The Cut-Outs

The Matisse exhibition in London has been tantalisingly near, yet far all summer. Yes it is only four and a half hours on the train from Edinburgh, yes I am on maternity leave and my time is my own. But somehow the no’s have stacked up against it in my mind. After four and a bit months living out of suitcases homehas become a very nice place to be, and the notion of navigating the London underground with a pram has weighed against the friends and artworks on offer down south. So it has been days in the park, day trips to the beach, play in our backyard with the neighbours and quiet nights in for me through this glorious Edinburgh summer. And there have been visitors to stay in with and occasionally visitors to babysit and let me out for a wander in our long twilights. 

Rover mum and Rafa at North Berwick, Scotland 2014
A couple of days ago however I realised that my days as a yummy mummy were quickly coming to an end. Rafa is nearly one and my return to work is immanent. So I took the rather radical decision to take a few days R and R for myself before we go into the next stage of life. I got the husbands blessing, booked some train tickets, arranged to stay with friends and headed off to London – by myself – with two nights and three baby free days up my sleeve!
I am in day two as I write and have to guiltily admit that I slept very well last night – with non of that middle of the night, wake up – check the baby is not tangled in the sheets, suffocating under a pillow paranoia, that sometimes happens when the baby is sleeping soundly in his cot. Nor was there the disturbance of being woken by a baby who has rolled onto his front, tried to crawl in his sleep and butted his head against the end of his cot. I am pleased to report that although the husband took a little while getting him to sleep Rafa slept though till 6.40am – which in our world is a win. I am even more pleased to report that I slept till 7.15am, and have had a dirty nappy free morning in Primrose Hill, and got to drink my coffee in my own time rather than sculling it when it was still scalding – or sculling it after it had gone cold as is sometimes the case at home.
Anyway this blog was supposed to be about going to Matisse – it’s just that as so often right now most of my thoughts skew towards babyland (which is a land that I love to live in, but am having a wee break from right now). So yesterday after I got off the train in balmy London I headed towards the TATE Modern, stripping off my layers as I went.
Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs is a 14 room exhibition of works from late in the artists life. There is a great pathos as you watch footage of the artist; he is nearing his death, bursting with creativity, his output getting more and more youthful and exuberant as infirmity takes hold. The works ask you to look for the artists tool marks, discern his lingering hand in the scissor edges and the pin pricks that get lost in reproductions, but are easily visible in the originals. According to the blurbs on the TATE walls the artist himself was dissatisfied with the printed results of his Jazz series, preferring the lively sensitivity of the cut out originals. The printed book certainly has a much flatter feel than the cut-outs – but what a treat to have them side by side.
In the My Trash blog I wrote about my 14 year old self going to the 1995 Matisse exhibition at the NGV. The poster I toted around for years was from the Jazz series – and I quite likely saw these works at that time. But of course you never walk down the same road in the same way twice – the intervening years have changed my eye. I see hearts everywhere and get distracted from the works to look for an echoe of my old self amongst the youngsters milling about – but I did not find her. Instead, babyland as inescapable as ever, I follow the sound of a baby crying – not mine! And soon the baby quietens, fed by its mother in the middle of the Oceania room. Amidst the submarine world of Henri’s Tahition lagoon– what will this one be drinking in today I wondered with its mothers milk – what a vibrant mind in the making.
Matisse, and his colours lure me around corners through the labyrinth of the exhibition. Chapels, bees, dancers – the experience is all bright, jagged hearts of Icarus, luminous fronds, repetitious curvaceous plant forms broken by surprises of geometry and close hot people, people, people all soaking up the works and jostling for viewing space.
The blue nudes slow me down at last. I love colour, but it is amid the simplicity of the single colour works that I am hydrated, calmed after the morning journey and months of rush and burble before that.  Here the female figure is allowed to be bold, larger than life; cut in lines that are both fluid and jagged. At first the blue nudes are seated and inward looking – folded in on themselves – this mass of stillness, this oneness spoke to me in my world of all encroaching busyness and babyness. I breathed and looked and imagined that the press of the crowd was receding.
Blue Nude II, H.Matisse (photo of the print I bought)
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As I moved, almost reluctantly, on the blue nudes picked up the pace, they started dancing and chatting to each other. In a jovial return to the world of Matisse colour ‘blue nude green stockings’ greeted me – a happy dancing figure who burst upon me and reminded me I love the outside world with its play and passion, and that a bit of a bustle is just the price you pay for living. Matisse, with his busy scissors and his beautiful assistants certainly knew about the joy of living and creating – and the legacy of his passion, as seen on the walls of the TATE speak to us still of the luminosity of a life well lived.  
Blue Nude with Green Stockings, H. Matisse (photo from TATE Modern catalog)

One thought on “The Cut-Outs

  1. Reading this wonderful blog makes me grateful I met you. Your descriptive words are transporting. I felt I was at the exhibition too. Enjoy your well earned respite from babyhood. Marcia

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