Thursday, September 20, 2007
[ MJF50 ]
He cuts to the quick, cuts away the ordinary, cuts out the cliché, cuts until he finds the essence. His curves aren’t mad, he says, he knows they bend around the vertical so wildly that they are in danger of losing all meaning, but that vertical is in his spirit, he knows, and so his wildness is...precise. He has trained his hands to serve him, so they will never dominate his feelings: What they must do is take him to that place where he can push aside all that he already understands...take him beyond what he already knows.
The old man can play. His rhythms are defiantly offbeat, his changes almost beyond reason, he substitutes chords like a bebop hipster, improvises in big, wild bursts of color that interact in crazy counterpoint, uses chromatic tone against tone to build tension with jarring dissonances that are all resolved within the frame.
Henri Matisse: Jazz fills the room at the Monterey Museum of Art with a spirit that’s definitely outside. “These images, with their lively and violent tones...,” he writes, knowing what he has done. He was old and sick and when a paintbrush or pencil no longer served him, he used scissors to cut shapes from brilliantly colored paper, and arranged them on a page. While he worked, he used a fat paintbrush to write, in rude calligraphy, his thoughts. He liked the duet of words and pictures, so put them together in a book, creating a deliberate and irregular rhythm of word-pages and image-pages. He made sure that his book wasn’t bound, just held together by covers. He liked that: “An artist should never be prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success...”
He was a master of change, one of the first avant-garde artists to study primitive art from Africa. The color and rhythms greatly influenced him, in his flat vivid shapes and bold fluid lines. His Jazz has all the power of a soaring new idea that the master – because he is great – takes on out to the edge, and pushes to the brink.
HENRI MATISSE: JAZZ continues at Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific St., Monterey, through Oct. 21.