Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Elephant No. 110: Matisse Cut-Out Elephant

Although I've never been a huge fan of Henri Matisse's paintings, I do really like his Cut-Outs, so today I thought I'd try making a Matisse Cut-Out elephant.

Born in 1869, Matisse is perhaps best known as a painter. Despite the fact that he is now recognized as towering figure in the development of Modern art, however, critics sneered at his initial experiments with bold and unusual colours.

Woman with a Hat, 1905
Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Source: Wikipedia

In 1905, Matisse and a few like-minded painters exhibited their work at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. Their work created a sensation—and not in a good way. As I wrote in my original Elephant a Day blog, critic Louis Vauxcelles described their work as "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" ("Donatello amongst the wild beasts!"). This was because their work shared a room with a famous Renaissance sculpture by Donatello. Critic Camille Mauclair had a similar reaction, exclaiming, "A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public!" Fauvism was born, and painting would never be the same again.

The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown, 1943–1944
Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
© Centre Pompidou, Paris

Over the next few decades, Matisse continued to experiment with colours and forms, and by the late 1940s had all but abandoned painting on canvas for painted paper and a pair of scissors.

Icarus, 1946
Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
© Centre Pompidou, Paris

Although they started out relatively small, over time Matisse's Cut-Outs grew to encompass entire rooms. For those of you who are interested, MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City is currently featuring the exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, on view until February 10, 2015.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid, 1952
Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
Collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Source: plainspeakingart
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

For today's elephant, I began by painting sections of some scrap sheets of artist-quality bristol board. I didn't want to use anything lighter, out of fear that it would ripple or buckle, and I didn't want to use anything heavier for fear of it getting ugly-thick and difficult to glue.

I chose colours I'd seen in various Matisse Cut-Outs, making sure I had a relatively large swath of that iconic Matisse blue. I also painted a section of white, thinking that using white uncoated bristol board might be cheating. Because I was planning to glue my elephant to a relatively small canvas board (5 x 7 inches), I didn't need an entire sheet of each colour. 

I began by cutting out a large yellow shape to fill in a good chunk of the background. I used copious amounts of rubber cement, then covered the piece with a sheet of waxed paper and rolled it flat with a brayer (printmaking roller). I decided to leave removal of the excess glue until the end.

Matisse often used various framing elements, so I cut and glued on bars of pink and white.

I cut out the abstract elephant shape next. Matisse never made things that looked entirely figural, and he appears to have enjoyed adding pointy bits to curves, so I tried to follow suit.

I glued down the elephant and added a bar of green.

Here's where things got tricky. It's not as easy as I thought to fiddle with shapes and colour. Sometimes I liked a shape, but hated the various colours next to one another. Other times I like the interplay of colour, but didn't like the shapes.

Eventually I had a composition I could live with, so I glued all the last bits down and weighted it for a half-hour or so to make sure everything stuck. Then I cleaned off the excess glue.

And here it is. It was harder than I expected, but was actually rather fun to make. Playing with the various elements before gluing was a bit like playing with the flannelgraphs some of us had as kids. It isn't anything like an actual Matisse, of course, and I may yet change it, but for now cheap and cheerful works for me!

Elephant Lore of the Day
Rangers: 1 — Poachers: 0.

In October 2014, a large bull elephant was shot by a poachers' poisoned arrow in Kenya's Tsavo National Park. The aim, of course, was to kill the animal so that its tusks could be removed and sold on the lucrative black market. This elephant's tusks would fetch an estimated $400,000.

A bull elephant hit by a poisoned arrow falls to its knees.
Photo: DSWT/Barcroft Media
Source: Daily Mail

Aerial surveillance crews from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust saw the elephant fall to its knees and begin writhing in agony. One of their mobile vet teams moved in quickly, extracting the arrow and administering a dose of long-acting antibiotics to ensure that the elephant made a full recovery.

Although this elephant was lucky, many are not. Demand for ivory, particularly in China, is so high that poachers are killing elephants at the rate of 35,000 a year—or one every 15 minutes. With African elephant herds currently numbering a mere 500,000, it's clear that they may not be around much longer, if killing continues at this rate.

A mobile vet team arrives to save the elephant in the nick of time.
Photo: DSWT/Barcroft Media
Source: Daily Mail

To make matters worse, poachers have taken to poisoning waterholes with cyanide, using poison-tipped arrows, and shooting elephants from helicopters and jeeps. They are not above killing rangers as well. Nor are adult elephants their only targets anymore.

Medics work quickly to remove the arrow and administer life-saving drugs.
Photo: DSWT/Barcroft Media
Source: Daily Mail

Poachers used to concentrate on killing older African elephants with large tusks—first the males, because their tusks are larger, then the females. This has orphaned immense numbers of young elephants, which is disastrous for such social creatures. Now, however, as populations of large adult elephants are being extinguished, poachers are turning to young elephants.

There is some good news, however. Over the past several years, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust alone has made more than 2,000 arrests, and has located and removed more than 130,000 elephant snares. Because they use aerial surveillance, and run mobile vet teams in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, they can locate and react quickly to elephants in distress.

The elephant eventually gets to its feet and makes its way back into the bush.
Photo: DSWT/Barcroft Media
Source: Daily Mail

To Support Elephant Welfare

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