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Matisse’s cut-outs bring joy to London’s Tate Modern

Cutting shapes from colourful pieces of paper isn’t limited to childhood, according to French artist Henri Matisse.

His most recent exhibition, ‘The Cut-Outs’ is currently on display at The Tate Modern, London, until June 2 and boats a collection of his most prized works.

‘The Cut-Outs’ is curated chronologically, with each room mapping out Matisse’s logical process behind the artworks.

Matisse turned to the innovative technique of cutting shapes out of colourful paper in the last 17 years of his life, as a way of working out the arrangement of objects in his paintings.

The ‘cut-out’ method initially enabled him to experiment more freely with his paintings, as he would pin the cut-out paper shapes to explore new and different perspectives in his art.

This form expanded as he incorporated his fascination with dance into his work.

The paper cut-out shapes allowed Matisse to capture the energy and movement of life through their simplicity and ease of mobility around the canvas.

Matisse allowed his work to constantly evolve and retain a sense of playfulness and youthfulness.

He adopted bright colours in his cuttings as a way of attributing emotions to the shapes.

His work succeeded in portraying the emotional self in the faceless shapes, particularly through his earlier works like ‘Small dancer on red background’.

Story-Telling

Matisse’s artwork also became a vehicle for telling stories, and one of his most famous artworks ‘The Fall of Icarus’ (1943) reflects just that through recalling the mythological story of Icarus.

The Fall of Icarus (1947)

By borrowing traditional stories and readapting them, Matisse re-presented them to new audiences thereby making them modern again.

One of his most impressive works is Oceania, The Sky where Matisse transformed a wall in his Parisian apartment with paper cut-out wallpaper.

He pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves to the wall, all unevenly scattered to create a sense of the sea and the sky.

Oceania, The Sky (1946)

Matisse’s cut-outs were always irregular and seemed imperfect.

A film shown in Room 6 shares a moment with Matisse as he cuts into the paper, which as it catches in the wind, twists to reveal the three dimensional form he worked in, and exposes his imagination at work.

He relished the flaws in beauty, and his artwork focuses on the individuality in the irregular shapes.

His work explores the contrasting themes of permanence and impermanence, as his artwork – although tangible and very real – is made of easily-disposable paper and attached with pins so shapes could be moved around, rotated or inverted as he pleased. This technique enabled Matisse to continue experimenting.

His use of primary colours mirrors the simplicity of his work, as the colours evoke an infantile playfulness.

With the Oceania, The Sky piece, Matisse was able to create inspiration around himself, literally covering the cracks in the wall with his artwork and transforming his world.

His approach encouraged others to see the world around them how they wanted to see it.

Matisse’s simple and easy-to-apply method proves how easy it can be to transform the world around us.

He employs a ‘low effort’ method to obtain a maximum impact.

Matisse treated his life and surrounding wall space as a canvas for experimentation, where he could reflect his thought and emotions through colour and shapes.

Technique:

Matisse also adopted collaging as a way of layering colours and creating space.

Zulma’ is a particularly radical piece, known for its sense of depth in a cut-out composition, and earned Matisse the reputation as a youthful artist (despite being 80 when he made it).

The collage technique reveals the labour behind the artwork as pieces of paper are literally placed on top of one another to represent different layers of the self.

Later, Matisse adopted a technique he called “cutting directly into colour”, which allowed him the freedom to draw and sculpt at the same time.

The Blue Nudes’ best resemble this technique as Matisse cut into the colour to create their feminine outlines.

Blue Nude II (1952)

Once Matisse became too frail to leave the house, he brought the artwork into the house, making the studio a part of his daily life and becoming fully immersed in the artwork.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid’ became his indoor garden.

By surrounding himself with his colourfully playful artwork Matisse maintained his youthful audacity throughout his old age, which he employed when instructing studio assistants to position the cut-out shapes.

His youthfulness extended to his artwork, where he was no stranger to experimentation and sought to break the rules.

The Snail’ is a piece he describes as “abstraction rooted in reality”, where he spoke of a feeling of ‘unfolding’; a sense of the artwork overcoming him.

The Snail (1953)

In ‘The Snail’, this sense of experimentation is reflected in the supposed intentional mistake that sits in the top left hand corner of the piece, where a playfully torn piece can be seen.

The contrast between discipline and creative freedom suggests the intensity and clear thought-processes behind his work.

The final piece of the exhibition is his magnificent and visionary ‘Christmas Eve’ piece, which sees his cut-outs organised in a stained glass window.

Commissioned for the Time-Life Building, New York, the artwork truly acts as a precedent for his modern vision, all the while allowing him to remain young and experimental.

Paper-cutting became a pivotal art moment for Matisse who was surprised by the joy it brought him. In a letter to his son, he revealed “It is such a consolation to have achieved this at the end of my life.”

To buy tickets, go to the Tate’s website

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