Henri Matisse

Matisse webis an impossible act to follow. His work looks so simple, so easy. My first mistake was to think I could use his cut-out Icarus figure for the structure. Getting the angle of his fall right was difficult; cutting out the stars, using a print as template was more difficult – they are all apparently alike, but not quite. But my biggest problem was that when the whole piece was finished it looked a mess. Quite the contrary of Matisse. Originally I covered Icarus with a painting (Still Life with Goldfish 1911). I lived with it for a while, gradually deciding to follow Matisse’s own 23rd solution to “Red Studio” – I painted Icarus red, not easy at that point avoiding the white doves’ tails!

The danglers are: scissors for his cut-outs; a drawing because he drew from a model every day. That’s what made him such a great draughtsman. I gave up drawing every day a few years ago, so it is not a very good copy; a fabric sample book, to remind us of his family background in and enduring love of textiles; the black window (“Open Window, Collioure”) because of his insistence that black was a colour. He kept this painting in his studio, never exhibiting it in his lifetime; the model in the armchair is Laurette (in a Green Robe), because of the importance of the female model to Matisse. He painted over forty paintings of Laurette; the other armchair reflects his artistic position that paintings should be like a comfortable armchair for a man coming home at the end of a day’s work (he loved chairs); the doves because he kept doves and other birds in cages and let them out every day; the red bird on the exotic shell for Tahiti, which still influenced him thirty years after his visit; the scaffolding represents some of his painting methods; flowers in a vase because he painted so many of them in his still lives.

I could have put many more things on Matisse, but unlike Andersen, or my father, for instance, in Matisse there is a clarity, a sense of paring away of inessentials, in everything he did, and I wanted to reflect that. In this he resembles Chekhov.

Linked poem: Seeing Red