Windows After Matisse

Art-Mary Anne Ross              Poetry  Terry Everett               Prose Essay   James Tomek    

 

collage-1---blue-eyes

                                                Windows After Matisse

                                                               Introduction: Music, Poetry, Painting and All That Jazz

A painter, poet and literary scholar react to the work of Matisse in this study. The three of us visited the Matisse exhibit in New York and are now moved in different ways by the visions of this artist. As teachers we hope this book will lead to interdisciplinary courses on the work of Matisse inspiring us to see the artist from a poet's ear, hear him with an artist's eye and take him in with music's desire. "He who wants to devote himself to painting must begin by cutting out his tongue"(Jazz xxi). Matisse paints to voice his visions. Michel de Certeau distinguishes between voice and written language, with written language being used by the powerful, and voice by the everyday people as a tactic to express their individuality and freedom. Roland Barthes reminds us that voice is also the manner in which our words touch our bodies at the throat. Where our soul and bodies are enjoined so to speak.

    Matisse insists on making this voice visible, especially in Jazz, a book of cutout drawings with themes of the artist as Icarus and lover. The cutouts appear at intervals spaced by hand-written thoughts of the artist on the poetics of his craft. After the Icarus portrait, Matisse reflects:

The character of a face that has been drawn does not depend on its various proportions but rather on the spiritual light that it reflects. In this way two drawings of the same face can portray the same character, even though the proportions of the faces in the two drawings may differ. No two leaves on a fig tree are the same; each has its own form. Nonetheless, each one cries: Fig tree. (xxiii)

The oral or voice nature of his art is evident. Aragon reminds us that Matisse loves the throats of the models he paints (I. 223). The exaggerated throats point to where the action is. With Matisse's chairs, Aragon sees "the almost thyroid character of their curves" (II.221). Even his chairs have throats!

    To the voice quality of his paintings we will add music. The title Jazz, according to Pierre Schneider, can be an "Ode to Joy." French "Z"s look like "J"s which remind us of the famous fauve 1906 piece, "Joy of Life." Matisse introduces Jazz with a musical analysis.

Jazz. These images, with their lively and violent tones, derive from crystallizations of memories of circuses, folktales, and voyages. I have written these pages to mollify the simultaneous effects of my chromatic and rhythmic improvisations; pages forming a kind of "sonorous ground" that supports them, enfolds them, and protects them, in their particularities. (xxvii)

Riva Castleman, in the introduction, comments on the Jazz part:

The handwritten lines are formal drawings in black on undiluted white that create a rhythmic procession through the book, punctuated at precise moments with the exciting clash of the color plates. The syncopated composition is clearly what Matisse felt was the visual counterpart of Jazz music. After its publication the artist was reported to have commented, "Jazz is rhythm and meaning." (xvii - xviii)

Jazz is in the Nietzschean spirit of music. Every work of art is the result of Apollonian and Dionysian forces: Apollo gives the power of structure and contemplation, and Dionysus the power to perform it and feel it in our bodies as music. The spirit of music is the spirit of desire. Seeing Matisse with our musical ear-eye will plunge us deeper into his work.
         Matisse becomes our model and we invite you to look through our windows at the French artist looking out of his. Among Mary Anne Ross's tableaux, she has "quoted" five Matisse paintings: "Meditation after a Bath," "Mother and Child" (illustration of a Charles Cros poem), "Woman with Blue Eyes," "Reclining Nude," and "Joy of Life"(later called "Happiness of Life"). Take delight in her visions. Terry Everett's poems in a large part are seen through Louis Aragon's study of the painter, Matisse, A Novel. As Keats praises Chapman's vision of Homer, Everett lauds Aragon and, with Aragon, gives us new views of Matisse, as if the artist himself is reading the poetry. James Tomek takes us on a pilgrimage to the Chapel of the Rosary and gives us a post-modern religious interpretation of the artist using a favorite Matisse model, the hermetic French poet Stéphane Mallarmé.
          "Mise-en-abîme" is a literary term for a "mirror-effect" type narration. We have someone telling a story through the eyes of another, who could also be seen through the eyes of another. Where is the focus or original vision? In everyday life we only have time for one vision. Here we have a privileged view of Matisse's world offering multi views from many windows. It is our wish that you hear Matisse speaking to you.

 

                                                  DELIBERATE FREEFALLING

                                                               

Windows of Icarus

 

            The goal of this essay is to use combined skills of reading, interpreting art and poetry, and practicing religion. Matisse's vision of Icarus, seen through the theories of Mallarmé, will give us a postmodern reading of the Catholic Rosary, opening the Rosary to meditation beyond Catholicism to all contemplators of existence.

            Stéphane Mallarmé, the most cerebral poet of the "difficult" Symbolist poets of the later 19th century serves as a model for Matisse. Painters use models in their portraits or sculpture to present interpretations of reality. Think of poems and novels as models for us readers-writers of literature from which we give our interpretations or portraits. Poetry lovers try to find Petrarch's Laura. Matisse searches for Mallarmé's Icarus.

            The Symbolist poets search for poetic density, a language packed with figurative potential. Music is a must, not just musical sounding words, but a musical feel on the emotions. A poet-protagonist develops who is conscious of the end of the world and struggles to fly to new heights. With the Symbolists, poetry is more than a means to higher experiences; the verse is the experience.

In Mallarmé's "Windows," the poet-narrator sees a dying person in a hospital who drags himself to a window.

Tired of the sad hospital, and the putrid incense
Which climbs in the banal whiteness of the curtains...

The dying person  sticks his white hair to the windows which radiate light from the outside blue azure. He soils the panes with a kiss, and becoming drunk, he forgets his cough, medicinal infusions, holy oils and other dying paradigms.

Sees galleys of gold, beautiful like swans,
On a river of crimson and perfumes sleeping
While rocking the fauve and rich light of their lines
In a grand nonchalance filled with memory!

            This Matissian, or I should say Mallarmean, wild fauve crimson vision then evokes personal thoughts of the narrator who is taken with disgust at the crass desires of the dying person. Yet, the poet, too, takes to the window panes.

I flee and I cling to all window panes
From where one turns the shoulder to life and, blessed,
I mirror myself and see myself angel! and I die, and I love
- Whether the window pane be art or mysticism -
To be reborn carrying my dream in diadem
To the former sky where flourishes Beauty!

            The desire for the intuitive knowledge of angels reveals itself in artists, philosophers and all who aspire to go beyond material perfection. "Angelism" carries a risk of falling when reality confronts it, as when a poem or plan is just not as good as the one we imagined. In the Mallarmé poem, the "Here-below is master," and the poet narrator holds his nose at reality's stink in front of the azure. The narrator is a writer who fears sterility.

Is there a means, oh I who know bitterness
Of digging into the crystal insulted by the monster
And to fly away, with my two wings without feathers
-To the risk of falling for eternity?

Matisse is a reader-artist of Mallarmé. "Joy of Life" is an interpretation of "Afternoon of a Faun." Also Matisse has illustrated many Mallarmé poems. The theme of Icarus as artist, or any person who aspires to intellectual and corporal heights is at the center of Jazz, The Chapel of the Rosary, and other works. "The Open Window"(1915) can be the vision of the dying person in the previous poem. The boats in the harbor can be paint brushes, pens, javelins, or other signs of creative type Icaruses. We all resemble the Mallarmé patient sticking our faces to windows opening out to the painter's fauve world.

    In Mallarmé's "Chastised Clown," Icarus is a swimmer. The clown's desire is his eyes.

Eyes, lakes with my simple drunkenness to be reborn
Other than the actor who with gestures evoked
Like a feather the ignoble soot of the footlights
I holed out a window in the canvas wall.

He escapes through the window and swims naked in the lake free from his costume and make-up. He is tired of being an actor or a writer or clown.

With my legs and arms limpid traitor swimming
In multiple leaps, denying the bad
Hamlet! it is as if in the wave I innovated
A thousand sepulchers to disappear there virgin.

The experience ends badly as the sun melts his make-up which proves to be his only art.

Joyous gold of a cymbal with irritated wrists,
All of a sudden the sun strikes the nudity
Which pure breathed from my nacreous freshness,

Rancid night of the skin when on me you passed,
Not knowing, ingrate, that it was my whole consecration,
This drowned make-up in the perfidious water of glaciers.

