Category Archives: Modernism

Joy spread through Colour

Joy spread through colour was Henri Matisse‘s definition of modern art.  I can tell you that seeing  Matisse: The Cut Outs Paper Cuts  at MoMA was, indeed, a joyful experience.

A decade or two ago,  I saw a show of Matisse cut outs in Washington, D.C.  The power of those pieces has stayed with me all these years. More recently, a favourite art professor often praises Matisse, claiming he is the foremost artist of the 20th century.

MoMa collaborated with the Tate Modern to produce this extensive show.  The work is displayed chronologically, which helps understand the development of paper cutting in Matisse’s art practise.

As I understand it, the paper cuts weren’t originally intended to be the finished pieces of art. Matisse used cut out pieces of paper to plan designs (just like the aforementioned art professor advises his students.)  After the printing of his book, Jazz, he was disappointed with the result.

He wrote to the publisher, Teriade,  “The artist who made the picture comes away with the impression that is picture has been destroyed, and he loses every hope of it being understood by means of this approximate reproduction.”

Despite Matisse’s reservations, Teriade persisted, and eventually, Jazz was published, to great success.

Jazz

Pierrot's Funeral

Pierrot’s Funeral

And, thankfully, Matisse persisted with the cut outs.  In a letter to Pierre Bonnard, he wrote, “Instead of drawing and then applying colour, I draw direct with the colour.”

The Horse, The Rider, and the Clown

The Horse, The Rider, and the Clown

Modernism in the Pacific Northwest

Forms Follow Man

Forms Follow Man

I have to say I was a little skeptical about this show at the Seattle Art Museum.  It’s not that I doubt the quality of the shows at SAM, but I have a little bias against Mark Tobey.  In her book, Art of Emily Carr,   Doris Shadbolt  says of Tobey:  ” American artist Mark Tobey claimed credit for inspiring Carr’s “great swirling canvases, [and] wonderful tree forms,”

Never mind.  Emily was above all the fray.  Her comment on Tobey:  “He is clever, but he has no soul.”

We can forgive the hubris.  The man’s contribution to modernism is significant.  The art critic, Clement Greenberg, gave Tobey credit for inventing the overall gestural painting style….not Jackson Pollock!  As was the case with the artist Robert Irwin in California, and Emily Carr in Victoria, Tobey’s location in Seattle prevented him from becoming a household name like Jackson Pollock. The abstract expressionists in New York got all the buzz.

Modernism in the Pacific Northwest also highlighted the work of Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson.  The art is strong, and rooted in deeply held personal philosophies.

The curators at SAM did an excellent job of explaining the historical significance of the these painters.  They made it clear how the art was firmly rooted in the political and philosophical movements of the time.