Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Henri Matisse, The Cut-Outs

We start with a painted still. Next to it is a cut paper version, where objects and angles can be altered, shuffled. Reshuffling in the mind, we consider the possible local dramas of form meeting form, colour against colour. We need to tap into these instincts to follow what happens in the narrative of this show.

Dancers survives the scenery of Massine's ballet to music by Shostakovich. 'That's the kind of dance I hope to see one day!' exclaimed Massine on seeing Matisse's rhythmic mural figures. The sense of the performative continues in the book Jazz, where circus and theatre figures are accompanied by elegant, strikingly large handwritten notes. There's a tension going on between the private world of the artist and the sense of public exhibition: the dream is transmuted into the dance. Volume dissolves into flattened plane, and the title irrestibly helps us feel improvisation and complex rhythms in these sequence of figures of pure colour. Organic forms follow in Oceania and the Vence studio, places where the room was transformed into a gallery of frondal, amoeboid creations. Thanks in part to a film of Matisse in his declining years cutting away, we feel in touch with the creative process, from the dreamy doodly conception through cutting, gluing, layering and arranging. The shapes create worlds around them, from the spiritual universe of the Vence chapel to the exotic parakeet, mermaid and snail. In later work compositions become larger. The vibrant, exotic, dynamic creations are an affirmation of life by an artist increasingly limited in movement.

Immediately pleasurable, and about the pleasures of sensation and a life force, the cut-outs escape through some gap between the categories of fine and decorative art. Childlike, yet based on a  lifetime's intuition for composition. Visually busy, but infinitely peaceful, requiring more time and silence than a Tate blockbuster can offer. Loved the children's art done on computer at the end. Coffee upstairs in the members' louunge, where one returns from dizzying tones to the familiar fashion world of London grey and black.

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