Jay Fisher

In the very beginning we see a circus banner called silk [Phonetic][0:00:05] and we see the woman on a trapeze swinging back and forth with the banner in the space around her. One of my favorite plates comes early on, an elephant balancing on a ball. It has a yellow background; the ball has the blue star right in the middle of it. And this is really a very kind of poignant illustration because I think Matisse, like many artists, much as they loved the circus, that sometimes they were worried about the mistreatment and the humiliation really of the animal. The very idea of putting such a magnificent creature as an elephant with enormous weight and making them balance that way, hoofs raised in the air on a ball as they roll it across a ring. It’s just you know a horrible thing to contemplate.

I think the red flashes that we see really communicate to us the kind of wounding and humiliation of that creature. We see someone riding the horse with a decorative costume in black light. And then you see the whip coming out from the other side of the circus master, the ringmaster whipping the horse to get it to move and prance around the ring. There’s all the beauty and the fun, the audience and the excitement, the colors of the circus, but still this other side of it. Come a little farther along, where you see two shapes that look like a kind vase for flowers, but actually they are two torso and they reflect the cutting of pieces of paper, which Matisse undertook to create the model from which the plates and the book are made. So first you see a blue surrounding a gray shape, that’s of the torso. And then as you go to the next illustration, you see the blue shape, so actually the thing that he cut out from the blue paper. So it appears as a positive shape against the negative of the gray, so he has reversed the relationship.

Henri Matisse

The cutouts are not a new departure, but a conclusion. They arose as if from a spring with a trial and error. They were a long time in the making, developing in secret, perhaps they had already beckoned me.

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