Friday, May 20, 2011

Dancing with Matisse

I completed this drawing, colored pencil on black paper, about 18x24". The black and white shapes are appropriated from Matisse's Acrobatic Dancer. Everything floating beneath, the concentric warm circles, the tropical blue, is mine. I've been working with these circles for quite awhile, and wanted to overlay this work with mine. Do a dance, see how our shapes move together, riff off each other. I do think this piece moves. Not in a big-top circus-spectacle kind of way, but in a passionate, caressing, mutually respectful meringue salsa kind of way. See how the lower right circles are held or embraced by the two black and white organic appendages? Those shapes seem to reach like tendrils across the surface that is punctuated by these hotspots, stepping stones, pulsating subwoofers. Or stretching into brave and proud warrior overlaying the first, second and third chakras.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Small (Art) World

While in Chicago a couple weeks ago, I was able to view the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's MFA Thesis Exhibition upon the recommendation of my colleague, art historian Dr. Thor Mednick. He had been at the opening the week before and actually purchased this piece by artist Carly Silverman:

Keep in mind this MFA class is huge, well over 100 candidates, the show spanning a couple floors of a couple buildings. Thor had described the piece, and I found it. As I approached I noticed two people in folding chairs in an apparent critique of the work. I recognized Jerry Saltz right away. He is an art critic who visited a class I had in grad school at Parsons. He told us we were already a part of the art world, not just emerging, not on the outside. I started reading his reviews of shows in various publications and found them highly enjoyable, educational, and accessible. OK, and severely entertaining. Reading them made me want to look up artists and pop culture icons and art movements if I wasn't already familiar, in order to see what he was seeing, Seeing Out Loud as in the title of his first collected reviews. I went on to share his reviews with my Art Theory class, as an example of written critique. Bonus that I can tell them I met him in NYC. And now here he was again, discussing this artist's work, the very artist whose piece was purchased by my colleague the week before. Crazy. So I stuck out my hand and said hello to them both and how I was already connected to them both. I mentioned that the work brought Alex Katz to mind, and Jerry exclaimed they were both talking about him, much to my pure delight that I was able to see what Jerry saw, that I was still a part of the art world, maybe even a bigger, more-contributing part, of the art (small) world.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beasts of the Sea

For several years I've been sharing Matisse's Beasts of the Sea with teacher education students. After introducing his work and life, and the unrelated format of a triptych, I demonstrate how they can make a Matisse Triptych geared toward first or second-graders. We talk about organic shapes and abstraction; it's easy for these non-artists to see the influence of sea forms in the piece, and how he might have gone about abstracting them. This triptych is the work of a college student. I decided to try my hand with colored pencil on black paper, to recreate the geometric shapes behind the organic ones, to see how Matisse isolated the shapes or let them flow into each other. I didn't strive so much to match colors or technique, but to try to experience the composition and create an homage to the bold and graphic images Matisse created late in his life.

Feeling Out Matisse

I forgot to bring my own pencil when I was studying the Matisse Jazz Series at the Ryerson library in Chicago. So I used a few of the short stubby library pencils to do this drawing as I looked at the original print. As an artist, I needed to do more than just look and read and write and type. Drawing from observation helps me feel my way around another artist's hand. Laying out the composition of this piece gave me a deeper appreciation of the complexity of the image. The abstract shapes and bold colors make the space look deceivingly simple. And that original piece is not a drawing; it is pochoir, stenciled gouache on paper. Matisse talked about the immediacy of the paper cut-out, more visceral than drawing and then coloring in a shape as I did in my study. My next step will be to approach my materials in a similar way, to cut and paste or cut and print.

Monday, May 9, 2011

From Matisse's Mouth

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as for the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”

“Expression to my way of thinking does not consist of the passion mirrored upon a human face or betrayed by a violent gesture. The whole arrangement of my picture is expressive, the place occupied by figures or objects, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety.”

“The cut-out paper allows me to draw in colour. It is a simplification. Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the colour—in which case one modified the other—I am drawing directly in colour, which will be the more measured as it will not be transposed. The simplification ensures an accuracy in the union of two means…..It is not a starting point but a culmination.”

“It was always in view of a complete possession of my mind, a sort of hierarchy of all my sensations that I kept working in the hope of finding an ultimate method.”

“There is no break between my paintings and my cut-outs—only with something more of the abstract and the absolute…..the cut-out is what I have now found the simplest and most direct way to express myself… must study an object a long time to know what its sign is…..I now keep only the sign.”

“I believe my role is to provide calm…..I have looked for the same things which I have perhaps realized by different means.”

Studying Matisse's Jazz Series in Chicago

Susan is a lovely librarian and very generous. The Ryerson Library here at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago is beautiful with an art deco ceiling letting in natural light. Large wood tables. The Matisse display is under glass just as you walk in. I requested a couple books, including the recent Neret books, so gorgeous. I did a quick once-over through the glass, but you can’t quite tell if they are cut-outs, painting, or print. Once Susan brought out the folio of the rest of the collection that had already been on display, she laid out a piece of foam and took them out, unfolded them one at a time and laid it out on the foam to view. We went through them like that, me making comments and asking questions, about the process (he had them printed), looks like gouache, thick rough-edged paper, remarkable condition. This was all last exhibited in 1989. Too bad you don’t speak French. Hopefully the books will clue you in to some of his hand-painted text. There is just as much text as image if not more.

Interesting imperfections. Some rough-cut edges, some text that is crossed through. I wonder if this is the painter part of him that still desired some blurred edges.

Taschen folio 2009: Facsimile of the illustrated book Jazz by Henri Matisse, originally published in 1947 by Editions Teriade, Paris.

Taschen publication is stunning. BUT, they couldn’t quite capture some of the luminosity in the color. For example, the original Formes, sculptural silhouettes almost…the gorgeous airy light bluish gray of the original shows a more opaque warm gray in the book. HUGE difference. I spent time taking the folio prints out and comparing them to the originals.

Susan showed me the first display: the first and last five in the series, because of the spread of table of contents written by Matisse. His table of contents displays a two-page spread of roman numerals, pages 5-15, in abbreviated line drawings showing simplest contour of the pages. Wow! Current display is the middle ten. The blacks are much more rich and creamy in the original prints, as well. The edition owned by Chicago is #29 out of 270 Sold for $345 at the time; one just went to auction for almost a million.

After drawing the horse print, had Susan show me the originals pulled one more time. She had a poster of the horse print in high school; the Museum had a large Matisse show last year, so she had him on her mind. She is in charge of exhibitions in the library. It was pretty simple to request the series from the Prints and Drawings department for display. The trick has been the light: they need equal exposure, so couldn’t all be displayed at once in the provided space. Also, this show has gotten more traffic than anything she’s seen exhibited in the library. It was special that I got to see it out of the archives. The P&D Dept doesn’t want it viewed often. Susan actually has said no to people who have requested it since I asked. What a rare opportunity!!!