And All That ‘Jazz’

  Icarus | PC: tate.org.uk

Icarus | PC: tate.org.uk

I remember in the first grade, my teacher would tie important figures in art history into our art class lessons. One of such figures was Henri Matisse. I distinctly remember her holding up a poster of Matisse's “Icarus.” This piece was during the period in which Matisse did his notorious cut-outs. The movement, color and form of the piece moved me, even then.

I felt drawn into the piece by the little red dot on the figure’s chest that seemed to represent a heart. I could feel it pounding. The explosions around the dark figure made me curious; was this in space among the stars? Later, I learned the story behind this piece and the rest of Matisse’s cut-outs.

During the beginning of World War II, Matisse was diagnosed with stomach cancer. This led to him to have an intensive surgery that left him bound to his bed or a wheelchair.

After this, he made the choice to transition from painting to a new and innovative art form—the cut-out. The Museum of Modern Art describes how “Matisse would cut painted sheets into forms of varying shapes and sizes—from the vegetal to the abstract—which he then arranged into lively compositions, striking for their play with color and contrast, their exploitation of decorative strategies, and their economy of means.”

In 1947 he published his special edition book entitled “Jazz.” This book contained many different cut-out collages with his thoughts. The subject matter of “Jazz” is inconsistent and ranges from the circus experience to mythology.

However, it’s in this inconsistency we experience true wonder. Throughout the book, Matisse spills his ideas and dreams in the amazing display of color and contemplation. The figures and words dance in a harmonious rhythm as they transport you into Matisse’s world.

It's in “Jazz” that we really empathize with Matisse and his creative expression. Also, within “Jazz”  we can find the work referenced earlier— “Icarus.” This work is the mythological portrayal of Icarus falling from the heavens that can be found in different periods of art.

So, I leave you with “Icarus.” Union College professor of history, Benjamin Tyner, says “ … the most wonderful thing to me is that [Matisse] spends his career desperately struggling to express precise and clean unities/cleavages of line and color with paint,  then begins to lose his clear hand in old age. So he switches to these mixed media cutouts and finds, at last, the most perfect method to cut color and line into perfection.”


Cameron Cizek is a sophomore guest writer studying computing.