Sunday, February 15, 2015

Matisse's Cutouts: a walk through the gallery

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II
One of the highlights of my recent trip to New York was seeing the exhibition of Matisse's exuberant cutouts at the Museum of Modern Art.  Because of exceptionally high attendance, the show was opened for its final days around-the-clock. The show closed on February 10, 2015, but is available now to view on-line.

Before seeing the exhibition at MOMA, I had the advantage of seeing a documentary about the collection as it was first mounted at the Tate Modern. What struck me about both the film and the show was the revisionist view of this period in Matisse's career.

Previously, these cut-outs were seen as the second-rate production of an enfeebled artist in his declining years. The curators of this show have shed a new, more positive light on the cut-outs, as the inspired invention of an artist at the height of his powers. Matisse adapted to his physical limitations by inventing an entirely new medium, and felt the pleasure of "cutting directly into colour". In fact, Matisse used coloured papers long before his infirmity limited his ability to paint. Examples of this are included in the show.

Henri Matisse, The Sheaf

I can relate to this way of working, as my work with cloth allows me to "handle colour" in a very direct way. When I am asked why I don't prefer painting as a medium, I don't always have an answer at hand, but the tactile aspect of working in fibre is part of what makes it so special.

To learn more about the cutouts and the shows mounted at both the Tate and MOMA, you might want to read these articles from The Guardian.

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