Archive | Reviews

Of Grace and Duty: Materialist Matisse

Much has been made of Henri Matisse’s use of color, and much should be. Arguably the most adventurous colorist in the history of art, the artist’s palettes improved upon peak foliage, peak blooms, and the many feathers in a peacock’s plume. The painterly equivalent of a pregnant lady’s incongruous cravings, his hues forever altered Western civilization’s understanding of how color could explode upon a canvas. Along with the introduction of LSD, he and other Fauvists may have been centrally responsible for the rainbow splendor of the 1960s.

But in “Matisse in the Studio” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (it’s since moved on to London’s Royal Academy of Arts), the artist’s patterns are as important as his palettes. Spanning fifty years, the show is organized into five sections – “The Object Is an Actor,” “The Nude,” “The Face,” “Studio as Theatre,” and “Essential Forms” – and features his paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and cutouts as well as key possessions that inspired him. Not all of these objects of affection are high-falutin’; among them are a chocolate pot, a green glass vase, a short chair, a pewter jug, haitis (embroidered hanging cloths) from North Africa, and masks and figurines from sub-Saharan Africa. But he appreciated each enough to use in his work again and again. “He acquired things not because of their material worth, but because of how they spoke to him,” MFA co-curator Helen Burnham has said.

In his paintings, aglow with ochres and mauves and tomato reds, female subjects do not dominate so much as contribute shapes and shades to whole series of shapes and shades. In what has been called a “quantity-quality equation,” areas of color, each marked by a different pattern, are arranged across his canvases so that they are all accorded their own value. In Matisse the Master, Hilary Spurling quotes him as saying: “Peace and harmony is always my aim.” With everything as foreground and therefore background too, this aim is abundantly evident. Each of his canvases constitutes a flourishing democracy, if ever there’s been one. (America should take note.) Continue Reading →

‘After Andy,’ Forever Warholia

Fashion journalist Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni’s memoir, After Andy, would be a gas even if it didn’t dish on the life and times of Andy Warhol. I use the term “gas” because the whole book crackles with English, French, and American twentieth-century slang and spoonerisms in the most delightfully gassy way. To hear Fraser-Cavassoni tell it – and she’s a truth-teller even when the truth paints her as a daft bird – her whole life has been quite a gas. Born in 1963 to best-selling author Lady Antonia Frasier and politician Sir Hugh Frasier, her stepfather was Nobel Laureate winner Harold Pinter and family friends included Caroline Kennedy, Lucian Freud, and Jean Rhys. When she was seventeen, Natasha began an affair with Mick Jagger, whom she met on a luxury yacht. She also met pretty much everyone else worth meeting in seventies, eighties, and nineties London, New York, and Los Angeles during her reign as an international “it girl” who worked as a model, actress, agent, and general gadfly. In short, she was Paris Hilton before Paris Hilton, with three key exceptions. Natasha had a sense of humor. Natasha could write. And Natasha served as the last of Andy Warhol’s “English muffins” – the term for the succession of well-bred English girls who worked in the Factory, Warhol’s legendary creative studio and business center. Continue Reading →

(Stop) Policing the Black Man

Anyone who has read Freud knows that past is present when it comes to the traumas of our ancestors, especially when we do not consciously heal our family lines. This is also true of nations, which is why so many international wars stem from centuries-old conflicts. It is also why every person living in the United States, regardless of their race, religion, or where their ancestors lived 150 years ago, is impacted by slavery – its unmerited entitlements for whites; its dehumanizing exploitation and abuse of blacks. Nowhere is this legacy more evident than in the grave mistreatment of people of color – especially black males – in the U.S. criminal justice system. Policing the Black Man, an essay collection edited by activist and academic Angela Davis, lays out how African American men have remained endangered by our law enforcement system since “Juneteenth” – June 19, 1865 – when the slaves in the former Confederacy of the southern United States were officially emancipated. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy