A moment with Matisse

Earlier this Summer I went to the Rheged Centre to see the exhibition of Matisse’s paper cut-out art works. The first room had some lithographic prints of Matisse’s work, but then it opened out into a much bigger space with a bit of history about the paper-making industry locally in Cumbria (including the mill in Kirkoswald!), as well as some breath-taking examples of contemporary artists working with the medium of paper today.

Matisse himself visited Tahiti in the 1930s. He wrote, “There, swimming every day in the lagoon, I took such intense pleasure in contemplating the submarine world.” A bit later, beginning in the 1940’s, he began working with scissors and coloured sheets of paper, cutting out shapes and arranging them on his walls, in order “to cover up a stain”. The lithograph print of “The Parakeet and The Mermaid” in the Rheged exhibition gave no indication of the size of the real thing. The actual project covered a whole wall and is about 12 feet wide. Standing in front of it, you almost feel as if you are walking into the jungle. An indoor tropical garden…

It’s here: https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/6/312

The colours are vibrantly bright. There are only four colours used: blue, green, red and yellow. But, my eye kept being drawn back to the mermaid in the top right corner. She looks more like a person who leaps for joy, as all creation joins in praise of its maker and sustainer. Psalm 148 says, “Let all creation join in praise!”

What really impresses me about these “cut-outs” that Matisse produced, though, is that he created them right at the very end of his life. He was born in 1869, and these cut-outs were made in the first part of the 1950s, so he would have been into his 80s. “Restricted by his physical condition after his surgery for stomach cancer, Matisse began creating art by cutting and painting sheets of paper by hand…” He was disabled, in ill-health and working from a wheelchair, but his age and disability were no barrier in preventing him still producing these wonderful works of art.

So… whoever you are, however old (or young) you might be; whatever your state of health, I wonder what you are still capable of doing or producing, and what God might be calling you to do. Age or health are no excuses!

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