To create – a painting, a piece of music, a novel; to make art in short – is often more about overcoming obstacles than anything else. From the moment your idea is born you are the guardian sweeping the way for this idea to make its way into the world. The obstacles can be anything from lack of time, opportunities, or economical means to the various problems that has to be solved regarding the artwork itself during the process. Blue or green? Comma or semicolon? Quaver or semiquaver? Any piece of art is the sum of countless decisions.
Often our life conditions seem to be the biggest obstacles of all and when personal issues overwhelm us we lose both energy and inspiration to follow our vision. Suddenly everything seems impossible and we cannot see ANY possibility to do what we dream of or love the most. Sometimes it’s really like that – we are deprived of the very essentials needed to make what we are dreaming of doing or what we have been doing so far. It seems that we’re at the end of the road and that everything is lost.
But, as it’s so wisely put – every end is a new beginning. And this makes me think of the amazing turns in the life of Henri Matisse. He started painting in 1889 at the age of 20, when recovering from appendicitis. What could have been the end of his life proved to be the very beginning of one of the most important marks in art history! “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves” he later said. In 1891 he went to Paris to study art, in opposition to his deeply disappointed father. Ten years later he would become the front figure and leader of a circle of artists called “Les Fauves” (the “wild beasts”). This group didn’t last for long, but their art gave birth to a style called Fauvism that would introduce a new way of using colours without bothering about being representational or realistic (read more HERE). Until the 1940’s Matisse would hold a place as one of the world’s greatest oil painters leaving a string of masterpieces behind.
His travels in Algeria, Morocco, Tahiti and Spain inspired an even stronger and bolder colour palette, which would plant the seed for what was to come in the second part of his creative life. In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and had to undergo complicated surgery from which he was not sure to survive. Consequential complications almost ended his life and left him bed bound for months, later to be confined to a wheelchair until his death in 1954, too weak to put paint onto his canvas ever again.
But these years, so seemingly the end of his artistic career, would be the most fruitful and maybe even the most important in his entire life, triggering a whole new concept of making art that would change art history once again. Being to feeble to leave bed he had assistants to paint for him, that is, they painted sheets of paper with gouache in the exact colours that Matisse requested. In bed he would cut the motives out of the paper and then have them arranged and mounted in the way he wanted on his bedroom walls!
These so called cut-outs resulted in more than a hundred works. Though the medium was an invention it was a logical development of his core ideas – the pure line and the colour supreme to the convention of representational art. Matisse would create not only on paper and panels, but his creativity during these years would extend to murals, glass, textiles, opera and ballet decors and costumes as well as architecture, designing the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence in 1948.
I recently read a biography about this second period of Matisse’s career and I was so inspired by the fact that he embarked on a big, new creative journey at the age of 71, bound to a wheelchair and seemingly not able to pursue the love of his life – painting. As one of his most famous quotes reads: “Creativity takes courage”. And indeed it does, every day, as well as a determination not to let any obstacles get in your way. This is a battle, and from time to time even a war, in order to let your aspirations and visions come true! But from Matisse we learn that there’s always a way. Always.