Updated: May 20, 2020
Article in The Los Angeles Times 23 Jan 1966
By Henry J. Seldis (edited)
Review of Matisse Art Exhibition at UCLA 1966
Matisse's colour is so dazzling that it can become blinding to his forcefulness as a painter. Henri Matisse was one of the significant colourists of his time. It also makes it possible then to understand that for him; his rhythmic line was equally important in his search for form and structure. It was the search that eventually brought him to the absolute purity and hard-won simplicity of his designs for Dominican Chapel in Vence.
It is useful to remember that to Matisse, and many other great painters, black and white were also important colours in their palette. Matisse's conversion to the use of arbitrary rather than vivid colour had to do with his rhythmic and dynamic form. He emphasised structure that is reflected in his graphic and plastic work.
Matisse sought in his art to express the sum total of all his feelings and perceptions. He presents us with an inventive equivalent for the emotional fluctuations stirred within him by his extraordinarily sensitive and intelligent responses to life, especially in its most sensual aspects.
"I have always considered drawing not as an exercise of particular dexterity but as above all, a means of expressing intimate feelings and moods, means simplified to greater simplicity and spontaneity of expression, which should speak without heaviness directly to the mind of the spectator," Matisse wrote in 1939.
The spontaneity and even at times, the changeability of Matisse's drawings were a result of life-long self-discipline. Which eventually enabled him to hide the enormous creative struggles that went into his work under the effortless appearance of the finished work.
Emotions Deeply Felt
Line and colour alike served Matisse as signs. They became the equivalents of his acute perceptions and deeply felt emotions. With the years the artist became more and more at one with nature, in almost an eastern sense; however, his aim was never to describe it. Much as he admired Cezzane, he did not share the artist's obsession with perceptual matters. Though he never relinquished direct observation as his point of departure, the end result of all his looking was always something no one had seen before.
Matisse was one of the greatest decorative artists. In his seriousness of pursuing the decorative, he was related to the Venetians. Not only his preference for arbitrary colour and undulating lines caused Matisse to become one of the most fabulous decorators of all time. He also insisted on developing a language of signs that might express the emotional equivalents of his visual experiences without attempting at all to reproduce these experiences himself.
Not all artists are the best commentators on their own work. But Matisse with his cartesian logic and intuition was able to verbalise his plastic search better than any of those who have critiqued his extensive body of work.
Matisse after he took up the pursuit of art at the age of 20. At the height of his fame, and accomplishment Matisse talked to his friend and poet, Aragon, about the drawings he was making. Although the human figure is at the centre of his life's work, the models which became indispensable to him could also be a chair, an apple, a spray of flowers, a vase or a cup. Throughout his career, he continued to work from the model until he had absorbed enough to improvise.
He spoke to his poet friend of his desire to learn to express a tree as if he had never seen a tree. " I can see one from my window. I don't mean that looking at the trees from my window, I try to copy it. The tree is also a series of effects it has on me. It is not a matter of drawing the tree I see. I have an object in front of me, which produces an effect on my mind, not only as a tree but in relation to other feelings. I shan't get rid of my emotion by exactly copying the tree, in drawing its leaves one by one. But after identifying myself with it, I must create an object that resembles the tree. The sign of the tree," Matisse insisted.
Seeker of Synthesis
A constant seeker of synthesis and harmony, as well as light and rhythm, Matisse introduced many new signs into the plastic language. He considered drawing in the light of the whiteness of the page of which he was always conscious and quite enthralled. He drew on his page with tact as well as with bravura "without destroying its endearing whiteness."
The essence of Matisse's art, even when it makes use of colours most brilliantly, it is in the rhythms of his line. His genius in creating these linear rhythms is evident in remarkable drawings and in his large graphic output. Only on extremely rare occasions did Matisse introduce colour in his graphic production. In most instances, his drawings are finished works, not sketches. And nearly all of his drawings and prints are directly related to the problems that preoccupied him at the time in his painting and sculpture.
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Published in conjunction with the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs, made from the early 1940s until the artist’s death in 1954, this publication presents approximately 150 works in a groundbreaking reassessment of Matisse’s colourful and innovative final chapter. The result of research conducted on two fronts--conservation and curatorial--the catalogue offers a reconsideration of the cut-outs by exploring a host of technical and conceptual issues: the artist’s methods and materials and the role and function of the works in his practice; their economy of means and exploitation of decorative strategies; their environmental aspects; and their double lives, first as contingent and mutable in the studio and ultimately made permanent, a transformation accomplished via mounting and framing.