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Jazz

Photo Courtesy of MOMA: Matisse in his studio with his assistant, Lydia Delectoraskaya, 1952.
And so the holiday season begins. And all that jazz. And through it all, I tell my students: Do not stop writing. The mail never stops and neither does a writer, or a painter, or a musician, or time itself, alas. Which brings me—obliquely—to the subject of adaptation, improvisation, and Henri Matisse’s cut-outs. Here was an artist, well into his 80’s, wheelchair-bound and so infirm he could no longer paint standing up, creating works beyond even his imagination. He had thought he was done. Finished. But he had his assistant and his muse, Lydia Delectoraskaya, he had his ebullient temperament, he had his eyesight and dexterous hands, all of which was fortunate for an aging, infirm artist. And he would not stop. He drew with a long stick on the wall and he drew with scissors, cutting shapes into thick paper he had colored with gouache. One series was called “Jazz,” another “Blue Nudes.” His assistant pinned them to the walls of his rented rooms in the Hotel Regina in Nice. Masterpieces.

And one day Matisse wanted to go for a swim and watch the divers, but the beach was too hot so they—he and his young assistant—did not stay for long. When he arrived back at the hotel, he had an idea and said, “I will make myself my own pool.” Using canvas to create the water, swimmers in cut-out shapes, others sitting on the beach watching, his dining room became a swimming pool. Dismantled after his death in 1954, the swimming pool has been restored for the MOMA exhibition which will be on view until February 8, 2015.

As a swimmer, I was so moved, I could not move. Henri Matisse, in the last decade of his life, unable to swim himself, had captured the sensation of swimming.

And what a joy it is.  Read More 
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