Anyone who has ever wanted to quit her job, especially after having been long at it, has shared the freedom wish of this Icarus-Clown-Swimmer. There is sacredness in our vocations, but being so long at it, we tend to misrecognize our talents. Our wish for liberation in the first verse's "eyes" and "lake" become a glacier in the end. Our desire is too big for our eyes. The wish to be an angel brings with it, at the same time, its fall. Here, the actor-clown thinks the make-up is too gimmicky and facile, and misreads its sacredness. Or, do we have to lose something before we find its real value? The fauvian painter will teach us to enjoy the fall. Sort of free-falling into a new day/idea. collage-2-lady,-bath

 

Matisse's   Icarus Lifeguards Mallarmé's Clown

 

            Matisse's Jazz is a book of memories of childhood, the circus, and the lagoons of Tahiti as an adult. The painter's voice is tongueless as he chooses handwritten text to separate and introduce the color cutouts. The artist is seen as acrobat, juggler, knife-thrower and swimmer among others. All the characters seem to be overcoming gravity. In the poetic text, the scissor sculptor recommends airplane travel so that we gain reassurance that the sun is always shining above the clouds, and that we return always with something to write or draw about. Icarus flies in this section. Later, he presents a swimmer in an aquarium, a horizontal Icarus, a white cutout in a black aquarium with a red door, yellow arabesque flowers, and a green vertical line separating the black. In the text the artist explains the need to balance the horizontal with the vertical:

The vertical is in my spirit. It helps me define precisely the direction of lines, and in quick sketches I never indicate a curve, that of a branch in a landscape for example, without being aware of its relationship to the vertical. My curves are not mad. (xxiv)

The vertical is the spirit that keeps the swimmer afloat. The curves are not mad and neither is the freefall. Artists are tobogganists, who like the one in the last cutout of Jazz, enjoy the freefall knowing their fabricated sonorous ground protects their improvisations (xxvii).

            Matisse collects the dirty make-up of "The Chastised Clown" and metonymically makes a book of it. The cut-outs are "gouaches" which are made from making water and paint thicker by a puddling effect. Thus, the colors or "make-up (the form or media) are created before the content or "story" itself. The scissor work creates the content or story, but the form itself is in the color. Content is deconstructed or placed in a support role to the desire of form. The content arrives after the form. The sculpted black Icarus waves his arms against a blue background with yellow stars and one red spot showing his heart. The rich colors are the content of desire. Too many desires prevent us from concentrating on one. Like Icarus, and Mallarmé's faun, we lose them all. Or, does this cutout technique allow us to cut from traditional forms of knowing to experience intellectually and physically this scene? Matisse, a multi-media artist, is a model of interdisciplinary studies, who sees the sun in discarded objects and cuts new windows. The "negative" shapes or cut-out space left after the cutting also plays a tune in Jazz.

            Mallarmé believes everything in the world will end up in a "Book," where its meanings will be clarified by poets. To be shared and preserved the book has to reach the stage where audiences will guard them. The Catholic Mass likewise preserves the Christian truth, especially the Consecration where bread and wine become Christ's body and blood, followed by the Communion which solidifies the experience by all taking part, each one miraculously receiving the total sacrifice and meal of love. The believers of Christ preserve the Incarnation mystery while the faithful of theater preserve the truths of Hamlet. Jazz and The Chapel of the Rosary are in this Mallarmean Book spirit. Pierre Schneider calls Jazz the first model of The Chapel of the Rosary, which is the big open book (667), a preservation site for Matisse's postmodern mysteries.

 

collage-3-Gros-poem

          WINDOWS:  AFTER MATISSE:  THE POEMS

 

 

          INTROIT:  MATISSE STILL LIVES

 

This morning I am reading

Henri Matisse:  A Novel

and

    like Aragon I am watching

Matisse's hand

               move without pause

like fluid amber

                 after hundreds

of repetitions

               and his hand

becomes the arabesques

                        and line

and color

          flow and juxtapose

to create

          sun and moon--

                        this hand

makes my eyes

              create the light.

 

 

 

          II.  PAINTING FOREVER WITH LIGHT

 

In pain,

          having already lived

          past the four years

he begged

          the surgeon to give him,

Matisse

          knew his days were numbered,

accepted

          the gift of years

of grace

          beyond the reach of death

          and threw himself totally

into the chapel at Vence

putting               windows

          into the world

to replace his hands,

                      windows

to paint

          every day

          those tile walls

continuously painted

          by the light,

and Matisse

          still lives

          in the glass of the Chapel

of the Rosary at Vence.

 

 

 

          III.  A DAY OF LIGHT AND LOVE

 

This morning I am a flask of light

of yesterday's reading,

of yesterday's gifts:  light

and love from Aragon

and Matisse and white doves

in a photograph.

                  I am breathing

light; I am breathing love.

I feel the light growing

around me

          to create

what is not really there

 

 

                     

 

          IV.  MATISSE'S ARAGON

 

Look at that charcoal portrait

Matisse did of Aragon.

See that dreamy look                                             

of glowing skin and eyes and pouting lips                    

Matisse had thought that he could only see

on a woman moved by love.

 

The lips were those of Aragon's mother

whom Matisse had never seen--

                             the portrait

catches an essence of Aragon

the restless genius, the boundless love

of both men, for the love of Matisse moves                                    

      and the hand moves

                         and love flows

like fire and water from Matisse's eyes,

flows from his hand,

                     flows now forever.

See what Matisse must have felt

when he knew that Aragon understood

him and his work, for you've seen that look

before on the face of someone you love.

 

                   

         V.  LOUIS ARAGON AND ELSA TRIOLET BY WAY OF HENRI MATISSE

 

Elsa was Aragon's muse,

 

and she died. 

               The last words he wrote

of her in Henri Matisse make

me know that he wrote everything

for her. 

          I know what Matisse knew.

 

Aragon knew

             Matisse knew

                          Louis loved Elsa,

Elsa loved Louis.  And I know

that Matisse loved them both. 

 

Their beautiful faces shine

forever in charcoal drawings.

 

 

 

          VI.  THE HAND OF MATISSE

 

In his left hand he holds a dove

and the dove swells in his hand,

peaceful, calm, voluptuous white dove

in the hand of the man who looks

on her with such love, his blue eyes

glossy, watery, mysterious,

                                         aroused

with passionate attention,

the bird also rapt with longing

as though the dove sees in him

the sensual sign of the dove.

 

                    

 

          VII.  SHE FELL DISCRETELY SILENT

 

In the last room of the Matisse Retrospective,

stunned, I  spin, trying for distance 

between myself and those late, massive works.

Then I remember I want to know more

about:

        "The Thousand and One Nights" and the text

Matisse has incorporated into

the final collage of the series:

"She saw the light of day.  She fell discretely silent,"

someone has translated, no doubt the same person

who has written on the card:  "The composition...

moves from a Persian lamp burning at night...

to an image of dawn, when the narrator

finally 'falls discretely silent.'"

Matisse has captured Scheherazade

moving rapidly, joyfully toward

the

                green/

           blue/      red/

    yellow/               white

                                light of dawn.

Before such miracles and after passing

so much beauty I fall "discretely silent,"

unable to stand or move.

                      

 

 

          VIII.  WINDOWS

 

Yesterday reading aloud

and talking to my class

about the window poems

of Wendell Berry I saw

my mind bending, a taut

 

gestalt of empty air

 

heavy as the whole earth

 

moving swiftly as a flood,

 

light as Jesus walking on water,

 

and I saw Matisse holding

a dove who loved him,

                            and I saw

an aviary of white doves

weeping when Matisse was ill,

and I saw Matisse's windows

and Berry's window bringing

them and the world together

up close and in the glass,

and I wept, overcome,

and I knew that God is

a flower always breaking

                             into blossom.

 

 

                            

         IX.  DOVE DREAM

 

This morning I remember

two doves sitting on a wire,

lovely gray in lambent light

late in the afternoon, calm,

peaceful, contented, and I

feel them looking at me

and you and the world through eyes

as intense, as loving

as the eyes of Matisse.

I feel them in me;

I feel Matisse in me,

                             looking

at you and the world, breathing

at one with you and me

and two doves full of longing

 

 

         X.  ORANGE ORANGE COMMUNION

 

From the canvas

                Matisse

                        hands

you

    an orange

              as he

always gave

            oranges

                    to his friends

and you

        make one

                 with him

in the sacred

              circle

                     eating

the sacred

           orange

                  oriental orange,

original orange,

                 first orange

and you

        give orange

                    to him

and you

        both eat

                 with delight

in the perfect

               color

                     orange orange

all around

           and throughout

                          and you both

delight

        in holding

                   its heaviness

 

in peeling

           and eating

                      the first

bite

     of peeling

                when the juices

spray

      and you taste

                    and smell

the freshness

              and you

                      delight

in sectioning

              and eating

                         each section

so orange

          in flesh

                   and juice

and you love

             to lick

                     his stick-

y fingers

          as he serves

                       with that perfect

touch

      that spins

                 the world

the sacred

           orange orange

                         into

the blue blue

              above

                    the green green

 

 

collage-4-joie-de-vivre

 

XI.  EVERY COLOR HAS ITS GRAY

 

Gray ghostly thunderheads

in the east at sunset

dissipate slowly,

and ancient doves sing

the gray song

                         connecting me

with all things that live,

lived, or will live and love,

and I hear a voice

singing in my ear

repeating the words

of Henri Matisse:

"Every color has its gray."

 

                    

 

XII.  SIGN OF THE DOVE

 

Prior to sunrise

                      a dove sits

gray-brown in blue-gray dawn light

on a low limb still and quiet

until a man walks under and she

springs into the air, wings whistling

into a slow hovering flight.

Dark in the dawn light she flutters

over him just out of reach,

and then in a flurry of wings,

she brakes to land on a roof edge,

her glorious white-tipped tail glowing

until she settles on the roof

quiet and still, black eye steady

in the blue-gray light of dawn,

a goddess of arabesque lines

drawn by Matisse, her head,

in profile like Old Matisse's head,

sleek, with an incredible eye

fixed on the joy.                                             

 

 

                   

          XIII.  WATERED AND FIRED

 

Once more the light comes flooding

from

     yesterdays' drives

     yesterdays' doves

                       and a light

inside that burns,

                   reflecting

in the pool-remembered

of two dove eyes burning

like fire in deep water,

water to water and fire

to fire joined forever

in the reflecting pool,

for I am watered and fired.

 

 

          XIV.  TUNIC OF NESSOS

 

At a turning point

in the middle

of his life

Matisse

        went

to Tahiti

 

to see

       the light of lights

to restore

           the "interior light

which transforms

objects

        to make

                a new world..."

and he

       this modern Herakles

put on

       his "Tunic of Nessos,"

and

    for the rest of his life

made

     poems that gave off light

and music

          light as petals,

light as leaves.

 

 

          XV.  HE FLINGS HIMSELF UP

 

I have wished I could talk

to the Kethley Courtyard Mockingbird.

 

But today reading Schneider's Matisse

I hear the bird speak to me.

 

For years I've heard/watched him

perform/compose countless concerts,

thirty-minutes or so at a sitting--

 

if that's the right word--

 

because he doesn't "sit"

all the time.

 

He gets so carried away

with himself--

 

oh, he's good--what runs! and trills

and tunes, what raucous sounds, too!--

 

he mocks the cardinal, of course,

but he mocks everything else, too--

 

he gets so carried away

with himself

 

that he flings himself up

into the air

four feet or so,

and it looks to me

that it's just the force

of his singing, the strength

of his breath

that flings him up

into the air, a bird,

at the top of his game,

almost ascending to Heaven.

 

I've heard/watched him

a thousand times

perform/compose

his variations

on his themes.

 

I've heard his processes

of composition

overlapping, unfolding

 

like a film

into complete

resolutions every time

he composes/ performs

like the ancient

oral poets dancing

 

or like Matisse

painting/dancing

The Dream.

 

 

 

          XVI.  OFFICE WITH WINDOW

 

Surrounded

           by beauty--

multi-colored books

inside

       and behind me,

two starlings

              preening

in the feather-tip top

of a River Birch

in the gray light

                  of dawn

outside

        the window

 

and beside

           the window

art and photographs

and flowers:

             Sophia

and her doves

              among

the Peace Lilies

                 framing

the eternal sky,

everchanging, while I

sit here

         surrounded

by beauty

          and love--

I sit here

           in the sky.

 

I sit here

           in the light

making poems

and I become

             at times

between words

              an avatar

of Matisse

           when he

would become

             for a rare moment

 

silent

 

as a vermillion

goldfish,

          looking out/

looking in,

            joining

the lights without

                   with the light

within,

        overwhelmed

by what makes

              the light:

in my case,

            using

black words,

             white paper

and making

           the light

 

come

from the forces

released

         in the field

of

   the poem

            from

the window within

                  that links me

with the goldfish

                  singing

in my pen,

           filling

my stomach

           with the Word,

with the light,

                with the love

                 

 

 

          XVII.  HIS HANDS

 

I am watching

Matisse's hands

on that video

where the film

goes into slow motion

to capture the rhythm

and dexterity,

the dancing beauty,

of his hands

at work.

 

I am seeing the miracle

of his right hand

painting/dancing,

 

and I am reading

how he could run

his hands over

the model and then his hands

would know

how to shape the clay.

 

I know

how his hands knew

for I am writing

and watching my hand

write the words flowing

from I know not where.

 

 

 

 XVIII.  THE TREE OF LIFE

                 (for Robert Stewart and in memory of Walter Anderson

who inspired Robert and in memory of Matisse and Others)

 

Become one with the tree

if you would know it,

or paint it, or draw it,

or write about it,

or make its music,

then let the treeness

within you simply flow

free of your conscious mind

over and over until

you feel your hands as leaves

or flowers and you

know the tree by heart

and the ancient movie

of the tree growing

brings you into time

beyond your time, at one

with Daphne, Buddha, Christ,

and Allah in the Garden.

 

 

 

          XIX.  THE BIRTH OF LUXURY

                                    --Louis Aragon

 

The trees pray for rain

their limbs kneeling

their leaves kneeling,

leaves hanging limp,

still green but drying,

hands "light and patient"--

these trees today

June 17,

1996,

are avatars

of Matisse,

each leaf a hand

dancing on canvas

or this paper,

barely touching,

stroking his dreams

shining and wet

into the world.

 

 

XX.  BREAD STONE

 

               La pierre, c'est la pierre de rogne:  elle fut

               specialment choisie pour sa couleur et son aspect

               semblables au pain, nourriture du corps et de

               l'ame--Soeur Jacques Marie.

 

Matisse chose to build his altar

of stone of Rogne because it

looks so much like bread, an altar

to feed the body and the soul

in a chapel that reunifies

each person, yin and yang,

body and soul, and East and West,

an altar placed differently

to get all worshippers close

to the table of bread.

        

 

 

          BENEDICTION IN ORANGE

 

I

  take back

            from you

the Orange

           through

                   the window

of these poems

               I have served

                             to you

and you

        take away

                  the poems

and the Orange

               I give

                      to you

And the First

              shall be

                       Last

and the Last

 

             shall be

 

                      First.

Amen

     Amen

          Amen.

 

                                              

                                                                                                   

collage-5-reclining-nude

                                           Deliberate Freefalling Part II:  A Visit to the Chapel of the Rosary

 

    Since this visit is a pilgrimage, we will prepare for it with some reflections on the meaning of the Rosary, Matisse's conception of the Chapel, and Postmodernism's concern of consumerism's threat to spirituality.

    The Rosary is a traditional Catholic set of prayers for meditation on New Testament Scripture truths or mysteries. The framework prayers are The Sign of the Cross, the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. The three sets of mysteries are: five Joyful commemorating Christ's birth and youth; five Sorrowful on the Passion; and five Glorious on the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit and acknowledgement of Mary as the first disciple of Christ. While chanting a decade of Hail Marys one thinks about the named mystery. Rosary beads consisting of decades separated by one bead (for an Our Father and Glory Be) help you keep count and track of the mystery you are meditating.

