Thu, 20 Jun 2019
Matisse: Drawing with Scissors late works 1950-54
at The Base Greenham until June 30
THE Base at Greenham Common is showing an unmissable exhibition of 35 lithographic reproductions of Matisse’s late cut-outs, a touring show direct from London’s Hayward Gallery, writes LIN WILKINSON. One of the giants of 20th-century art, Matisse made the cut-outs at the end of his life, when he was confined to a wheelchair or bed. No longer able to paint in the usual way, his assistants pre-painted paper, which he then cut out and had arranged according to his instructions, “as a way of resolving the eternal conflict of drawing and colour,” he said. The first litho prints were prepared under his direction a few days before his death
The immediate impression is, as ever with Matisse, one of sheer joy and exuberance; his pleasure in creating art, and ours in viewing it. Here we see the great colourist, working with a new-found sense of freedom and an unquenchable creative spirit. Colour is both form and chromatic medium. The technique of the cut-outs means that the works are all designed using areas of solid, flat colour, but in a glorious, graphic palette.
The prints on show were produced for the French review Verve and published in 1958. All the work is abstracted, sometimes entirely so, the artist working with simplified forms set against a white ground. All artists work within a particular historical context, their creative approach and ideas affecting one another, so in Matisse’s motifs we see echoes of
Picasso and Miró (unmistakeably in Tristesse du Roi and Nu aux Oranges). All of them were influenced by the early-20th-century interest in psychoanalysis and surrealism. The exhibition includes some of Matisse’s most famous work, including his pared-back blue and white designs. Blue Nudes I-IV are abstracted female forms, flowing, curvaceous and supple, constructed in a stunning cerulean blue, La Chevelure undulating with the movement of long hair. In Femmes et Singes Matisse has produced a “classical” frieze, human and animal forms flowing into each other.
In a small version of his famous Snail, we see a great artist with a mind open to the simplest of forms, but conceived and constructed from a lifetime of making art. His was a mind that was never closed to experience. He came to each project with a startling creative freshness and innocence – but never with naivety. No, a child of three couldn’t do it. In Souvenir d’Océanie, a gorgeous abstraction of coloured geometric and curvilinear shapes, the colours work with and against each other Hans Hofmann’s theory of “push and pull” – but with the unfilled white space a vital element. Zulma combines linearity with abstracted elements; Danseur Créole is a vibrant, noisy composition, a dancing form whirling against
rectangles of colour; La Gerbe an explosion of flower forms.
The work includes some of Matisse’s designs for stained glass and ceramic murals at the Dominican chapel at Vence. Nuit de Noel, designed for a tall window with an arched top, is a joyous composition of stars, ripples and flower motifs. La Vigne has swirling blue abstracted tendrils and leaves, and in Coquelicots we find no expected poppy red. Matisse’s work is sometimes sniffily referred to as “decorative” – the most damning insult for a fine artist to throw at another – and two sister compositions, Décoration, Fruits and Décoration, Masques, might be described thus. Textile-like, they combine symmetry, areas of dense patterning and vertical elements including stylised classical columns. Decorative, maybe, but also sumptuously sensual.
Matisse’s work is so ubiquitous that it is hard to come to it with a fresh eye and a fresh mind. But, as always, his creative joy uplifts the viewer. You simply go out of this exhibition feeling happier than when you went in. Don’t miss it.