Artists' Evolution / by Jeannine Cook

Every time I return to Spain and see the wonderful light, the dazzlingly blue sea and sky and the brilliance of flowers, I am jolted into excitement - I can't wait to try and work as an artist. It is not always easy to carve out the time and space to do any art, but each time, I wonder if I have evolved in my approach, learned a little more and perhaps, oh perhaps, even become a little better as an artist.

It was thus doubly interesting today to read in El Pais ( "Matisse, un radical en Nueva York" by Barbara Celis) about the Matisse exhibition opening at MOMA in New York, Matisse, Radical Invention 1913-1917. The show had apparently been exhibited first at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was the result of a five-year careful study of Matisse's work of that period. Undertaken as a result of the restoration work of the 1917 "Bathers by the River" which had shown up a series of substantial changes under the finished work, this exhibit then delved into Matisse's concurrent work of similar aspects. By dint of cleaning off layers of varnish and previous restorations, using X Rays and other advanced technologies, the team of restorers, led by curators John Elderfield and Stephanie D'Alessandro, found many surprises.

The bottom line, apparently, of all these discoveries, is that Matisse was constantly evolving in his approach to making art. Yes, that seems obvious now, when one looks at his opus, but I am sure that he found it difficult, at times, to detect this evolution. As John Elderfield is quoted in the article as saying, "The changes did not occur overnight." There were stops and starts, repetitions, deviations and halts. Nonetheless, Matisse pressed on. In some cases of the sculpture, The Back, for instance, he made different versions over a period of twenty years, but each time, he used the previous mould as the starting place from which to take off and evolve.

The Bathers on the River, Henri Matisse, 1916 (Image courtesy of the Art Insitute of Chicago)

The Bathers on the River, Henri Matisse, 1916 (Image courtesy of the Art Insitute of Chicago)

It is heartening to read again and again of artists trying out new things, trying to forge a new way forward, to grow and evolve. Matisse is certainly one to inspire us all to keep working away at our version of evolution.