Saturday, 22 August 2009

Matisse, colour, and I

I'm putting myself up for the modesty award today, with a title like that. But never mind...

Following my White Room experimentation I've been reading more about, and preferably BY Matisse. It's Matisse On Art. And it's a funny little book. Funny because each original piece of writing is preceeded by an, often longer than the original, introduction by Jack Flam. It's all very well but goes some way in confirming my view on why I do not want to become an art historian/critic. [hahaha.... slagging while blogging is so much more fun ;)]

So, after reading the first few of the introductions I've decided to skip them altogether and it makes for much better reading.

There are three themes that intrigue me in Matisse:

1. The way he produces space that is so full of ambivalence, superficial and completely out of reach;
2. The way he uses colour to achieve this;
3. And all the while the space he creates on canvas is so ambivalent, he thrives for an expression of his own sensations and emotions - by the means of painting - that ranks harmony and serenity above all other sensations.

Oops, (3) just acquired words while I was typing. His desire for balance and harmony struck me first off when reading On Art, but all the same the space he creates is so ambiguous, so obvious yet ungraspable. Interesting... is there more in it than harmony?

Similarly to Morandi, Matisse's use of flattening of 3D space catches my attention - the trickery, the playful involvement of the onlooker in letting us partake in a game of hide and seek, of appearances, illusions, a bit of shadowdancing and a good performance. In the form of an apparently immobile and fixed STILL LIFE. Ha! Still life, my a***! It is certainly not still.

Well... I was planning to cover (2), his use of colour, in this post today, but seeing my ongoing rambling in tangents - while always worthwhile - it seems an ambitious plan.

So, maybe I should start with the "I" from the title. I was introduced to Matisse with one of the very first of my pastel sketches/drawings/paintings that I posted on WetCanvas for some c&c, four years ago. I don't remember why I posted a second version of this view from my previous flat. In my mind, this, the first one, is still the better one (even if only on greyboard rather than any proper ground), and if I remember correctly it's still at home behind M.'s wardrobe.

View through Hallway, 2005
soft pastel on board, 48x65cm

For some curiosity, see the link to the discussion on WC here.

Matisse was recommended for his inversion of blue and green for distance, red and yellow for proximity. And that I should make up my mind between a more 3d or 2d feel of the image.

In Notes of a Painter (1908), Matisse made his first and explicit intervention into how he paints and what he regards as important. And there's a lot in there on order, clarity and what he calls a 'condensation of sensations' which achieves serenity in a painting and supercedes the capturing of fleeting moments and impressions.

I'm circling round that sentiment... circle, circle, circle... and I think that that is very different to how I use colour. And how I enjoy using pastels for plein air work. I think that whenever someone asks why I love pastels I will reply (probably along many other pastelists):

I love them for their immediacy... pure pigment in stick form and on it goes and it's there.

No condensation of sensation for me... rather a bit of a shameless: I feel. I paint. It's there. (Or not).

Circling further, I also see how Matisse is thus radically different from people like Eardley or de Stael. The ability of Eardley's paintings to move me to tears stands out, and it stands out as very different to Matisse's pursuit of serenity and harmony.

Isn't that all very intriguing!? I will continue.

But first, another pastel sketch I found from California. Initially I thought it was from the day when sky and sea become one, but it is in fact from the morning after the fog was beginning to lift, Ate had already gone swimming and I needed to get a bit of the silence of the fog on paper - though I admit, it looks a bit too thunderstormy humid instead of silent.

Kalifornien Strand
Kalifornien Strand, soft pastel on board, 35x25cm

Nonetheless, I am with Matisse when he declares he employs colour to capture sensations and emotions... they are not there to copy nature but to be expressive of his subjective being there. And for that, I am also rather forgiving of the rather rubbish composition of some of the plein air sketches of late... this one's particularly bad and wonky... but it was the sensation of colour that I was after. That's all.


Chris Bellinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Bellinger said...

Liked your post and glad you have found Matisse of use.....
Skagen Art Colony (Denmark) is interesting for Artists to look at

Chris Bellinger said...

The other Arist was Peder Severin Kroyer. Look at his moonlight paintings.