Saturday, 23 August 2014

Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern, reviewed by Cornish abstract artist Chris Billington. Lydia Delectorskaya. Starchild charity.

 It is always interesting to see what one artist makes of another's work, and I am delighted to be able to share the well-known Cornish abstract artist Chris Billington's excellent review of the exhibition at Tate Modern of Henri Matisse's Cut-Outs. He also took all but one of the excellent photographs.
Chris Billington has recently moved back to Truro, and has donated his latest painting Starchild for the forthcoming auction in Glasgow for the Starchild charity,  which was set up in 2012 to improve the lives of orphans in Uganda. 

Like Matisse, Chris goes back to the basics of form and colour in his paintings.

We Are All Made Of Stars (2014) – 24in X 30in – painted for Starchild ~ Chris Billington

Review by Chris Billington 

 Henri Matisse The Cut Outs ~ Painting With Scissors

This summer Matisse lights up the walls of the Tate Modern with a concord of colour and pattern.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

This is an exhibition entirely given over to the Cut-Outs of Matisse.   Shapes cut from gouache painted sheets of paper, pinned and eventually glued to a support mostly completed during his latter years, with the help of various assistants, but mainly aided by Lydia Delectorskaya, his Russian lover and muse.

         Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The  Cut-Outs are arranged pretty much chronologically and demonstrate just how much cutting up Matisse carried out during his artistic career. These Cut-Outs were not merely a bookend, a whimsical diversion: his experiments with this process span decades and what is evident is how they progress and develop logically, charting the use of the cut out shapes and the cast off pieces there is a visible path of evolution from the earliest attempts.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington 

A short film, shot at the time, shows Lydia Delectorskaya at the side of Matisse while he is making circular motions in the air with a large pair of dressmaking scissors, cutting out paper shapes freehand. She is then seen arranging the shapes under the direction of Matisse, who is pointing to various positions on the wall with a long pole until he is happy that they are in the correct place. However, far from always being an instant process often the shapes were placed, and replaced, rotated and turned, pinned and unpinned, until the overall idea worked right. This could take many attempts and some even took several years before Matisse was entirely happy with the results, evidence of this has been identified by a myriad of tiny pin holes in some of the cut outs indicating that Matisse repositioned the shapes many times before arriving at the final composition.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

Much of this work was Matisse attempting to bring the exuberance of the garden into his studio when he was bedridden and infirm in his later years but it was by no means an end of life project, rather it was borne out of years of experimentation with Matisse perfecting the procedure over decades.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The exhibition takes us from his 1930s early experiments with scissors, pins and paper, through the complete process, including a look at some of the raw materials with which he worked. Complete with a rich complement of photographs and writings from the archive to enhance our understanding of the process, along with a selection of many of his early book illustrations and taking us right up to his work for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary at Vence and his final pieces in the mid 1950′s prior to his death. However it was in his later years due to old age and infirmity that the process was to become dominant in his practice with Matisse even declaring that his new ideas were the beginning of the end of painting.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington
A proliferation of foliage and fauna bursts forth from the gallery walls as one moves from one room to the next, of which there are a suite of 14 in total which together showcase 120 dazzling works. Several books and magazines were illustrated by Matisse using the cut-out principle, but the stand-out publication was Jazz which was published in 1947 in a limited edition of 100 and one of the rooms is given over entirely to the subject and this room really held my attention for quite some time as there was so much information to take in.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

The original edition of Jazz contains a portfolio of glorious stencil prints, each interspersed with pages of very large fluid text, handwritten by Matisse, much of which was in the room, including The Sword Swallower.
               Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

All of the iconic works are present in the other 13 rooms, including ‘The Snail’ (1953), which actually belongs to The Tate, is shown alongside its sister work ‘Memory of Oceania’ also from 1953. The Four Blue Nudes, the first three of which came to Matisse effortlessly, like many other cut-outs, almost in an instant, but the fourth he struggled to form. It is noticeable how uneasy ‘Blue Nude iv’ sits alongside the previous three all the more remarkable in fact because ‘Blue Nude iv’ was actually the first of the four to be started and the last to be completed. Seen by millions on posters, postcards, greetings cards etc, now is the chance for many of us to see the real articles up close. From room to room the brilliance and scale is quite staggering, and the exhibition closes with the magnificent cut-out model on a Christmas theme and the resulting stained glass which was commissioned for the Time-Life Building in New York. Like his windows for the Vence Chapel, Christmas Eve conveys the spirit of religious expression without explicitly addressing religious subject matter. in the final room.

The Snail and Memory of Oceana are reunited in Henri Matisse 
                             The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern ~ Photo Tate

Matisse termed the process of making these intensely vivid and large scale works as “painting with scissors.”. And what these Cut-Outs or as the French refer to them, d√©coupages, do is uphold to the very end of his years the reputation of Matisse as the ‘wild beast ‘ of colour.
             Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

“I have worked for years in order that people might say, ‘it seems easy to do’”, said Matisse shortly before his death, and if this all seems like child’s play to the viewer he would probably be very happy, but whichever way you view it, by going back to the basics of form and colour, there is no denying that the Cut Outs dance on the walls, they vibrate with energy.
              Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern 2014 ~ Chris Billington

This genuinely once in a lifetime exhibition revitalises the works that we know so well, even if we have never before seen the original pieces. That it does so admirably is testament to the skill of the curatorial team of Jodi Hauptman, Karl Buchberg, Samantha Friedman and Nicholas Cullinan under the most capable charge of Sir Nicholas Serota. In one broad sweep this exquisitely executed show seduces the senses and refashions our understanding of what Matisse achieved in the cut-outs. From now on we’ll see them not simply as a delightful postscript to his extraordinary artistic career, but the realisation of half a century of work … not merely decorative arrangements of shapes and colours but as works of art from a 20th century giant of modern art that continue to enliven the spirit through their powerful emotional presence.

On 3 June, a live film about the exhibition was broadcast in cinemas across the UK.
Matisse The Cut-Outs runs until September  2014 at Tate Modern

Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya by Henri Matisse, 1947 
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg