* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
I am astonished by the accuracy with which Matisse remembers the most trifling facts; he describes a room that he went into forty years ago and gives you the measurements, where every piece of furniture stood, how the light fell. He is a man of astounding precision and has little time for anything that he has not confirmed for himself. In art matters, he is not the sort to go looking for a profile fortuitously created by cracks in the wall. Elie Faure writes that Matisse is perhaps the only one of his contemporaries (in particular Marquet and Bonnard) to know exactly where he comes from and the only one who never allows it to show “because his inveterate, invincible, vigilant willpower is always focused on being himself and nothing but.”
Matisse neglects nothing. He seems to know as much about the art market as about painting.
So many stratagems to sell a painting, from intimidating the purchaser to seeming to avoid him: Vollard used them all and used them successfully. Not least the lies that he told to reassure the client. “It works like this,” says Matisse: “To make a sale, you invent lies that have somehow disappeared into thin air by the time the deal is done.”
We talk of the difficulties faced by dealers hoping to gain access to Renoir in his Cagnes residence. Renoir didn’t like having people talk to him about selling his work,” says Matisse: “It bored him. About the only one who got a foot in the door was Paul Guillaume; he dressed up as a young worker with a floppy necktie: “You see, I’m a local. I’ve always loved your painting. I’ve just inherited a little money; I’d like to buy something.”
Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller
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A: It didn’t take long to become smitten with these beautiful people. It happened on my first trip there in 1992 when Bryan and I, along with busloads of other tourists, were visiting the Oaxacan cemeteries on The Day of the Dead. The Oaxaquenos tending their ancestor’s graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with them and with their beliefs. My studies since that time have given me a deeper appreciation for the art, architecture, history, mythology, etc. that comprise the extremely rich and complex story of Mexico as a cradle of civilization in the West. It is a wonderfully heady mix and hopefully some of it comes through in my work as a painter and a photographer.
By the way I often wonder why the narrative of Mexico’s fascinating history was not taught in American public schools, at least not where I went to public school in suburban New Jersey. Mexico is our neighbor, for goodness sake, but when I speak to many Americans about Mexico they have never learned anything about the place! It’s shocking, but many people think only “Spring Break” and/or “Drug Wars,” when they hear the word “Mexico.” As a kid I remember learning about Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and other early civilizations in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, but very little about Mexico. We learned about the Maya, when it was still believed that they were a peaceful people who devoted their lives to scientific and religious pursuits, but that story was debunked years ago. And I am fairly sure that not many Americans even know that Maya still exist in the world … in Mexico and in Guatemala. There are a few remote places that were not completely destroyed by Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century and later. I’ve been to Mayan villages in Guatemala and seen shamans performing ancient rituals. For an artist from a place as rooted in the present moment as New York, it’s an astounding thing to witness!
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