Cuzin on Matisse


Today I visited ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ to look at the interventions of Christophe Cuzin. A contemporary French artist who was brought on board when the Gallery first started thinking about the design of the Matisse exhibition, Cuzin was invited to work with the exhibition’s designers to conceptualise a colour palette for the gallery spaces and to develop three new works that would act as surprising responses to the exhibition.

The first piece, Bleu sans l’exposition, which translates as ‘blue without an exhibition’, dominates GOMA’s entrance foyer. What strikes us initially as a rhythmic arrangement of white rectangles on a ‘Matissian’ blue ground is, in fact, a kind of overture for the exhibition that lies inside. The 305 rectangles represent the precise scale of each of the works in the exhibition while the medium of the work, paint on wall, takes its point of departure from Océanie, la mer (Oceania, the sea), the largest work in the show which was originally painted by Matisse directly onto the wall of his Paris apartment.

Un atelier à Nice (a studio in Nice) reconfigures decorative motifs found in Matisse’s studios in the south of France as wall design for a room within the exhibition. Cuzin took his inspiration from a diverse group of sources including arabesque wallpapers found in Matisse’s 1921—38 studio in Nice; the shape of the window and balustrades in his apartment in the Hôtel Régina, Nice—Cimiez; and a North African textile used by Matisse to screen the windows of the Villa la Rêve in Vence. Cuzin’s designs began as hand—drawn interpretations of these sources that he then rendered in photoshop and superimposed onto a 3D plan. Creating a compelling interplay between the digital and hand-made, the final work was made by projecting the digital drawings onto the wall and copying them by hand.

In his third intervention, La bave de l’escargot (The trail of the snail), Cuzin nods to an important work by Matisse held by London’s Tate Gallery, L’Escargot (The Snail) 1953. Created the year before Matisse’s death, L’Escargot suggests the shell of a snail with the simplest of means — large squares of gouache—painted paper, arranged in a loose spiral. For ‘Matisse: Drawing Life‘ at GOMA, Cuzin has reinterpreted Matisse’s famous paper cut—out, presenting it to us as a series of carpets distributed in a spiral formation throughout the maze of exhibition spaces. The snail returns at the end of the exhibition where Cuzin has repeated the colours of the carpets as large rectangles of translucent film applied to the windows looking over the Brisbane River and evoking the stained glass windows Matisse designed for the Chapel of the Rosary, Vence.