Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Henri Matisse, seeking harmony Part 1

What a joy to look at Matisse. For once, life makes sense. All the elements of existence are harmonized, seen to be One, while still existing in their own dimensions, of color, space, mass, biology and/or chemistry/physics. Matisse intuited the harmony in life and deconstructed painting practice to put it forth, a daring move, and a contrary one considering that the trend, led by Picasso, was to emphasize the Self, the emotional tangle, the brusque intemperate energy of humankind alone, whether in Cubism's explosion of sense perception into multiple angles, in Dada's furious denunciation of "civiliziation" hahaha in favor of a new (somewhat misogynist -but wait- and hierarchical) society of harmless foolishness (Dada tho not perfect my fave movement in aht), in the Surrealist jumble of "civilization's" best and worst instincts (side note: tho Dada and especially Surrealism were somewhat reflections of the society they reacted against, their inchoate and hotly debated core beliefs allowed for women to make their own rules if they were bold enough, and there's sort of a feminine aspect to such 'cultural anarchy' despite the inevitable misogyny; dissolution, disrobing of such carefully and capitalistically determined sociocultural edifices, the by-now inarguable hierarchies that gestated for world wars. Surrealism, though even more misogynistic -side note; do you see a male clothed, female unclothed? run! this is not the "revolution" it's advertised to be, rather it's title could be "patriarch with chattel"- relied on dreams for much of its content, sort of a Lunar model of art rather than the Solar model of, let's say, the previous Academicians or the Pre-Raphaelites; unfortunately the Surrealist 'revolution' was founded on aesthetic principles not moral ones), or through any other 'movements' of that time.

Matisse sat alone, like a Buddha on a rock, feeling kinship with the Impressionists for their reverence of Nature; but Matisse went one further: "When we speak of Nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of Nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe."

Jackson Pollack apparently took the hint.

Let's look at some pictures. Here's an early, yet controversial one.

'Woman With A Hat' 
Who is this woman! Matisse has captured an unguarded moment of someone who obviously feels abandoned, neglected, apart from things; although a proper exemplar of bourgoise femininity, immaculately well-appointed and groomed, she looks back from a mighty solitary place. Many painters had lavished exquisite care on portraits of women, but generally from the "outside"; their regard was aesthetic and/or somewhat sexual, if not idealized or mythic/symbolic. Matisse drew this from the 'inside', revealing almost embarrassingly the stark aloneness behind the mask of social attainment, to a public who didn't care (and who generally still don't, we prefer our public women to be other than mirrors). Methinks the quite savage reaction Matisse got to this picture was as much for its eloquent evocation of the true state of women in that society, as it was for his use of "unsanctioned" color.

So who is this? No other than Matisse's firebrand wife Amelie (Parayre), who indeed came to feel quite neglected and abandoned and left him after 31 years of modeling and marriage. 

Of course this is only the early Matisse, which although provoking controversy, does not embody the harmony I want to speak of. But instead of taking a month to write some monumental piece, an overview of his entire career, we'll go perhaps picture by picture so I can actually get this thing out; stay tuned. Matisse will be an ongoing exploration but there will be interjections of other things as they arise. The problem of writing about art is that everything leads to something else and I can't say it all at once.

Thanks for listening.