Andrea here, Just the other day, I was brainstorming with a good friend about about her elderly mother and the challenges of keeping her spirits up as aging restricts the things she can do. Her mother is an artist, who did very meticulous and detailed (and wonderful!) collages out of found paper throughout her career. But her eyesight and manual dexterity are not what they used to be, and so she doesn’t get up with the same verve to embrace the day as she once did.
It got me to thinking . . . and an idea occurred to me. I’m a huge fan of Henri Matisse’s paper cut-out collages, which he began in later life when the rigors of painting became too much of a physical challenge. Their bold colors and exuberant simplicity are wonderful—he called them drawing in paper. So I showed them to my friend and suggested that a simple pair of big scissors and an assortment of bright colored paper might rekindle her mother’s artistic eye—and be easy enough to handle that it wouldn’t be discouraging.
She loved the idea and has just placed an order for art supplies to try with her mother. And given that February always seems the dreariest month of winter here in the northern hemisphere—one knows spring is coming, but the weather seems to take pernicious delight in being cold and grey every day—I thought I’d share some of Matisse’s wonderful art and its backstory.
In 1941, Matisse underwent surgery and after that was pretty much confined to his bed or wheelchair. With his creativity undiminished, he found a medium in which he could continue to explore and experiment with shapes, color and composition—colored paper! He loved that it made him think in a different way. Cutting paper was much quicker than painting, and allowed him to move pieces around and create compositions in a way that that he couldn’t do with pigment and canvas.
The flat colors also challenged him to see in a different way. Some critics dismissed the art as a silly reversion to childhood play. But Matisse’s contemporaries, including Picasso, were very excited by the work, seeing it as a thoroughly modern way to experiment with the age-old fundamentals of color, line and composition.
Many of the works are fairly small. But what I love is that he also envisioned what the simple shapes and juxtaposition of color could look like on a grand scale. Improvising to account for his lack of mobility, Matisse would have an assistant take the cut-outs he did with his scissors and move them around on a large background with a stick until he was happy with the placement. The piece would then be pinned in place and he would continue to add more shapes until he was satisfied with the final composition, which would then be glued down. Some of these large constructions are mural-size and fill a whole wall. Others have served as designs for soaring stained glass windows.
As the Museum of Modern Art said when they devoted a major exhibit to Matisse’s paper cut-outs: “A brilliant final chapter in Matisse’s long career, the cut-outs reflect both a renewed commitment to form and color and an inventiveness directed to the status of the work of art, whether as a unique object, environment, ornament, or a hybrid of all of these.”
Are you familiar with Matisse’s paper collages? What do you think of them? Are you inspired to get out your scissors and colored paper and give it a try?