I've been talking a lot about my latest quilt pattern, Bohemian Garden, and even though I've mentioned some of my influences, I wanted to dive deeper into one of them – the paper cut-outs of Henri Mattise.
You're probably familiar with him, and even more familiar with the dramatic and captivating shapes he created through simple paper, but did you know that the work he created and was most proud to call his, was done at the very end of his life? We're talking about a guy who called Picasso his BFF and casually hung out at Gerty Stein's place with other A-listers – Ernest Hemingway, Z and F Fitzgerald, and Sinclair Lewis to name a few. Basically, he had an amazing life pre-paper cut-outs, so that's saying a lot.
Pic Credit: Daily Beast
The Paper Cut-Outs: A Second Life
In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer, and after an unpredictable surgery, was mostly wheelchair bound. He was so prepared to not survive the surgery that upon pulling through he began referring to his life post-op as une seconde vie – French for second life. (Oh yeah, he's French. Probably should have started with that.)
With this new fervor and joie de vivre, Mati was renewed and reborn! He is quoted saying, “I have needed all that time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say.” However, since he no longer had the physical capabilities he once had, he traded in his paintbrush and began "painting with scissors." Matisse always loved creating with pure color and bold shapes, so in a way, these works were the culmination of a stunning career.
Below, I am cutting pieces of knit fabric to appliqué onto my Bohemian Garden quilt.
The picture below was taken in 1951. Yes, he's holding a paintbrush, which kinda goes against everything I just said, but I didn't say he threw away his brush...just traded it in. I guess sometimes he traded it back.
Photo Credit: selected photos
Photo Credit: MOMA
Ahhhh! See? 1952 and there he is with some scissors. And quite a mess too. Looks a lot like my sewing studio...
One striking thing about the paper cut-outs were the bold, cheerful colors Matisse used in all of these pieces. What’s interesting, though, is that even though he had a new lease on life, this was still a really tough time for him. Crippling arthritis and his failing health majorly slowed him down forcing him to continue creating art sometimes even while confined to his bed.
Photo Credit: selected photos
In this difficult time, Henri Matisse employed an assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, to help him assemble his paper cut-outs, using stick pointers to show them where he wanted things to go. I mean, for a master painter with a strong artistic vision, I can’t imagine this was the most… empowering method. It’s almost like the bright, joyous colors he used were in defiance of the darkness he may have sometimes felt – the same way the bold shapes were often in contrast to the highly contrasting background colors. You can't help but feel the drama and mix of emotion when looking at these!
Photo Credit: Newsweek - DESIGNMUSEUM DANMARK. © 2014 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK | Panel with Mask (Le Panneau au masque), 1947. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted.
Photo Credit: Newsweek - Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.GIFT OF PROFESSOR AND MRS. JOHN MCANDREW. © 2014 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK | Composition, Black and Red (Composition, noir et rouge), 1947. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted.
Photo Credit: Newsweek - MR. AND MRS. DONALD B. MARRON, NEW YORK. © 2014 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE, PARIS / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK | Palmette (Feuille violet sur fond orange), 1947. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted.
This same use of bold, graphic shapes and bright colors are woven into the Bohemian Garden quilt pattern – using bright appliqué flowers on a highly contrasting background. I added stripes to the quilt's composition to ground the appliqué and give it a sense of control and order. I also wanted to incorporate some patchwork piecing so as not to deviate completely from my traditional quilting background. That stuff runs deep.
Makers Gotta Make
Even though Henri Matisse was bed-ridden and unable to paint, the artist in him just couldn’t stop. The creative juices were still flowing, and he had to keep creating. Sometimes, when you have an image in your head, or the spark of inspiration, or even a bright and beautiful color scheme you’ve been mentally playing around with, you just have to get your hands dirty (or direct someone else’s stronger hands) to make it a reality!
This is how I felt about the Bohemian Garden design. I couldn’t get the fresh, bold shapes of Matisse’s work out of my head, so I had to stitch them onto a quilt. It can be a really cool experience to create something inspired by another artist – you kind of feel like you’re working together.
By creating this latest pattern, I felt like I was apart of a larger story – one that was inclusive and wholistic and that followed the line of thinking – "I can't control what the world throws at me, but I will always be a maker!"
Does Matisse's story resonate with you like it did with me? I'd love to hear from you about how sewing or simply creating has helped you be your best self!