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Posts Tagged ‘Henri Matisse’

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It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.

–Henri Matisse

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Well, Mr. Matisse certainly did not paint like everybody else and I, for one, am glad of it.

But I believe I know what he is saying. As an artist, you’re always torn between poles of confidence.

When it is at its highest point, you believe so strongly in what you are doing that it doesn’t matter what everybody else’s work is like.

But at the low points, you lose confidence in the credibility of your own voice and vision. At these low points it seems like it would be easier to have the comfort of being able to judge your own work against others who do the same type of work so that you could gauge whether your creations were worthy of notice.

I certainly have swung wildly between these two poles and have at points wished that I painted more like other artists, as though I would somehow benefit from their credibility. I know that this sort of thinking is misplaced and the result of low self-esteem in that moment, but it happens. And on a more regular basis than one might think.

But the work itself is usually the voice of reason, the thing that brings me around once more. Just getting lost in the creation of a piece and sitting in front of it in the aftermath, still fully immersed in the life force it then exudes, washes away that need to be like everybody else.

But even in that moment, I know that nagging feeling, that desire to be like everybody else, will still be there waiting for me when I inevitably swing back to that other pole.

So, Mr. Matisse, thank you for not being like everybody else. I know how hard it sometimes must have felt but we appreciate you staying true to your own voice.

Here are a few more of his interiors, a group of his work that I really love.

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Fauvism was our ordeal by fire… colours became charges of dynamite. They were expected to charge light… The great merit of this method was to free the picture from all imitative and conventional contact.

-Andre Derain (1880-1954)

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Les Fauves translates from French as the Wild Beasts. Fauvism was an art movement in the early 20th century that focused on color, line and a painterly surface, breaking away from both traditional representational painting and the Impressionist movement of that time that maintained many of the same values as traditional realism. It was a short lived movement, lasting only a few years, but its influence down through the years has been great. It was led primarily by Henri Matisse and Andre Derain, both artists who I greatly admire.

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“You study, you learn, but you guard the original naïveté. It has to be within you, as desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.”

Henri Matisse

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I can always turn to Henri Matisse for something interesting, either in his work or in his words. While he was prolific in his painting there is also a wealth of quotes, interviews and essays from him that give insight into a warmly wise and giving spirit. I will admit that there are painters whose body of work more readily excite me but the words of Matisse never fail to provide inspiration and reassurance when I am seeking some form of validation of what I am doing.

For instance, he speaks of maintaining one’s own original naïveté as one learns and grows as an artist. That rawness and the natural sense of excitement that comes with it, is something I have also felt was important to maintain even as my craft has grown. I see the raw energy of naïveté as the blood that gives a painting its life force, that allows the viewer to see past the improbabilities and imperfections and see the beauty and truth being presented.

Maintaining that naïveté is much more difficult than you might think. You sometimes have to fight against the proficiency gained through years of practice and trade the reality of the world shared with everyone else for the reality contained within yourself, trusting that this inner world, imperfect as it is, will have a commonality that might speak to similar inner worlds among some of those who view it.

And that  brings us to another favorite Matisse quote, below. The link to the universe he mentions is very much the same thing that links one’s inner world to that of another. At least that’s how I see it. This seems like a good spot to end this. Have a great day

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“We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.”

― Henri Matisse

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It is my dream to create an art which is filled with balance, purity and calmness, freed from a subject matter that is disconcerting or too attention-seeking. In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from physical expectation for the spiritually working, the businessman as well as the artist.

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–Henri Matisse

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I have read (and shared) a different translation of the quote above from the great Henri Matisse. It aligns perfectly with my own hopes for my work and stands almost as a credo. At the end of the day, I am trying to create work that allows any viewer, no matter how much or how little they know about art, to withdraw into their own inner space while at the same time feel a sense of communion with a greater whole. To move into a place that feels safe and comforting.
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A spiritual remedy, as he calls it.
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It’s not something you can have in mind, however. It only comes in the process, as the thoughts that may have been pressing on my mind are set aside and my own emotions are leveled off to a state of calm. It has to be my own spiritual remedy before it becomes that of anyone else.
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When it happens, it is a lovely thing and the world seems somewhat right.

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Henry Matisse Blue Nudes I-II-III-IV 1952I wanted to feature some music this morning that kind of jibed with the Henri Matisse Blue Nude cut-outs above that the artist  produced in the early 1950’s.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted but I settled on something  from composer Burt Bacharach.  

Bacharach, along with lyricist Hal David, collaborated with singer Dionne Warwick a number of times back in the 1960’s when they had an amazing string of hits that didn’t really sound like anything else on the radio at the time.  It’s an unmistakable sound, light and breezy but complex and full.

When I was looking I came across this video that shows how beautifully Bacharach and Warwick worked together.  It’s interesting to see how he communicates his vision for the song to Warwick and how she responds.  It goes a long ways towards explaining why she was such a perfect vessel for his music.  The clip ends with the full recording of the song.

So, have a great Sunday and here’s Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick with Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets.  I may steal that title at some point…

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matisse.la musiqueI want to reach the state of condensation of sensations which constitutes a picture. Perhaps I might be satisfied momentarily with a work finished at one sitting, but I would soon get bored looking at it; therefore, I prefer to continue working on it so that later I may recognize it as a work of my mind…Nowadays, I try to infuse some calm into my pictures and I keep working at them until I have succeeded in doing so.

-Henri Matisse, 1908

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 It seems like every artist has a different answer for the question of  when a painting is done.  Whistler and several others said it was when all traces of its creation have been concealed on the surface.   Some say it is when the artist achieves his aim and others say they are never finished.  Edward Munch ( The Scream) said that a piece is done after it has had time to mature, weathered a few showers and endured the elements, including nail scratches.

I tend to go with the never finished group although Munch’s definition is appealing to my love of weathering and patina.  My goal is to have the work complete enough that they can exist on their own,to  be alive in the outer world.  In that respect, because they are human creations, I view them  very much as I view other humans– never quite complete and always imperfect.  That’s just how we are and I am certainly no different.

 I am a collage of imperfections that is still a work-in-progress.  If I saw me hanging on the wall I might want to take a brush and soften an edge here or there and add color in certain parts of my composition.  But I probably would not do it because those imperfections actually become part of the composition, create the contrasts that give us, as a painting, life.  And that , even with the flaws and weathering exposed, pleases me.

None of us is perfectly painted.  Nor should we be.

 

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Maurice de Vlaminck- Houses at Chatou 1905

Maurice de Vlaminck- Houses at Chatou 1905

When I get my hands on painting materials I don’t give a damn about other people’s painting… every generation must start again afresh.

— Maurice de Vlaminck

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I have to admit I don’t know much about French painter Maurice de Vlaminck  (vlah-mink)  who lived from 1876 until 1958.  His work is best known for a short period  in the early years of the 20th century when he was considered one of the leading lights, along with Andre Derain and Henri Matisse, of the Fauve movement.  Fauve translates as wild beast and the style of these painters was very much like  that to the sensibilities of that time.  It was brightly colored with brash brushwork and little attention paid to detail.  It was all about expression and emotion.

I recognize some of his early Fauvist work, mainly for the obvious influence of Vincent Van Gogh  it exhibits, and none of his later which becomes less colorful and exuberant, perhaps shaped by his experiences in WW I.  But his name is one that I have often shuffled over without paying too much time to look deeper.

Maurice de Vlaminck At the Bar 1900

Maurice de Vlaminck- At the Bar 1900

But I came across this quote and it struck me immediately.  It was a feeling that I have often felt  when I immerse myself in my work.  All thoughts of other painters– of their influence, of comparisons and artistic relationships– fade into nothing.  It is only me at that moment faced with the task of pulling something new and alive from the void.  I can’t worry myself at that moment about what other painters are doing.  Their whats and hows and whys  are all moot to me then because I am only trying to express something from within.  It might only exist and live for me in that instant, though I hope it transcends the moment, but that is the whole purpose and all of the works of all the painters throughout time can’t change this singular expression of this moment.

This single, simple quote brought me into kinship with de Vlaminck and made me promise myself to explore more deeply into his work and life so that when I come across his name in the future I don’t simply skim past without a thought.  But when I am painting, rest assured I will not be thinking of Maurice de Vlaminck.  And that is as it should be…

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matisse_icarusI am after an art of equilibrium and purity, an art that neither unsettles nor confuses.  I would like people who are weary, stressed and broken to find peace and tranquility as they look at my pictures.

-Henri Matisse

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I list Henri Matisse, the French painter who was at the forefront of modern painting at the beginning of the 20th century, as a favorite and an influence.  It’s an odd pick because it is based not simply on the impact of his imagery.  In reality, some of his work does nothing for me and brings little reaction.  But there are pieces that do and when you couple these with his words on his art, his life’s ever evolving body of work  and the fearlessness with which he approached his art- well, then there is an overall impact that is huge.

I find myself nodding in agreement often when I read his words, like the quote at the top here, which sums up what I have been trying to say about my own work for some time.   His words shed a lot of light on his work for me, allow me to better see how he was seeing his own work which makes me appreciate it all the more as it changed over the course of his long career.  Born in 1869, Matisse began painting in the early 1890’s and worked at his art until his death in 1954.

Matisse Blue Nude cut ou 2tI use the term worked at this art because Matisse was not only a painter.  As health problems hindered him, he turned to other forms of expression such as cutting forms out of paper.  The image at the top, Jazz, and Blue Nude, shown here on the left, are two of his best known examples of the cut outs, both considered masterpieces of modern art.  This ability to express himself fully through his art despite hardships is really inspiring as is the fearless way in which he approached his painting.

