It is easy to be inspired by Matisse. Seeing Henri Matisse the Cut-Outs exhibit at MOMA, the exuberance of color, the freedom of forms — you want to be able to paint like that. The later rooms with the wall-sized works, and especially the photographs of how his studio was so full of this art as he created it — you want to live in rooms like that. I walked out of the exhibit wanting to play with color, to hold it in my hand and create pure forms with it as he did. Even if you don’t like Matisse, you have to be inspired by the absolute passion he had for creating art, so undeniable that it that led him to invent a new way to make art when he could no longer paint. Chapter 10 of my book is titled “Matisse’s Cat”, in reference to the inspiration I draw from these struggles of great artists to find a way to satisfy that passion, and Matisse particularly because he spoke of the struggle, and left us evidence of his explorations and battles with line and form and color. I was writing about my own struggles to develop new cat face designs, particularly one based on a statue at the Bronx Zoo of a puma coming down a cliff, and in this iteration I had simplified the puma shape so much that it reminded me of a Matisse cut-out, and that encouraged me to loosen my hold on the realistic image and pursue it’s essence instead. This is the encouragement I take from Matisse: aim for the essential.
We paint faces mostly with pure color. You might do blending in the sponge work, but then the imagery on top is usually solid colors with minimal shading — so the Cut-Outs relate directly. In adapting the Cut-Out figures to a face you have the additional playfulness of trying to fit his forms to the shapes of the face, which becomes an exercise in the fundamental skill of placing a flat image over the curves of the face. And I do mean “exercise” — I learn more about painting faces when I try to imitate the Cut-Outs.
Matisse’s painted portraits also adapt well, as he worked often with flat areas of pure color and precise linework. Strong colors and clean linework make for effective faces.
Face Gallery (Body Paintings below) ——————————————
And finally, here’s a lovely example from a colleague, Raphaelle Fieldhouse.
- Modern Primitive Art – body painting explorations of the origins of modern art
- StoryFaces and Body Painting at NYSATA 2013 (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Mythic Faces at the Hudson River Museum
- Science On Your Face — World Science Festival 2014
- Artsy’s Henri Matisse page