The Spirit of Jazz Inspired Matisse

Article excerpt

Pure, luminous colors were the hallmark of Henri Matisse's paintings, never more so than in the decoupages or cutouts of his late period. Photographs of his studio in Vence, France, about 1947 show a wall covered in these paper cutouts.

It was in the same year that his book "Jazz" was published, four years after he started work on it. The images in it were printed by means of a stenciling technique called pochoir. But they had originated as paper cutouts, and it is in the text of "Jazz" that Matisse describes his cutouts as "drawing with scissors," a process "of cutting into color" that reminded him "of a sculptor's carving into stone."

"Jazz" was issued as a portfolio of 20 separate exhibitable plates and also as a bound book with Matisse's written text. In both cases, the editions were small. "Jazz" is a work of great joie de vivre, apparently improvisatory though instinctively calculated, having the precision that resulted from years of drawing. Matisse practiced drawing as a musician practices, endlessly refining form and touch.

"Jazz" is a flying trapeze of flowing shapes set free from the laws of gravity. Its images are a witty interplay of positive and negative and of brilliant, contrasting colors. Everything seems deliberately musical in its deployment, an effect of jubilant motion and unexpected counter rhythms. …

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