Matisse tries to resist the Naked Beginner

In my artistic explorations, I alternated between working outside (in museums and other public spaces such as parks, parties, and concerts) and working at home, where I often copied faces from art books. I did a dozen Van Goghs, a dozen Picassos, a dozen Rembrandts, a dozen Murillos… It was a wonderful education, and also a wonderful psychological process: to enter another artist’s mind for a moment, to see the world with different eyes, to be in Arles or Spain or 17th-century Holland.

1303411-1575756-thumbnail.jpg1303411-1575755-thumbnail.jpgSome artists were much easier than others to explore. I tried to enter Henri Matisse’s mind, and for some reason I couldn’t find my way in. My first few sketches were so awkward that I knew I hadn’t gained any insight upon Matisse’s perspective. I stayed outside him, I struggled, I remained my own little self. I almost became a stick artist again.

I think I had some hostility toward Matisse. I’d look at his drawings and say to myself, “What’s the big deal? Why these fat thighs? Can’t the guy draw, for chrissakes?”

1303411-1575758-thumbnail.jpg1303411-1575757-thumbnail.jpgNeedless to say, this wasn’t a judgment of Matisse’s skills—it was a reflection of my own blindness, my own handicaps. One day I decided to draw one of his women with a brush pen instead of a pencil. The pen “required” that I use simplified gestures and lines, not worrying too much about detail or, for that matter, anatomy. With the brush pen the name of the game is “flow.” And I finally “got” Matisse, “got” how freely he worked, how sensuous his figures were, how much depth there was to his simple lines.

I had been looking at his drawings with false suppositions about form, shape, volume, and so on. Maybe Matisse didn’t “need” to think about form and shape, since he’d moved on to the very essence of things!



My little Matisse reproductions aren’t straightforward. I put something of myself in them, in particular by coloring drawings that were originally in black and white. To do an exact Matisse seems both impossible and a waste of time, since—well, since the original is already “there.” But a Pedro-ized Matisse? That seemed more interesting to me.

After doing a couple dozen Matisse-inspired drawings, I thought I’d honor the great man by doing a portrait of him, from a photo in one of my wife’s art books.