To simply gaze into the face of Matisse

By Lilly Oosthuizen


SIMPLE lines: Matisse’s confident line work is mindblowing.

ONE MOMENT OF awe in this widely publicised exhibition of the work of Henri Matisse is his quick and bold portraits: in particular his self-portrait; Mask (1945). Self-portraits are a looking glass into the world as the artist sees it, turned on himself; it is a tense moment.

These portraits are a great marker for how Matisse came to his famous paper cutouts. Following the line of the drawings, you can see how deft and confident his marks are. You could probably count the amount of marks he has made on one hand: each one with purpose and a crucial need to describe character.

These portraits are like signatures. They are so well practiced and knowing. You cannot copy the marks he has made without being completely sure of your hand. The marks are musical in their composition. You can imagine the artist’s hand; ba dum dum dum, flick swish swoop, all to describe a face. How beautifully he does it.

It is no surprise then, how musical his cutouts and his plates for the Book of Jazz are. They, like the portraits, are confident – each snip has such a precise yet fluid purpose. Although the work seems to be made with precision, it is not serious. The atmosphere in this exhibition is playful. His cutouts are joyous and they do indeed emit an enormous sense of rhythm and meaning.

Rhythm and Meaning takes the audience through the steps in Matisse’s career, from his student work right through to his paper cutouts. Although the story is a brief overview, the exhibition really gives insight into Matisse’s “signature” as it were, and how it developed.

  • Rhythm and Meaning is at the Standard Bank Gallery in central Johannesburg until September 17. 011 631 4467.
  • Lilly Oosthuizen is a third year visual arts student at the University of Johannesburg. She is currently one of the participants in a course in Arts Writing, given by Robyn Sassen

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