I’ve been reading a book my mother gave me: Henri Matisse, A Retrospective by John Elderfield, (The Museum of Modern Art 1992). When I used to visit her she had a treasure trove of art books that I would read. She usually agreed to allow me to take one with me when I left. This was one she wanted to keep.
Reading a big, heavy art book is an ordeal. There is the constant flipping pages to find Figures and Plates to which the text refers. When the artwork is reproduced in black and white in the book, I have to use my computer to look up the color version.
It is worth it, though. Gradually the ideas of the artist filters through to me. I found a passage today that resonated with me:
Referring to “Notes of a Painter” by Matisse, Elderfield states:
“The act of painting was an attempt to re-create a prior mental image; that is to say, it was akin to recalling a memory. Thus he told his students: ‘Close your eyes and visualize the picture and then go to work'” (p.26)
I followed this advice today, closed my eyes, and remembered how I used to press my hand on my brother Mike‘s* chest when he was trying to slam it with his fist. My memory was visual. I reproduced it below.
As I read further it became clear that Matisse was referring to artists who have their subjects in front of them. His point was to teach his students to create their subject anew on the canvas and make its color design internally balanced (i.e., not dependent on colors presented by the subject).
This is only a tiny bit of information I absorbed today. I am not even sure if the bit I incorporated into my art was the one transmitted by Elderfield in his essay.
However, I do understand Matisse’s idea that a successfully rendered mental image transmits the same emotion as the subject did originally. I interpret this to mean the same as Paul Klee‘s famous quote: “Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible.”
And I strive for this.
I’m so glad Mom eventually gave me her Matisse book. I’ve got a lot more to read.
* Mike is my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal