Thursday, 28 August 2014

Henri Matisse - The Cut-Outs

Henri Matisse - The Cut-Outs, at Tate Modern.
'It is no longer the brush that slips and slides over the canvas, it is the scissors that cut into the paper and into the colour. The conditions of the journey are 100 per cent different. The contour of the figure springs from the discovery of the scissors that give it the movement of circulating life. This tool doesn't modulate, it doesn't brush on, but it incises in, underline this well, because the criteria of observation will be different'. Henri Matisse.
Even though Matisse had used cut paper shapes before to work out the arrangement of objects in his paintings, it was during the last 17 years of his life, when health problems, limited mobility and declining strength meant that he could not paint anymore, that he turned to the cut-out method as an art form in its own right. The results are stunning: exuberant, intense, with a simplicity that is essential to their charm, the cut-outs are pure, matte, unmodified colour, not inflected by brush marks. Created solely by the movement of the scissors and the selected hue, the cut-outs are a celebration of life. Brancusi said that 'simplicity is complexity resolved' and the cut-outs are a testimony to that statement.


Matisse was fascinated by dance throughout his career. During this period, cut paper was still a way of experimenting, a means to an end, and he made efforts to keep the technique a secret.


The Fall of Icarus, 1943

The white figure of Icarus is a negative shape cut from the central black strip of paper. Icarus is surrounded by jagged yellow stars.

This cut-out relates to Jazz, even though it was not included in the book. Jazz was published by Teriade. The original idea was for Matisse to illustrate poems, but the flowing hand-written notes he made as he worked on the cut-outs were eventually chosen as the accompanying text instead. This was a turning point, enabling Matisse to see his cut-outs as art works in their own right. Disappointed that in the published book the cut-outs seemed to lose the contrast of different surfaces layered on top of each other, Matisse said that printing 'removes their sensitivity'.

You can see more of Teriade here and more of Jazz here.



Matisse's studio assistant Lydia Delectorskaya recalled the starting point for Oceania: 'Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed his to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on this wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall'.
Matisse pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves directly onto the wall of his Paris apartment without knowing in advance what the outcome would be. His inspiration was a visit to Tahiti sixteen years before. 'It's as though my memory had suddenly taken the place of the outside world', he explained. 'There, swimming every day in the lagoon, I took such intense pleasure in contemplating the submarine world... With my eyes wide open I absorbed everything as a sponge absorbs liquid. It is only now that these wonders have returned to me, with tenderness and clarity'.


Amphitrite, 1947

Tree, 1951

The Thousand and One Nights, 1950


Creole Dancer, 1950
Creole Dancer is based on sketches he made of a dancer invited to perform in his studio, and was made in a single day using left over pieces of painted paper.

Zulma, 1950
For the first time, in Zulma, he gives a sense of depth in a cut-out composition, with receding space suggested by the angled table on which the figure leans. Made and exhibited when Matisse was eighty, Zulma was widely praised for its radical approach, hailed as the most youthful work in an exhibition of far younger artists.

Blue Nude I, 1952

Blue Nude II, 1952
Blue Nude III, 1952

Blue Nude IV, 1952

The Blue Nudes are perhaps the most striking example of what Matisse called 'cutting directly into colour'. Here the scissors both create the outline of the figure and carve contours into it. The paper's flatness coexists with a sense of the figures' intertwined limbs. Cutting is a way of drawing and sculpting at the same time. Matisse's assistant Lydia Delectorskya described his work on a cut-out figure in these terms: 'modelling it like a clay sculpture; sometimes adding, sometimes removing'.


I have included here reproductions of the four Blue Nudes grouped together as they were in the shop as it's helpful to see them together and note the differences.

Blue Nude with Green Stockings, 1952

The Parakeet and the Mermaid, 1952

Large Decoration with Masks, 1953
This was made as a design for a ceramic panel. 

The Snail, 1953
With the Snail Matisse pushed the technique further away from representation than ever before, but described it as 'abstraction rooted in reality'. The rotating paper shapes radiate out in a spiral, echoing a snail's shell. Working on an earlier snail, he talked about becoming 'aware of an unfolding'. Unusually, the individual shapes are not carefully scissored, but roughly cut and sometimes even torn.


Christmas Eve, 1952
In the exhibition we saw the cut-out model and the resulting stained glass. Matisse had long been interested in the connection between his cut-outs and stained glass. He said of his designs for Jazz, 'I cut out these gouache sheets the way you cut glass: only here they're organised to reflect light, whereas in a stained-glass window they have to be arranged differently because light shines through them'.
'By creating these coloured paper cut-outs, it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come. I don't think that I have ever found such balance as I have in creating these paper cut-outs. But I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I a doing today is in step with the future'.

Tate Modern booklet on the exhibition.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

On the terrace

It's rained twice in the six weeks we've been here and that's 100% more rain than we normally get all summer. It was a deluge. I have not seen rain like this before. Not easy to capture with my basic camera, but I gave it a go.

Cleopatra got a real hammering.

The best times on the terrace are as the sun sets. We get the most amazing skies.


We're on the third floor and in terms of views, this is the worst floor. The first and second floors get to see our fairly quiet street and lots of trees. The fourth floor get views of the sea. What we get is the ugly roofs, with their aerials and solar heaters. 

The sunsets make up for it though. A glass of wine, quiet  conversation and it's bliss.
As the sun goes down, the bats come out, circling in front of us. I remember the bats from when I was a child, except that then I would see them from our garden rather than the third floor of an apartment building. What is it about bats? Why do they hold such fascination?



We then have a very late evening meal followed by a few games of backgammon. It's so nice we prefer it to going out.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Vouliagmeni Bay

'An immensity, sometimes azure and often green, extends as far as the boundaries of the heavens: it is the sea'.

Charles Baudelaire

 Vouliagmeni beach has been our preferred choice for the last two weeks

it's a very large beach that extends for over half of the bay: parts of it are very crowded but we go right at the end which is very much quieter - if we get there early enough, we can get some shade

a very rich person's plaything in the mouth of the bay

the colours of the pebbles always at their best when wet

and the sun shining on the water forms glorious patterns

such a pleasure to look at

lots of little fish in the water

and the patterns on and in the water can get quite psychedelic 

the sea is very shallow for quite a long way  

lots of water birds in the bay, mainly gulls


 they are very tame, quite used to people

and like people, they like staring into the distance

glad I managed to get one during flight

when it gets too hot some people find ingenious ways to keep cool - she does this every day

we can see the lake from where we sit

looking closer - the space of what was left after the roof of the underground cave collapsed

This is by far our favourite place to swim in the Athens area.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum, Athens.

Designed by Bernard Tschumi and located near the base of the Acropolis in the Makryianni district, the museum is a wonderful building. The photograph above is a side view of the museum, as seen from the entrance to the metro.

This is the main entrance on Dionysou Aegopagitou street.

The protrusion of the roof like an arrow points straight to the Acropolis - one of the many devices that make explicit the relationship between this building and the Acropolis

As with everywhere else in Athens, any digging or excavation will uncover at least one layer of a previous civilization. The museum had to be mounted above ground on 100 huge reinforced-concrete pillars which allow you to survey the remnants of villas, drains, bathhouses and mosaics of the recently unearthed neighbourhood below. Parts of what has been revealed are exposed
as here, which is by the entrance. This is the section of a large building dating from the 7th century A.D., featuring a circular hall-tower, a dining area with three niches, a reception hall, a private bath, wells, cisterns and other utility or service areas.

Other parts of the excavations are covered with glass as here, which is also by the entrance, so that you can look down and see what has been revealed - these will eventually be opened to the public.

A better view in this photograph.

A small garden on the right,


and the old Military Hospital on the left.
Designed by Wilhelm von Weiler in 1836, this building is one of the first examples of the neo-classical style that was characteristic of Athenian architecture before developers moved in during the late 20th century and turned everything into concrete. Today, the building houses the administration offices of the museum.

One more (side) view of the entrance before going in,

Even though I have visited the museum a number of times, I had forgotten the security arrangements which are similar to those at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: you have to put your stuff on a tray and then it gets X-rayed.

Much of the ground floor is made of glass so that natural light filters down to the excavations and gives the effect of transparency throughout.


Two terracotta Nikai dating from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D. face us before we go up the slope. They may have been architectural ornaments mounted at the apex of the pediment of an edifice on the southern slope of the Acropolis.

There are very complicated and confusing rules about taking photographs in the museum so the slope/ramp is not very clear from here

but you can see it more clearly from a photograph I took from the first floor where photography was allowed. The glass ramp echoes the slope of the Acropolis - a nice touch and one of many in this wondrous museum.

The collection is installed in chronological sequence, from pre-history through the late Roman period, reaching its high point with the Parthenon Frieze. The visitors' route is therefore a clear, three-dimensional loop, going from the lobby to the double-height galleries for the Archaic period, culminating to the Parthenon gallery, then back down to the Roman Empire galleries and out towards the Acropolis itself.

First floor - the Archaic period

looking out: the museum entrance, and the Acropolis in the distance


looking out at the von Weiler building with the Magic Sphere inside

Magic Sphere, 2-3 centuries A.D.
On the sphere are presented the god Helios, a lion, a dragon and magical symbols. It was found buried near the Theatre of Dionysos which hosted duels and other contests. It has been suggested that the sphere was used in magic to achieve victory in these contests.

Statue of Athena


Head of female statue, 2nd cent. A.D., representing a goddess, perhaps Aphrodite. The colour that has leaked below her eyes is probably a product of the oxidation of the statue's bronze eyelashes.

And while walking along the gallery, one keeps looking out - it's its immediate and constant connection to the ancient monument that it relates to, that makes this museum so fantastic

looking out and down at the excavations by the entrance


part of the frieze from the Temple of Athena Nike

looking closer


On a balcony, in the centre of the first floor, stand the caryatids from the Erechtheion - a focal point

and as seen from the third floor


This is a building made predominantly out of glass and this includes all the interior floors so that at any time you can look down and see what is happening below, or look up and see people walking on the floor above

The other side of the first floor is dominated by this big gallery where archaic and early classical statues mill about like a crowd in an agora.

I took this photograph just before being told that photography was not allowed in this section of the  first floor


so I took another from the first floor

The restaurant is on the second floor and this includes a terrace that affords great views of the surrounding area

including the Acropolis 
and Lycabettus hill


zooming in


 Philopappou hill

as well as of the building itself.


The escalator takes us to the third floor

The sculptures from the Parthenon are housed in this light and airy gallery. This floor has the precise dimensions of the Parthenon, it's oriented to face it directly on the hillside opposite, and attempts to recreate the outer series of metopes showing mythological battles and the inner frieze depicting a procession of Athenians paying homage to Athena. Originals from the Parthenon frieze, the ones Elgin left behind, are combined with plaster casts of what's in London.

The Parthenon gleams through the wraparound windows.

The high-relief metopes are arranged above head height (they are supposed to be seen from below) and the frieze is running at eye level along the innermost wall. This does not only allow one to follow the frieze round the four walls and see the sculpted tale unfold, but it also creates a natural wish to see the actual re-assembly completed, so see the whole before parts were so crudely amputated.


At any time you can turn your head to look up and across at the architectural context for which the originals were carved.


This is a wonderful building, not just because it's so light and airy, beautifully designed and absolutely gorgeous, but also because it's in constant dialogue with the ancient monument that it serves.
When I started writing this post, (and it has taken me a while, mainly because I had so many photographs and so much information, and needed to condense it to a post that was not too long while at the same doing justice to this wonderful building), I had decided not to engage in the debate about the marbles that are still in London. Then, coincidentally, Jonathan Jones' article appeared in the Guardian and it felt like an omen, so I changed my mind. Jones had previously argued that the sculptures should stay in London, but having seen the museum he has changed his mind. 'The great thing about the Acropolis Museum's display of the Parthenon sculptures - which currently includes pieces left by Elgin, plus casts - is that it makes it easy to see how the sculptures fitted on the building, and how they work as an ensemble. It also has one advantage London can never rival - you can look from the sculptures to the museum's glass wall and see the Parthenon itself, making a sensual connection between the art and its architectural home'. What matters, says Jones is 'the best way to show this stupendous art so everyone can feel its power... ' Athens 'deserves to be custodian of the world's greatest art, for the world. And for art'.

You can read the whole of the article here.