November 6, 2016
This is part 2 , scroll down for part one, ‘New eyes’.
In some ways I envy artists living in the time of Matisse (late 19th early 20th century). They had a clear artistic tradition to rebel against. In other words, their explorations made sense and had a context. They were responding to what had gone before, whether they were building upon that tradition or setting off against it. The Impressionists left the hard boundaries of classic realism and idealised philosophy of Romanticism to explore the transient effects of colour and light.The Fauvists were looking for individual emotional expression through simplified form and colour. Each of these movements of the time appeared new and even radical to the eyes of their contemporaries. There were discoveries being made about just what a painting could be.
In our times, everything in painting seems to have been done, so there is very little to react against except perhaps art as commerce. Anyone trying to find their truest work is basically on their own.
Matisse came to painting relatively late in life (his early 20s). His father worked in a textile shop and his mother was a haberdasher. Matisse grew up in the heart of the textile district. He had a classical education, but also attended an art school for decorative techniques applied to fabric.
Only after an illness where he was confined to bed and began to draw did the spark catch fire, and in 1890 he began an avid search to further his art education.He attended various popular art institutions of the time including the École des Beaux arts where he was a student of Gustave Moreau. He started out like almost all of us, learning the rules of perspective, colour, and how to paint. Here is an early work.
He’d been drawing and painting by this time for about 12 years. I call this ‘early’ because in his oeuvre of nearly 600 works, this is an early stage.
Matisse went through a difficult period in the beginning of his career, but unlike many starving artists of the time soon had success, which by 1912 was international. He had the means to travel- to London where he was influenced by the paintings of Turner, and to Corsica which revealed the wonders of Mediterranean light. Later, exposure to the art, textiles and masks in Africa made a deep impression on him, as did the Byzantine art and icons of Russia.
This painting is from 1904, and was an experiment in the theories of Seurat. Placing small dots of colour next to one another to be combined visually in the eye of the viewer.
The painting below seems to be influenced by Cezanne, and the one underneath that was an early experiment in using short thick strokes of colour like van Gogh.And finally, a flirtation with cubism, which didn’t last for more than a few paintings from 1916-1918.
November 1, 2016
Have you ever noticed that something you’ve looked at for years can suddenly come alive and take you to a completely new place, enabling you see through new eyes?
That’s what happened to me with Matisse. I’d always liked his exuberant work but no more than dozens of other artists I admired.
Recently, several friends coincidentally sent me cards of his realistic paintings, then I ran across a larger reproduction of the woman above in a magazine, and voilà I was gob-smacked.
Reading of his life and taking some time to study his whole oeuvre, I began to understand why this artist and why now.
The obvious answer is that his whimsical and direct way of painting answered some call in me to be more direct in my own work. But going deeper revealed other insights.
What distinguished Matisse from many of his contemporaries was his refusal to be pigeon-holed in any one of the numerous movements in art that were coming and going at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th centuries. He flirted with Impressionism, worked in a neo-impressionist style, and was considered the French leader of the Fauvists.
But he only used each mode of working as long as it served his search for his true work. When he had integrated the techniques and philosophies of these approaches, he left them to continue his personal path of discovery.
One thing I love about his story is seeing how he was influenced by each of his encounters with contemporaries. And what contemporaries they were! He was good friends with Picasso,bought sketches by Cezanne early on, rubbed shoulders with Seurat and tried his hand at pointillism, and was blown away by Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings. Imagine being alive in those times with all of that going on! What a challenge to navigate these different streams and still come out with something original and authentic to your self. This is what touches me most about Matisse’s life long quest through painting.
Next time I’ll take you through some of his early paintings, and I’ll show the influences on his work and how he continually outgrew them.