Snow Flowers (1941) Henri Matisse
The 7.50 train to London is quiet on a Saturday. I discovered this when I got up early to be at Tate Modern for the Members' hour at 9am. I'd ummed and aahed about whether or not to bother, but my goodness I'm pleased I did. As soon as I got into the exhibition I could feel my heart rate increasing and emotions rising, and they didn't abate for a long time after I left.
It's beautiful. It's joyous, serious, playful, controlled, exuberant, intense, simple and colourful. And it's hard to suppress a whoop of delight, a loud cheer, a skip and a twirl as you walk through. Matisse may not have been the first to experiment with paper cut-outs, but he's the one who turned them into an art-form. The way he cut, the way he produced waves and movement and fronds and tendrils and abstract organic shapes and put them together on a plain white background is astonishing. With time, the cut-outs get bigger and bolder and more and more assured until they fill whole walls like wonderful wallpaper and almost envelop you.
The Sheaf (1953) Henri Matisse (Tate)
Photos of the cut-outs do not fully convey their complexity and depth; they make them look flat and matt whereas in fact there are gradations and brush marks on the painted pieces which reveal many pin pricks from being moved around and repositioned, and close up you can see where what often looks like a single cut out piece is actually made up of several smaller pieces. In fact, it's possible to see exactly how Matisse worked, which probably makes many people think, 'pah! I could do that'.
This quality of course, is both the wonder and the appeal of the cut-outs. They look so simple and, as we all have access to scissors and paper, can all cut out and glue bits together, it can take some time before you realise just how masterful is with his own scissors and painted paper. At the same time, there's an immediate appeal because they are the product of a familiar skill, and there's a connection that isn't there for most people when they look at oil paintings and watercolours, sculpture and ceramics.
The exhibition also makes you realise just how much Matisse influenced so many aspects of design. His work has been ripped off over the years, but nothing can touch the originals. The cut-outs are great. I'm going back.