Henri Matisse was a genius at painting and drawing. Do we know much about his collages? The Tate Modern in London have dedicated a major retrospective to the Master, in order to explore another of his (many) facets.
The collages appeared late and quite by chance in Matisse’s life. Illness slowed down his creativity, with Matisse spending most of his time at home. He was given six months to live and whilst fighting cancer as well as the accompanying pain, Matisse began to transform his home into an art studio, creating one piece after another. He soon came up with the idea of cutting paper out of large sheets of white paper. This technique was less tiring, allowing him to remain seated whilst at work. Without even realising it, Matisse had invented a new art form.
In the end, Matisse proved the doctors wrong, living far longer than expected. In the 1940s, Matisse excelled, creating hundreds of collages, sometimes to order (posters, triptychs, murals, etc.), sometimes for his own pleasure.
Assistants helped the painter realise his collages that were sometimes several metres in length and height. The first stage was to paint large sheets of paper in bright colours. This task was realised either by an assistant or by Matisse himself. The second stage was reserved to the Master and involved cutting shapes out of the painted sheets of paper. When all of the pieces were ready to be assembled, Matisse tested them on the walls of his home, with only a handful of tacks and an assistant on a stepladder. It took several hours and even days for the correct result to be obtained, with Matisse sitting in the distance, guiding his assistant with hand gestures.
Thanks to his paper cutting technique, Matisse was able to regain the fluidity of a paintbrush with a pair of scissors. The way in which he mastered the art of paper cutting, allowed him to regain control of his pictorial representations, as he did during his younger creative years. He was able to recapture the play of lights, colours and shapes, surprising the public with his chromatic improvisations.
Matisse is nearing the end of his life, but his creations are bursting with life. The colours are strong and the shapes dance before your eyes; we are totally seduced by the simplicity of his work. As Matisse liked to say, he mastered the art of “drawing with scissors”.
”Paper cutting allows me to draw with colours. For me, it’s a simplification: instead of drawing the contour and colouring the inside – one modifying the other – I draw directly into the colour, which is even more precise as it hasn’t been converted. This simplification guarantees a precision in the alliance of two mediums that become one.” Henri Matisse