Monday, March 19, 2012

What Matisse Said

I'm reading a book about Matisse. This image struck me. It is so busy. I'm currently working on a painting that is very busy too. Notice where he had to space the seated figure away from the background with black lines or blurred lines of paint - especially thick around the face and the hand. I'm wondering in my work if I'm going to have to use these same techniques of outlining so that my objects stand out from the busy background.

A schizophrenic man I've known for eight years recently criticized my artwork. He said I should study human anatomy and draw better "fingers and toes". In Matisse's figure the hands and feet are stiff and abstracted. I happen not to abstract as much as Matisse. But my artwork was mocked cruelly by the schizophrenic. I no longer talk to him. The author of my Matisse book noticed the nude girl's impossible straight back. The line her back makes is there in order to contrast with the swirling shapes surrounding her. This painting is complex in that along the floor, (including the woman's back) there are a lot of straight lines, and the straight lines are in contrast to the patterned curves of the wall paper, the fruit, the plant, and the curves of the flesh of the girl. A rug with straight lines and curves, a mirror with straight lines and curves, a girl with curves and a perfectly straight back.

Whomever wrote the book I read adored Matisse, the prose was not dry, it was very emotional. This is what he writes about Matisse's decision not to paint strings on a guitar. The guitar was in the hands of a very large woman in a blue dress.

"It would be to wrong Matisse to reproach him for not having painted strings on the guitar. It is a pointless remark if this is a painting which pays homage to silence, once which can be compared to the comment by the Renault car-workers who, when faced with the figures painted by Fernand Leger, asserted that 'hands like that could never even hold a hammer!' Of course one cannot play a guitar without strings? Shades of Leonardo da Vinci, souvenirs of the Renaissance, obsession with realism, what stupid judgements have been made in your name!"

I especially like the author's last sentence.

Today I'm boxing up four pieces of artwork to be sent to New York City. They will travel in exhibition over this next year and I should get them back in December. It took me three stores to find the boxes. The old man at UPS told me horror stories about how rough the transport conditions would be on a truck. He suggested that I reinforce the cardboard boxes with particle board, making them impossibly heavy. I was anxious, and am still anxious that I will get the work back in the pristine condition that it was sent out in. I had to ask myself, how attached am I to my art? So much labor went into these paintings. They will be insured for damage, but I rather that they come back intact than to get some money. And me, having a bought of low self-esteem, did not put satisfactory money value on them when I had the chance. I thought to myself, what would they sell at he local gallery down the street, where I am a nobody without any reputation. Not, what are they worth to me personally, dependent on that amount of effort that went into them.

In me is a bit of a war between worry and detachment. I don't find that I have a fierce attachment to life. I like life, and I like my paintings, but I can let both go when the time comes. My mother is looking into her final living arrangement, when she is very old. It is important to her to be near the finest hospital. Like, in the same city. To me this seems silly. A great deal of my family is obsessed with living long lives. I liked what my therapist said. He said you live this life and then you move on. I only wish for long life so I can make a lot of paintings. Then I'll move on. To what? I don't know.

Matisse wrote this in a letter to his dear friend, Andre Rouveyre when he was 83, about a year before his death.

"May the survival of my works of which you give me the assurance, actually happen, I wish it... I never think of it because having thrown the ball as far as I can, I cannot be sure whether it will fall to the ground or in the sea or over the precipices from where nothing returns."

There is first the sentiment of attachment, and then in practically the next breath, a letting go of control completely. I believed this was the most powerful quote in the Matisse book because it describes my situation now exactly.


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  7. Dear Karen,

    It's wonderful and exciting that you sent some of your paintings off to tour in an exhibition. Try not to worry about them. You do have to let go or at least try to trust the people who will be taking care of them. My impression is that they must have a lot of experience with handling artwork.

    I have trouble letting go and taking risks, but I think both are necessary for living a good life, at least risks that are healthy like the ones you've done: joining and heading a support group, adopting and training a puppy, dedicating your time to your artwork and wrapping them up carefully and sending them to people who will give them a proper audience. The last thing is particularly magical Karen -- people will actually see your work and appreciate it, appreciate you and all your creative hard work.

    Can only people who paint and draw realistically be called artists? Of course not. It would be a pretty dull art world if that were so. Luckily, there are as many kinds of artwork as there are kinds of people. That's what makes art so special, the ingenious variety. It's interesting to note that photo-realist painters actually exaggerate the reality often by enlarging the image and accenting the colors. Sometimes this works and gives a hyper-real effect which is interesting if trippy.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm drawn to realistic portrait painters, amazed by their skill and, for some, their talent. Still, some of the most amazing portraits are not realistic and I'm drawn to that work as well. It's not about drawing hands and feet with accuracy, it's about the entire composition and all that is contained within it, which often has nothing to do with having the technical skill of accurate anatomy. Color, texture, background (negative space) and foreground (positive space), line, materials used, size and more all contribute to the overall impression of the work and show whether it has succeeded or not.

    You also have to keep in mind that people are rather subjective when it comes to whether they like an art work or not. You can't base your work on pleasing your critics. Please yourself first, explore your personal vision because that's where great art comes from.

    Love, Kate : )


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