Saturday, December 03, 2011
Part 1 :: Gallery of Modern Art :: Matisse: Drawing Life
I was beyond thrilled to be able to catch their summer blockbuster 'Matisse: Drawing Life' at Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) when it opened today. It took me a lot not to go skipping into the exhibition hall.
(Some 52 prints, three drawings and a painting worth some S$5million on loan from the estate of Henri Matisse were exhibited at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in 2008. Which I missed. :( So I'm not able to compare between that and this exhibition.)
Curated exclusively for GoMA by Céline Chicha-Castex, curator of Modern and Contemporary Prints, Bibliothèque nationale de France, and independent Paris-based curator Emilie Ovaere-Corthay, and designed by French artist Christophe Cuzin, this exhibition sources from both public and private collectors to explore the fabulous range and depth of Henri Matisse's engagement with the graphic mark. The strength of the curation is stunning.
You'd have seen Matisse's paintings in their glorious colors. This exhibition highlights the black and white, and focuses on his drawings, creative and thought processes. As such, there're many sketches in drypoint, charcoal, pencil and Indian ink on lovely van Gelder wove paper, imperial Japan paper, Lepage wove paper, aquatint on Rives paper, lithographs, etchings and linocuts, woodcut and one wood block. (Photography isn't permitted.)
It was glorious wandering around with the iPhone (if you don't have unlimited data, free wifi is available), snapping the QR codes to read the context and background information to the era of a particular style or set of drawings. The audio-visual guide is stunningly presented, succinct and provides necessary information in bite-sized timings. In particular, I enjoyed the information given on his 1917 'Le violiniste', which told us how he didn't like violin lessons and often ran away from them, and how he re-worked the drawings before deciding on the final presentation a year later, which ended up looking nothing like the initial sketches.
Matisse is known for his ability to portray the female nude in a sensual manner. After a remarkable stay in Morocco, he embarked on what is known as the period of 'Odaliques' in his career, depicting females in a reclining position on a couch or chair with their arms held high above their heads. To me, that's either in rapture or resignation. I suppose it's for our interpretation. I'm glad to not see the full colors, but in its raw form. It makes for a most interesting angle that in this black and white, it's no less resplendent than the final paintings.
For an obvious reason, I LOVE his random sketches (lead pencil on laid paper) of 'Danseuses acrobates' c.1931. The arabesque lines are sumptuous and sublime. I'm not so enamored with 'La Danse – deuxième versión, étude d'ensemble' c.1930-31 for mega composition for the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, which showcases the progression from preliminary ideas using lead pencil on laid paper to tracing paper and cardboard, and finally etching on imitation Japan paper and wove as trial proof.
I don't quite admire his works after 1940. For whatever reasons, they seem to have lost that brilliant intensity in his compositions. I definitely don't like his cut-outs. Not at all impressed with his 1946-49 two screenprints on linen- 'Océanie, la mer' and 'Océanie, la ciel' which imitated an island style to reflect his memories of a Tahiti sojourn 15 years ago. In spite of the artist declaring that illustrating books is no different from painting, I feel that there is a marked difference. He did both very well though. He illustrated several lovely books, notably for a large leather-bound edition of James Joyce's 'Ulysses' c.1934 with an introduction by Stuart Gilbert.
Ending the exhibition is a cafe with French-themed pastries and food, and the interactive space for visitors called 'The Drawing Room'. Strategically placed with counters and tables, one could grab a piece of acid-free paper, a pencil and sketch the real-life model perched on stage, or any of the flowers, vases, still-life tableaux and sculptures (including a Degas- 'Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit' c.1920-36). Daily, a violinist would also serenade visitors as they draw or move through the space to admire the drawings of others. If you prefer to do an electronic sketch, there're plenty of tablets available for you to do so. Very very very nice.
Matisse illustrated 'Florilège des Amours de Ronsard' (Pierre de Ronsard's love poems), a remarkable project beginning in 1941, against the chaotic and personally painful backdrop of World War II and the German occupation of France, taking a total of seven years to finish the lithographs of 128 pages, with a hand in selecting the poems, typeface and packaging. In an extract from Ronsard's poem, these lines describe Matisse's dedication to his easy lines and simple shapes to create strikingly arresting paintings.
"Je de prend de vous mes grâces plus parfaites; Vous m'inspirez, et dedans moi vous faites."