THE POPE GAVE his annual announcement – “Christ is risen! Alleluia!‘ – on Twitter, in languages from Polish to Arabic, while the account of @Jesusontwittor simply stated: ‘SURPRISE!!!!‘ Around the world Home Depots, Homebases, and B&Qs hummed with the desire to buzz-saw, and power-drill – the smell of primer hung heavy in the air for the DIY enthusiast. Children were on the sugar-rush of the egg-hunt, their parents half-cut on sherry while they ruined a leg of lamb.
The shops were shut, those cathedrals of desire. The church doors open, to welcome their biannual surge of worshippers.
That was Easter Sunday, 2014.
Meanwhile, on the banks of the Thames, in what used to be the Bankside Power Station, a different kind of worshipper prepared themselves for a thrilling taste of the sublime. The clouds above Tate Modern may have been pregnant with rain, the first drops falling, but inside the gallery was filled with the light touch, and glorious vision of one man.
But this is not a show of his Fauvist early years, but those following his operation for a colostomy – which left him feeling “like someone hit by a shell blast … with the wall of his stomach blown away.” An apt enough analogy, as Allied bombers were, by this point in 1941, strafing the Nazi occupiers along the Cote d’Azur. Matisse was 71 years-old, mainly confined to a wheelchair, and the only part of his body he could truly rely on was his mind, his imagination, his spirit.
Drawing on this, he proceeded to produce some of the most stunning, and uplifting artworks of the mid-Twentieth Century. ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs‘ at the Tate Modern are not comments on the state of man, neither are they insights into the difficulty of our existence, nor are they reflections or reactions to life. They are, purely and simply, an exuberant celebration of life itself; based on memory (Tahiti, Morocco), sensation (the wind on the wing of a bird, sunshine on the face), and desire.
There is a swooping sense of joy in the cut-outs replicated as if they were still on the walls of his studio in Vence. A sense that Matisse is still in the room, wielding his scissors like a seamstress, his assistants pinning them to the walls, and the visitor to the Tate is just as a guest would have been at Villa le Reve – passing through, admiring, appreciating.
This late-flowering of Matisse’s, particularly brings to mind a completely different exhibition, but one that makes perfect sense. That of Picasso at London’s Courtauld Gallery in 2013 – ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901‘. Here we had Picasso in one glorious year. A year that saw the 19 year-old Picasso boldly state his intentions and inventions; a collection of art that was so breathtaking in its radicalism, that it still shocks today.
What both the 71 year-old, and the 19 year-old share is an undying and undimmed love for the medium they found to express themselves with. Thus it was, when Matisse was creating perhaps his greatest work for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, he confessed to a nun that he didn’t believe in God.
“He doesn’t care.” She replied.
Picasso once asked Matisse why he had not designed a brothel in Vence instead of the chapel.
“Because nobody asked me.” Matisse replied.