Currently on view at London’s Tate Modern, Henri Matisse’s vivid cut-outs reveal the final chapter in Matisse’s career: when he began ‘carving into color’, as the artist was known to describe his spectacular cut-outs, a vastly divergent and fascinating point in the artist’s career.
Matisse was known throughout his life for his daring use of color, and also as one of the spearheads of Fauvism in France, the early twentieth century movement of Modern artists who created works using strong painterly qualities alongside a rich use of color rather than the representational values found in Impressionism. At the end of his life, Matisse was often bedridden and unable to paint. He thus began working with his assistants on large-scale cut-outs that incorporated his striking hues. The works became his most important means of artistic expression until his death in 1954.
The exhibition has brought forth what was previously regarded as the artist’s lesser body of work. This groundbreaking period in the artist’s career is reassessed through curator Nicholas Cullinan’s impressive show, which reveals approximately 100 works, along with a small selection of drawings and archival material, created between 1936 and 1954. The cut-outs infuse sculptural form with color. Made with scissors and painted paper, Matisse presented his painted sheets as if they were stained-glass windows. Drenched in color and with minimal form, the spectator was led to dream of what the subject matter of such abstract lines signified, if any at all. After such a brilliant and long career, these cut-outs once again renewed the artist’s longstanding commitment to color and form.
Matisse’s cut-outs, as the exhibition reveals, were perhaps the artist’s answer to his life-long probing of color, drawing and form. His late collages and cut-paper pieces virtually explode with vivid colors, and perhaps even more vivid shapes, applying the painter’s skilled hand to the scissors. The smooth lines and cuts of his forms belie Matisse’s fascination with the painterly stroke, applied in a series of fluid, gentle lines that bring vastly different colors and forms into close harmony. Minimizing his approach to its core elements, the cut-outs represent Matisse’s final goal in perhaps its most cohesive manner: a fusion of color and form through the effortless movement of the artist’s hand. Even in the face of his own failing health, Matisse was able to continue his work towards a singular goal, breaking vastly new ground as he went.
The exhibition is on view through September 7th, 2014.
— R. Proctor