Music for the Eyes: Matisse’s Artist Books

Posted on October 27th, 2016

Left: Kate engages museum goers in the art books of Henri Matisse. Right: USM Center for Book Arts director, Becky Goodale, expounds on artist books in a panel discussion at the Portland Museum that Kate helped organize.

Music for the Eyes: Matisse’s Artist Books

I was excited when Portland Museum of Art asked me to give a gallery walk/talk at their current exhibit (through Dec. 31, 2016): The Art Books of Henri Matisse. Rhythm, color, poetry – all music for the eyes – dance around the space. From the story of Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur (mythological half-man half-bull) to poems of Charles d’Orléans and Stephane Mallarmé, to Matisse’s tour de force: Jazz, this show brought me back to my youth.

I studied poetry, painting and printmaking in Paris as a student. All the text in these artist books is in French, of course, so I translated. What a gift to me to realize the meaning of Matisse’s words, coupled with his exuberant circus-inspired images in Jazz. I always loved Matisse’s colorful cutouts. And have been inspired by his approach to pochoir printmaking and collage. Now he has spoken to me in his own handwritten words, reminding me that happiness comes from a ‘bonne journée de travail’ (a good day’s work), to pay attention to the process and the journey (vs. “success”) and, above all, to make art from love, not hate.

Young painters, painters misunderstood, or understood too late, bear no hate. Hate is an all-devouring parasite. One creates not in hate, but in love. Competition is necessary, but hate…love on the other hand sustains the artist.

HAPPINESS. Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.
Happy are those who sing with all their hearts, from the bottoms of their hearts. To find joy in the sky, the trees, the flowers. There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

…for most people: success= prison, and an artist should never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be: prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

—Henri Matisse
translated by Sophie Hawkes

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