Someone once told me that it’s only when you accept the reality of death that you can really start to live. There’s been a great deal of comment about Stephen Sutton, who lost his battle against cancer this week, though not before he’d succeeded in raising nearly three and half million pounds on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Stephen Sutton - a thumbs up to life.

Stephen Sutton – a thumbs up to life.

We will never know how Stephen’s life might have panned out, had he not been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15, but one thing is indisputable; faced with certain death, he chose to live triumphantly, passionately, generously and more fully than most of us achieve in a lifetime.

The exhibition of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Britain tells a similar story. What a luminous, inspiring show it is! The cut-outs were produced towards the end of Matisse’s life, after he’d undergone a major operation that greatly reduced his mobility and made it hard for him to stand at an easel or execute the precise brush-strokes needed to paint.

Many in such circumstances would have allowed themselves a well-earned retirement, but not Matisse. For him, ill-health and old age were no match for the irresistible the urge to live and create. Abandoning palette and brushes, he began instead to fashion a whole new and innovative way of working.

Matisse working on a cut-out

Matisse working on a cut-out

Matisse originally developed the technique of cutting shapes out of coloured paper to help in the composition of his canvases. He loved how paper cut-outs allowed him to move things around and try out a myriad of different arrangements that he could adjust and re-adjust until the image was perfect.

Following his surgery however, the paper models came to take the place of painted images altogether. As video footage shows, Matisse was remarkably adept at cutting, his scissors slicing through the paper in fluid, wholly confident movements. He found this liberating, remarking, “only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.”

Matisse’s acute visual sense, developed over a life-time, enabled him to see how apparently bizarre or random shapes could take on meaning and potency within his carefully constructed schema. As an artist he had a terrific capacity for expressing dynamic movement, which, coupled with his unparalleled sense of colour, endows his work with huge vitality, a sense of lightness, energy and joy.

The cover of Jazz

The cover of Jazz

As Matisse grew older, his paintings became ever more youthful. The cut-outs feature stars and sea-creatures, tumbling acrobats, dancers and doves, floating coral, beating hearts, flowers bursting with colour. They’re extraordinarily life-affirming. Matisse finally died in 1954 at the age of 84 but he kept on working right up to the end.



Filed under Art, Biographies, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing

8 responses to “Unstoppable

  1. Julia Lund

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Veronica. You’ve chosen two very different, yet nonetheless inspiring, examples of how life can be lived, squeezing every possibility from the different gifts we’ve been given. In Stephen Sutton’s case, he had a gift for reaching out and touching people’s hearts with his empathy, moving them to an extraordinary response. Matisse, his capacity for bringing visual expressions to emotions and experience still touches lives today.

  2. Tom

    A superb post Veronica. I was overwhelmed the first time I saw Stephen Sutton on his bed-bound appeal. He is a modern hero and will rightfully be remembered as such.
    I visit Amsterdam at least once a year (because our son lives there), and last year I was able to visit an exhibition of work by Matisse. He was another man who wasn’t prepared to simply give up – he had things to do.

  3. Tom

    Hello again Veronica. I’ve nominated you for the Leibster Award. Here is my post by way of explanation: http://tombensoncreative.com/2014/05/18/the-leibster-award/ If you’d like to tackle it, enjoy. If you don’t, no worries. Till later.

  4. Your writing does resonate with me. Your ideas and perspectives are similar to mine – except I never liked Matisse. I do not want to be a blinkered bigot so am going to see his cut-outs to see for myself – I’m told they really have to be seen in the flesh, so to speak, so am off to the Tate to see for myself.
    I am also too over-awed by greatness and have just seen the new Bill Viola at St. Paul’s (my blog Martyrs on Cyberslog) and am just unable to make any new artworks. I hope my writing benefits!

    • Hi there Sheila,
      Nice to hear from you! I’m glad you liked the post and I’d be interested to hear what you make of the Matisse, even if it’s not particularly to your taste! When I was younger, I didn’t really try my hand at writing, because I thought I would never be good enough. It took me a long time to realise that it was only by practising the art of writing that I could improve and perhaps even make some progress with it. The secret is to learn from those who’ve succeeded and not let yourself be put off too early on. You never know what you might be capable of!

      • Thank you Veronica, firstly for your reply and secondly for your advice. I will bear that in mind.
        I will let you know when I’ve seen the Matisse and what I think of it – I’m beginning to suspect I’ll be blown away.

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