by Barbara Nevins Taylor
The work was done long ago, but it feels joyous, current and relevant. The Henri Matisse show, The Cut-Outs, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) shows you the work of a master in the later years of his life.
The brilliant colors and playful shapes seem fresh and innovative and the exhibit presents Matisse as a life-force who continued to experiment and tease out ideas until the end. This celebration of a great artist offers inspiration about creativity and productivity. Matisse did most of the work when he was 77 to 84 years old. A short film in the exhibit shows Matisse in a hotel room in southern France, wearing pajamas and working from his wheelchair. Cancer surgery had made it difficult for him to move around. He uses a big scissors to cut and shape his figures and abstractions from colored sheets. You see him direct his young assistants to tack the work to the walls in his room and you get a feel for what it might have been like to be there. Matisse worked way beyond his limitations and pushed himself to do more. The show points out that he first used the cutout technique in the thirties to plan paintings. But the last incarnation of the cut-outs brought them to life in a new way. The brilliance of the later work attracted publishers and collectors and brought him a great deal of attention. Matisse created the well-known series of blue figures for the book called “Jazz” during this time. Yet after it publication, museum curators say he hated it because the prints didn’t show how the cut-outs had been arranged and rearranged to make them into art. But the show also displays work that Matisse loved and gave him great pleasure. The show itself seems put together by people who genuinely love the work and they share insightful anecdotes. For example, curators explain that Matisse wanted to see divers in a swimming pool and asked his assistant to take him to a public pool. But when they got there, he complained about the heat and the sun beating down on him. He announced that he would make his own swimming pool. So he and the assistant went home and Matisse went to work. He created a mural filled with whimsy for his dining room. MoMA owns the mural and restored it because it was deteriorating and the show was really put together to showcase this work. Now you can stand in a space the size of Matisse’s dining room and look up to share Matisse’s pleasure and see blue cutout figures, swimmers, who seem to glide through an imaginary pool. The show displays about 100 cut-outs and also includes the cut-outs used as models for stained glass windows and work commissioned for the patio of a Los Angeles couple. Every piece in the Matisse show delights and wandering through the galleries puts a smile on your face. But you can also take away five inspirations from the Matisse Cut-Outs.
5 INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MATISSE CUT-OUTS
1. TRY NEW THINGS
Matisse began creating the cut-outs when he was in his late seventies.
2. DO MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU CAN
Matisse continued to experiment and bring his ideas to life. The “Swimming Pool” is a great example.
3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH COLOR
Matisse used brilliant blue, green, red, yellow and pink. He saw the world in his own form of Technicolor. A note in the show features a quote from Matisse apologizing to a catalog printer, “..for not having composed the catalogue cover in just three colors. It was not possible for me and I hope that its appeal for the public will allow you to sell enough copies to cover the cost of the printing.”
4. LET OTHERS HELP YOU, ESPECIALLY YOUNG AND VIBRANT PEOPLE
Matisse used young assistants to help him get around, organize things in his studio and pin-up the work on the walls. The notes in the show describe him as demanding.
5. PLEASE YOURSELF
When Matisse wasn’t satisfied with the work, he kept at it until it was right. You might also like this video about an artist working in France today: Living! Pierre Clerk