Matisse cutouts: they’re all about LINE shock!

A bicycle ride to Tate Modern on a cold Good Friday to see the Matisse cutouts (just, after a tumble induced by a dark kerb in a tunnel near Commercial Street) and, after a hot drink on the roof to help bruises (and bruised pride) recover, I went in to the show, to be warmed by his sculptural colour.
‘The clumsier the means, the greater the sensibility’ was never better or more literally illustrated than by this immense and expansive exhibition.
He also opined: ‘at last, I am drawing with pure colour’ as he worked out how to synthesise his mastery, as a painter, of colour and, as a sublimely reductive draughtsman, his paramount use of line as an expressive and rigorous medium. Cutting into his pieces of colour with large scissors, enabled him to work simultaneously in line and colour.
A revelatory exhibition about such well-known work.
I did have a guilty sense of déjà-vu as I looked at his early cutouts. The drawing-pin holes were present and the link with his paintings was beautifully made (this most exhaustive artist had regularly used coloured papers to help him explore various compositions while pondering paintings). The intimate scale and sheer number of collages did rather lessen their impact for me, perhaps because he made them playfully and incessantly, sticking them up on the walls of his apartment obsessively and that sense of sheer enjoyment wasn’t apparent to me in the crowded exhibition space.
Then, almost inevitably, as the scale of the collages increased, the sheer technical genius (balance, drawing and such exact knowledge of the spatial power of colour as well as its decorative and emotional impact) of his discoveries was overwhelming.
I remember reading that Bridget Riley described seeing his studio in Nice as being like walking through an aviary of tropical birds as the brightly coloured papers pinned on the walls fluttered in the breeze.
The space between the papers, the control of the recessive whites behind and between them and the precise compositional devices lead, of all things to joy.
The blue nudes are elegant and sexy – the precision of the white lines between the blue papers, at once negative shapes and clear divisions is beautiful. Number IV is marvellous, using the subtle tones to invoke shadows on her body, and thus a real sense of form.
Stained glass, vast pieces and flowers, as well as the parakeet that he and Moreau famously discussed so many years earlier, all create a cathedral of colour.
To see The Snail hung alongside Memories of Oceania, both virtually identical sizes and part of as near-triptych he worked on along an enormous studio wall, was wonderful. The ultimate proof that black is a colour (the colour palette that is The Snail) and an intriguing, puzzling but still directly affecting exploration of a powerful memory (charcoal and overlaps of paper making up Oceania) are triumphant.


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