Water, colours, Matisse & a cyanometer

This article is a mashup of two different images encountered within 24 hours – which have no business being together, other than in my mind.

Yesterday, I saw Kirsten Carlson’s cyanometer appearing in a Twitter photo which grabbed my attention.  Researching this, and her work with Schmidt Ocean Institute on the colour of the sea and sky (see here) led to finding her video of drawing underwater – yesterday’s blog post.  Over days at sea, Kirsten used the cyanometer to make observations – the cyanometer being a circle of painted blues invented in the 1700s by a swiss scientist to judge the colour of sky – later used by Alexander von Humboldt to measure the blueness of both sky and sea.  (It is in a series of gradations of Prussian Blue).


Today, I came across a series of images from a book on Matisse (“Matisse and Decoration” by John Klein) via notes on an audio podcast. I continue to marvel at the range of incoming news, pictures, information and inspiration on the blogosphere.  (No doubt somebody, somewhere, has make a podcast or blogpost on the question of “Can You hear colour?”).  Matisse is one of my favourite artists, and therefore I am always looking for ways to drag him into this conversation – if you type his name into the search box on this blog, you’ll see what I mean.

Matisse, like Kirsten Carlson, dived to draw what he saw underwater, entranced by the shapes and lifeforms.  Sixteen years later, in his wheelchair or bedridden, he made those memories into massive collages, with which he covered the walls of rooms in his house, so the whole effect was of being underwater.


When is the right time to make art?

Answer: now.

Consider Matisse’s working conditions:

  • the whole world was at war (WW2)
  • he was working in a warzone, 1946, caught between the Germany army who had invaded his country and the approaching Allied forces fighting back
  • he had been given 3 years to live by doctors
  • he was confined to wheelchair/bed after an operation for cancer
  • he was in constant pain
  • after 40 years of marriage, his professionally supportive wife had suddenly left him, suspecting he was having an affair with an artist’s model
  • his estranged wife and much-loved daughter were interrogated by the Gestapo
  • he was physically unable to stand in front of an easel to continue his whole lifetime career of painting and sculpture for which he was famous

Stuck often in his bedroom for long spells, he cut out a piece of paper to cover a dirty mark on the wallpaper – then another shape – then another, eventually making the two large murals of Oceania.

He wrote

“An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success…”

(cited Wikipedia from book by Elderfield, John (1978). The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse. New York: George Braziller. p. 8.)


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