervised by Prejger. The latter visited Picasso daily to pick up the artist's latest paper maquette. He then had it translated into sheet metal, and showed the results to Picasso for his approval. Prejger later recalled, "If an angle wasn't absolutely right he would reject it. He had a real eye, of course!... Either they were finished or thrown out" (from a 1992 interview in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter, exh. cat. The Tate Gallery, 1994, p. 243).
Téte d'homme is at first glance the simple image of a bearded male head seen straight-on, not unlike that on one of Picasso's ceramic plates or plaques. However, by folding the sheet at four points along its width, Picasso has introduced five planes--some curved, the others flat--into this single shape, creating multiple facial configurations, depending on one's viewpoint. This was in effect a three-dimensional version of a device he used in this paintings. Prejger recounted, "Picasso seldom makes a drawing, but simply takes the paper in one hand and the scissors in the other, and begins to cut. Then the most important task, the folding begins: the folding is what produces the play of light in the finished sculpture" (from a 1961 text reprinted in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology, Princeton, 1981, p. 261).
To create the linear facial elements on the mask, Picasso may have used bits of string, or simply drawn them in crayon. Triola recreated these embellishments on the finished sculpture by applying solder to the surface of the metal. Picasso normally requested that the workmen paint the sculptures white; it was he alone, however, as Prejger has attested (in the 1992 interview, p. 243), who added any drawing or color to the finished sculpture. Roland Penrose has written, "Picasso in fact had never been so near to uniting painting with three-dimensional sculpture, a development that came to him from the years he had spent working in ceramics, which were also a combination of the two arts" (in Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 441).