Saturday, November 9, 2013

matisse at the ima

after completing the murals in attica and at 3rd and romig, mindy and i decided to take a day off.  we headed to indy for some old school iron skillet fried chicken at hollyhock hill, and just some general screwing around for no reason.  our first stop was the indianapolis museum of art (IMA), which is currently featuring a special exhibit of matisse, from the collection of baltimore museum of art.  when i first started getting interested in art, matisse was one of the artists i was drawn to, though i'd never seen any of his work outside of the textbook.  however, over the past several years, i've had the opportunity to see many of his paintings and sculptures that are owned by major museums in the US (i still need to go to europe).  that being said, i'm no expert on art history, i am however, a rather astute observer of the artist's process in the finished product.  i'm interested in how the artist approached the work, the paint, the line, and the image or lack there of.

this exhibit features works from across his career showing the different styles and uses of paint (and other materials) throughout his life as an artist.  the early works are not that impressive.  the surfaces of the early works are thin oil washes that are then covered by heavily textured strokes of thick paint, a la the impressionists, nothing too revolutionary beyond the fauvist color palettes.  the interesting thing to discover in those early paintings is the way he played with color.  you can see his struggles in color transitions and the evidence he leaves on the canvas shows that exploratory thought.  

in his later works, though, that thick top layer is gone, and everything is created in the thin washes.  and this i find to be revolutionary.  in post-romantic painting, the thick texture of the paint is part of what really helped to build the surfaces of the paintings and bring them to life.  matisse flipped that, seeking a flat canvas.  he used very thin washes as a finish, rather than as an initial layer.  in some of the paintings, you can even see the remnants of bubbles in the over-turpentined paint.  these transparent washes are what really flatten his canvases, beyond his manipulated perspectives.  the other thing that the washes allow the viewer to see is the history of the painting.  in many of the works you can see the pencil and crayon lines underneath the paint.  you can also see how he manipulated the image with the marks and shapes that are covered up by other thin layers of paint.  and this is what i find to be most interesting in matisse's work.  you can see his mistakes.  you can see his exploratory process in the work.  you can see where he messed something up, then went over it with something else to balance out and abstract his images.  for me this is the reason that his work is important.  as an artist, i'm interested in how other artists make things.  and matisse is an easy one to read, because he left it all out there for you to see.  there's no masking and hiding and perfecting.  there's exploration, and mistakes, and discovery.

The Music Lesson, Two Women Seated on a Divan, 1921.  in this painting and the next one the way that he used his brush to scrub in the color is what i find interesting.  there's a brutalness to his brushwork that i find so revealing of exploration.  the scrubbing left behind bubbles and marks in the thin paint that are intimately interesting.

Two Girls, Red and Green Background, 1947.

the exhibit also features several pencil and crayon drawings.  these are also intriguing for their evidence into his creative process.  viewing the work in mass, his exploratory lines are evident, where they may be dismissible if viewed as a single piece.  but with the many drawings there, you can see him struggling with form and line and what he's looking at.  but the thing he did beyond drawing a perfect portrait, was to capture the essence beneath the image.  his humans are human in their stance and expression.  his figure studies are as evident of his studio space as they are of the subject of his drawing, even though most feature nothing more than the subject itself.

Dancer in Mirror, 1927.  love this idea.  love this idea.

Dancer with Arched Back and Cropped Face, 1927.

Odalisque with Stove and Fruit Tray, 1929.  the patterns, oh the patterns.  i love how they work to layer textures while remaining flat.

Arabesque, 1924.  again with the layers of different patterns.  i love it, and i find it so inspiring.

his work with patterns is also intriguing.  many of his works feature overlays of different patterns, from plaids to damasks to flowers.  they reminded me of japanese printmaking from the second half of the 19th century.  i'm not a huge fan of japanese prints, but i am a huge fan of the importance that patterned fabrics played in many of those works, and many contained vibrant combinations of several different patterns.  i see matisse working with the same ideas, overlaying different patterns to help achieve space while also achieving flatness.  i imagine that the works of yoshi toshi and hokusai among the many others were influences on matisse's work.

Purple Robe and Anemones, 1937.  this one is fun because several of the patterns are scratched in as opposed to painted on.  this image in particular reminded me of the pattern use in many japanese prints of the late 19th century.  even the flowers and setting with the ribbing in the background and different textures on the floor remind me of woodblock prints i've seen.  this piece also contained all those little pencils lines underneath the thin paint.  it is a different drawing that what you see in paint.  even if only slightly.

this one was really fun.  the exhibit had a complementary piece that had photos of all the different states of this painting.  it is actually really interesting to see.  because all the things he changes are evidenced underneath the top layer of paint.  it is incredible to see the decision making process of the maker.

**digression** the ima is also currently hosting a free exhibit called impressed: modern japanese prints which features a collection of contemporary japanese woodblock prints.  the works in the exhibit are all impressive, but the pieces that stand out are the works that are embossed more than printed.  the raised paper textures with slight ink applications are incredible in their simplicity.  for anyone interested in block printing in particular (ME!), these are incredibly inspiring works, and again, the process is entirely evident from the color layers to the embossing.  it was a really great exhibit that we wandered into while waiting on the irritating tour to get through the matisse show**

Maki Hiku. Poem 70-16, 1970.

Maki Hiku. Cell 1, 1967.

back to matisse.  the final part of the show is a collection of paper cuts from a book that he made near the end of his life.  no longer able to stand for long hours at his easel to paint, matisse turned to cutting paper and collaging as a way to continue his creative process.  the book is awesome, and the images are so vibrant and simple with some amorphic miro type forms and bright colors.  the childlike discovery in the images is just joyful to look at, and you can imagine an old man making fun books to the delight of his grandkids.  

Icarus, Plate VIII from Jazz, 1947.

Pierrot's Funeral, Plate X from Jazz, 1947.

The Lagoon, Plate XVIII from Jazz, 1947.

i was hesitant to go see this show as the ima has a reputation lately of fucking things up due to lack of staff and a budget cutting director.  but this show is worth seeing for anyone interested in matisse or interested in an artist's process.  i was pleasantly surprised.

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