Saturday, 31 May 2014

Matisse: The Cut-Outs at the Tate Modern

I visited the hugely successful Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern the other day and so popular is it that even members had to join the queue to get inside. But it is definitely worth it. The first three rooms were very crowded but then space opened up in subsequent rooms and I suspect that's what it's like most days, particularly since the first few rooms contain the smaller works that people need to crowd around to see. There are also film clips of Matisse projected on the walls in a few rooms to demonstrate how he worked.

As you wander deeper into the exhibition the works not only grow in size but you can see Matisse experimenting with his art and pushing it forward - he might have been ageing but his art wasn't. In some of the cut-outs you can clearly see the scissor strokes as he cuts the coloured paper, sometimes jagged and sometimes smooth. You can also see the pin marks in some of the works as moved the shapes around to get just the right image to match what he sees in his mind.

After the large, wall-sized works it was nice to see the wall covered in relatively small pictures to bring everything back into perspective before more wall-sized works. The colour leaps off the wall in these pictures with the organic shapes twisting and turning as they evolve into something more that just bits of paper cut up and stuck to a backing paper. There's something very primal about some of these pictures, the raw shapes and colours flooding the mind. I knew what some of the pictures were with just a glance (like 'Fleurs de Neige' in its beautiful simplicity) and others needed to be puzzled over - what is Matisse really saying with this one?

'The Snail' is one of Matisse's central pieces and I remember it from the old Tate Gallery in the '80s before the Tate split into Britain and Modern. I've never quite understood it's name since it doesn't even vaguely resemble a snail in my eyes but that's not the point. It simply means that I haven't yet evolved sufficiently to be able to see with Mr Matisse's aged eyes.

Of course, his pictures don't always have to mean something. They can just be a joyously colourful experience or you can wallow in the glory of the shapes he cuts out as shapes. One of the signs explains that he cut out the shape of a swallow and thought it was too beautiful to throw away so he pinned it to the wall of his Paris apartment and then gradually filled the rest of the wall with random shapes he liked to create his own inspirational wallpaper.

Some of his Cut-Outs seem to be fun for the sake of it, and why not?. 'The Bees' is a great example of this with a hive of action made up of bits of coloured paper but expressing the busy-ness of the bees and their colours. It made me smile.

The pictures at the end of the exhibition are much bigger than those shown at the start - and from when Matisse was older - so there are fewer per room but they have no less impact. The pictures weren't all designed to be shown as such, some were produced as designs for carpets, book covers or ceramics - and even a chapel - but we see them in all their glory and hugeness.

It's astonishing that Matisse kept working up to the end of his days in his 80s. To have that passion, that vision and drive to continue to explore and challenge new boundaries rather than sitting back on his laurels is inspirational. How did he keep all that vision in his head and release it slowly on the page, sometimes going back to previous ideas to bring them alive again, in different form? How do you see a naked woman in a few strips of blue paper on a white background - how do you see that for the first time?

If you get the opportunity then go and see this marvellous exhibition - it's open until September so there's plenty of time. It was hideously busy when I went but it's definitely worth it. And the Tate has cornered the market on merchandise when you leave the exhibition, you're spoilt for choice.

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