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Happpy Birthday to Henri Matisse!

DECEMBER 31, 2006
We close the year in happy recognition of the life of Henri Matisse. Who hasn't in some way been affected by his clarifying vision? The artists who have come before you all faced the same issues of existence and found a way through line, form, color, space and poetry to say something about the complicated aspects of being alive.

Matisse was born into a rapidly changing world and his life was bookended by extraordinary developments in technologies of radically different scales. He grew up surrounded by the French textile industry and a tradition of competitive textile design. His temperament, family surroundings, and training as a lawyer and the fact that he came to his art career rather late imbued in him a scholarly confidence and a fatherly demeanor to his explorations of painting. I doubt whether Henri Matisse and I would have been friends if we'd been contemporaries; our personalities are very different. There's a fabulous book (Matisse: Father and Son by John Russell [Amazon]) that chronicles the life of the artist's son Pierre Matisse. Many letters are excerpted and Matisse pére's voice is clear in it's fatherly concern, self-centered worries, and autocratic nature.

What appeals to me about Matisse's work is his quest for exactness and simplification that serves to amplify aspects of his subjects that he feels are important and worthy of celebration and inspection. This is done with a respect for the subject and for our need to be clear about things. There's no trickery or mumbo-jumbo to get in the way. The work is dignified and sensuous, Apollonian and earthy and totally bourgeois. The work is deeply artistic and open to study. The bones are visible because of his virtuoso draftsmanship. Like the few great artists whose work has been so influential on Modern painting and image making in general, it is imperative to take Matisse in small doses with intervals of many years in between. That way the lessons might seep in from your roots up. Good luck! Next year will be even better than this one if you let Matisse float through your skies occasionally.
Topical: artist birthdays