While in France I had to return to St. Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well-known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Fondation Maeght which is located nearby. Even to day you can find high quality prints by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse in the galleries there.
Seeing these prints made me want to go back and look at how Matisse used color in his prints. What better example than the book he put together with publisher Efstratios Tériade called Jazz. Matisse had worked with Tériade before on the cover of his magazine Verve. The first cover of Verve featured one of Matisse’s cut-outs.
Matisse spent two years working on Jazz. It is made up of cut-outs interspersed with Matisse’s writing. Matisse created these cut-outs on his walls with the help of his assistant Lydia Delectorskaya.
Matisse designed the book so that each full-page image is preceded by five pages of text and each half-page image by three pages of text. As part of the Jazz text Matisse writes of this format, “I’d like to introduce my color prints under the most favorable of conditions. For this reason I must separate them by intervals of a different character. I decided that handwriting was best suited for this purpose. The exceptional size of the writing seems necessary to me in order to be in a decorative relationship with the character of the color prints. These pages, therefore will serve only to accompany my colors, just as asters help in the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. Their role is purely visual.” [http://www.henri-matisse.net/cut_outs.html]
The “character of the color” in both the cut-outs and and prints is what is critical here. Matisse had sheets of paper painted with Linel gouache paint because the Linel colors could be most closely imitated in print. But determining how the cut outs could be translated into print was not immediately obvious. In his earlier attempts with the covers of Verve, the photographically made line-blocks were printed with inks that lacked the spark of Matisse’s Linel paints. [Riva Castleman – Jazz, Introduction, George Braziller, Inc. NY].
What Matisse finally settled on was the use of the traditional handicraft of stencil printing, or “pochoir” in French. Initially Matisse had used the Linel brand of gouache paint because of its brilliance and depth of pigment. By directly brushing the Linel gouache through hand-cut stencils Tériade’s printers were able to give the Jazz stencils a directness and richness similar to what the artist had achieved in his collaged maquettes. The stencils were cut by hand from thin sheets of metal, probably brass or copper. [http://www.henri-matisse.net/cut_outs.html] One hundred copies of the book were produced.
The lessons in this for me are the importance of understanding the qualities of the inks I will be using. Are they transparent or opaque; saturated or thin? And how am I going to use the color. With Matisse the colors sat side by side — they were not mixed, or printed over one another. And with the printing method I use suite the image I am trying to create.
For a piece that strikes us with the sense of abandon and joie de vivre that Jazz does, it belies all the decisions and adjustments that had to be made to create it.
Books of Interest: