Magazine article School Arts

The Shapes within and the Air Around

Magazine article School Arts

The Shapes within and the Air Around

Article excerpt

Henri Matisse gave up painting at the age of 60 to work in the medium of cut paper. "That paper cut-out is a stylized snail ... I drew and drew. I became aware of an unfolding. I formed in my mind a purified sign for a shell. Then I took the scissors," said Matisse about his method of working.

After Matisse cut out the images, he pinned them to the wall. He would change their positions and add new ones until the composition pleased him. His adjustments stopped when his colors and shapes created an "expressive atmosphere." Then everything was pasted down.

Natural Influences

In addition to working directly from nature, two other characteristics of his cut paper technique are significant. One is a framing effect that came from cutting into rectangular sheets of paper. The other is the use of white as a ground on which images are placed and as a negative space formed by cutting out images from sheets of colored paper.

Many of Matisse's favorite subjects were fruits, fish, organic forms from nature, birds and figures. His art was inspired by his direct observation of the world around him. However, he changed the colors, perspective and patterns. He simplified some images so they looked abstract, yet recognizable.

A Cut Paper Still Life

I introduced my students to Matisse by having them look at his art and create a visually exciting still life. We looked for objects that had many open spaces within them to aid in seeing negative and positive shapes. The students arranged bicycle wheels, chairs, musical instruments, a street lantern and plants in the center of the room. We discussed the artist's use of natural leaf-like forms and the expressive atmosphere of his variously colored images.

I encouraged the students to look carefully before drawing. They drew some of the negative spaces in the air before drawing it on paper. …

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