* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
One day, looking for something that might interest those few buyers there were, Marquet and I decided to reconnoiter. So we went to the Pavillon de Rohan, to the Galeries de Rivoli, where there were dealers in engraving and in all kinds of curiosities that might attract foreign customers. We each came back with an idea: mine was to do a park landscape with swans. I went to the Bois de Boulogne to do a study of the lake. Then I went to buy a photo showing swans and tried to combine the two. Only it was very bad; I didn’t like it – in fact nobody liked it; it was impossible; it was stodgy. I couldn’t change; I couldn’t counterfeit the frame of mind of the customers on the rue de Rivoli or anywhere else. So I put my foot through it.
I understood then that I had no business painting to please other people; it wasn’t possible. Either way, when I started a canvas, I painted it the way I wanted with things that interested me. I knew very well that it wouldn’t sell, and I kept putting off the confection of a picture that would sell. And then the same thing would happen the next time.
There are plenty of artists who think it’s smart to make paintings to sell. Then – when they have acquired a certain reputation, a degree of independence – they want to paint things for themselves. But that simply isn’t possible. Painting’s an uphill task and if you want to find out what you’re capable of, you can’t dillydally on the way.
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: By the time I left the Navy in 1989 to devote myself to making art, I had begun a career as a portrait painter. I needed to make money, this was the only way I could think of to do so, and I had perfected the craft of creating photo-realistic portraits in pastel. It worked for a little while.
A year later I found myself feeling bored and frustrated for many reasons. I didn’t like having to please a client because their concerns generally had little to do with art. Once I ensured that the portrait was a good (and usually flattering) likeness, there was no more room for experimentation, growth, or creativity. I believed (and still do) that I could never learn all there was to know about soft pastel. I wanted to explore color and composition and take this under-appreciated medium as far as possible. It seemed likely that painting portraits would not allow me to accomplish this. Also, I tended to underestimate the amount of time needed to make a portrait and charged too small a fee.
So I decided commissioned portraits were not for me and made the last one in 1990 (above). I feel fortunate to have the freedom to create work that does not answer to external concerns.
Comments are welcome!