Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Matisse’s Cut-Outs at MoMA

Blue Nude by Henri Matisse
Was Matisse a designer manqué? His parents's involvement with textiles and fabric design has always been considered an influence on his work (viz.Matisse, His Art and His Textiles by Ann Dumas, Jack Flam and Remi Labrusse). Imagine him as a student at F.I.T. with fine arts as his avocation. Walter Benjamin wrote an essay entitled “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” which may be applicable to the case of Matisse. He was an artist whose work is reproduced so ubiquitously that we forget the revolutionary impact that his cut-outs or decoupages had on how we view the hue of an image. Seeing Matisse up close in the current show of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MoMA of course changes things. In "La Chute d”Icare" (1943), you actually can locate the pins holding the yellow starbursts, the pin locking in the sky and another holding Icarus’s “flame red heart.” Here is what Matisse had to say, “You have no idea how, during the cut-out paper period, the sensation of flight which emanated from me helped me better adjust my hand when it used the scissor. It’s a kind of linear and graphic equivalence to the sensation of light.” “Icare” also appears as the maquette for plate VIII of Matisse’s book of cut-outs, Jazz. But actually one of the most enchanting of the decoupages in the show and one which avoids all chance of expropriation as design is titled simply “Forms,” which is the maquette for plate IX of Jazz.  Commenting on Matisse’s technique, the curators remark that “rather than discarding the paper that fell from his scissors when he cut out a shape, Matisse understood that each cut produced two equally valid forms." “Forms” represents the positive and negative of a torso with an almost Brancusi like purity. Like the “Blue Nudes" series, it’s almost daring in its abstract simplicity and could never be mistaken for decorative art.

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