It is bold and sure, with human curves throughout.  More about harmonizing color and simplifying form than capturing reality.  It makes me want to pick up a loaded brush and just paint freely and easily.  Let loose.

There’s a lot more to say about Matisse.  It took me a while to see why he was so influential to so many artists but now that I can fully see the scope of his work, I now better understand and take his influence and inspiration with me.

Matisse-The-Dessert-Harmony-in-Red-Henri-1908-fast Matisse- La_danse_ 1st Version MOMA

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Matisse with chalk drawing of Picasso- Brassai Photo

Matisse with chalk drawing of Picasso- Brassai Photo

There was an article the other day on Brain Pickings that contained some words on inspiration and creativity that Pablo Picasso had passed on to famed photographer Brassai during the many times that he had photographed and interviewed the artist over the course of thirty years.  It’s a short article with only a few points and, more importantly, a link to an earlier article concerning Picasso’s views on success .  Both are interesting articles that I recommend but what caught my eye was a photo  accompanying the first article  of Henri Matisse with a chalk drawing he had done while blindfolded.

It reminded me of an exercise I periodically use where I attempt to draw faces with my eyes tightly closed.  It usually  involves a single line and is pretty rudimentary.  The whole idea is to be able to visualize an image in your mind and  follow it there with your hand, overcoming the disconnect that comes with the closed eyes.  There are moments when the concentration kicks in and I can feel my hand and the image in a sort of harmony.  It’s a nice little brain exercise.

Seeing the Matisse photo made me want to get a chalkboard and try this exercise on a larger scale, where the sweeping motion of the arm and hand might be easier to synchronize with the mind’s image than with the smaller strokes of  pen on paper such as those below, done on  old newsprint with a ballpoint pen.  They are certainly nothing to celebrate but what I am looking for is a certainty in line and curve  as well as a similarity to my own eyes-open doodles. In that aspect, I am pleased.

Give it  a try.  It’s a nice little exercise for your mind…

GC Myers- Blindfold DoodlesThis one below was done slightly larger and with a few minutes of practice.  Both the size and practice improve the image.

 

GC Myers- Blindfold DoodlesTh

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Remembering the Artist-Robert De Niro Sr.The other day I watched the HBO documentary Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr., a film produced by actor Robert De Niro to better illuminate the work of his late painter father.  Robert De Niro, Sr. had been a rising star in the New York art world of the 40’s and early 50’s, working in a style that was expressionistic and abstract yet still representational, very much influenced by earlier painters such as George Rouault and Henri Matisse.

He gained some fame early with an acclaimed solo show at the Art of the Century Gallery ran by Peggy Guggenheim who later began the museums bearing the Guggenheim name.  But fame was fleeting as the art world’s flavor of the month changed from the figurative Expressionism which he maintained as the primary vehicle for his artistic voice  to Abstract Expressionism in the 50’s  to the Pop Art of the 60’s.  He was left toiling in a style that was viewed as outdated  while others who he may have viewed as inferior talents or at best equals were lifted in the spotlight, earning the fame and fortune that he sought and  thought his work deserved.  This left him bitter yet to his credit, he remained faithful to his style and his own artistic voice.

It’s an interesting portrayal of the artist in general, touching on many areas that resonate with anyone who works in a creative field and struggles to make their work visible to the world.  His resentment in having his work, which represents everything he understands himself to be,  marginalized is a feeling that many artists will find familiar.  I know that I have felt that same bitterness, that same resentment at times in my career.  But I have come to recognize that it is simply part of the deal I bargained for in becoming an artist, that my work would sometimes find itself as a flavor of the month and at other times simply exist as a possible favorite for a few.

An artist in the film explained this with a great analogy, saying that artists are like characters on a stage in a play.  The spotlight moves around the stage and sometimes falls upon you but soon passes on to the next character and that moment in the spotlight is gone.  But if you persist and stay consistent and in character, eventually the spotlight will cycle around to you again.  He felt that much of De Niro’s life was in between those moments in the spotlight.  And for some, like De Niro, that can be a very difficult thing with which to live.

For me, that was the thing I took from this film, that as an artist you cannot control, the spotlight, cannot control how your work is received or perceived.  You can only do that work that comes from your core– staying consistent and in character, true to your inner voice– and bide your time on the stage, hoping that the spotlight will once again come around.  I fit does, great.  If it doesn’t find you, you have the solace of the work itself, knowing that you have maintained your vision,  and the hope that it will find a champion, as De Niro Jr, is for his father,  in its life after you are gone.

I encourage you to watch the film.  It’s an interesting look at an interesting painter in an interesting era.

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