    The prayers are like a mantra, a repetitive chant while meditating. It is an excellent prayer, especially at difficult times when we want to pray, but have difficulty in finding words. They are said to be an uneducated person's substitution for the psalms. But, in a more intellectual sense, the Rosary is said to have been started by Saint Dominic in the 13th century to help the poorer educated pray. He would stop at the end of a decade and teach the mystery in question.

                                                Postmodern Rosary for Icarus-Christ

   After Jazz, Matisse celebrates the Icarus experience in his design of a Church where the public and priests will preserve its mystery in performing the rite of the mass. The swimmer in Jazz is horizontally proceeding from one black area to another. He needs a vertical hold to keep control. The fallen Christ in the Stations of the Cross design in the Rosary Chapel has a similar need. We do, too.

    The artist says that the Chapel work is the sum of his career combining skills in architecture, painting, drawing, stained glass window work, and sculpture (Chapel, no pag). These complex visual statements are worthy of Mallarmé, Yeats, Stevens and any of the Symbolist poets. The performance type attitude necessary to comprehend the Chapel is worthy of Postmodern sensitivities, both positive and negative. We will attempt to form new ways of praying the Rosary, for Christians and Anonymous seekers of the everyday sacramental, also.

                                    Postmodern Sin: Reification, and the Antidote

            We are in the late stages of capitalism where consumerism is at its height. No longer do we enjoy the act of working or playing. We want to finish. In Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the protagonist does not want to write, he wants the title of writer. That's consumerism. We want postcards of places we visit as our way of possessing them and consuming them - to render all reality to its visual component, in order to consume it with the eye.

            Roland Barthes distinguishes between "text" and "work," with work being a book you want to consume, put it back on the shelf, recorded as having been read. The "text' is what you read when you are enjoying the whole process, not being concerned with how many pages are left. Or, put another way, Wendell Berry's poem "Vacation" is full of photographs of a vacation from which tourists find themselves absent.

            Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary, designed for the Dominican nuns between 1947 - 1950, resists any attempt to get a clear picture of it. You must go there and attend a Mass or lecture to experience it as a place of cult.

            We are now ready to travel to the Chapel for a deeper religious experience. We will say the Rosary in a way to help us live life like Christ or Icarus in the Postmodern world.

                                                                    The Visit

 

            We arrive at the Chapel of Vence by way of bus from Nice. The French azure coast is beautiful - twisting scary roads driven by a Frenchman, busy being punctual and professional, smoking and flirting with a girl, and handling the sharp turns. From the bus stop we have a mile walk up a winding road to a little chapel situated between buildings. There is a prettier chapel on the hill at the previous town Saint Paul, but this is the famous one. We descend the steps and enter the chapel. Two women are asked to leave. No shorts are permitted. I question my sneakers. This is a holy place. The guides, Dominican nuns, take their work seriously. On the back wall and side walls on the right are three black designs on white ceramic tiles. The center on an elevated platform is the altar, which faces diagonally both the general congregation area (stage left) and the religious/clergy seating area to the altar's right (stage right). The wall behind the altar has a stained glass window as do the walls on the left side. As the sun enters the Chapel from the stained glass windows behind the altar and to our left, it produces lighting effects on the three black and white panels on our right side.

collage-6-holy-window

The Ceramic Designs: Virgin and Child, The Stations of the Cross, and Saint Dominic

 

            The nun starts with the ceramic tile drawing of the Virgin with Child on the right side next to the lay seating area. The child protrudes from the mother in a cylinder type fashion with the mother's arms outstretched. The figure is a cross. The Nativity and Crucifixion are evoked in the same moment. Mary is presenting the incarnated crucified Christ to the world. The faces are empty allowing viewers to fill in their own. We all must put Christ in the world and suffer in like manner. Arabesque flowers fill the wall with the word "AVE" ("Hail" in English) on the upper left.

            The Dominicans view Mary as a high example of our role to present Christ in the world. We have here a complex visual and written text of "Hail Mary" or "Ave Maria." The Ave is written while the Mary as presenter of the suffering crucified Christ is sketched. We fill in our own faces, with the arabesque flowers being our prayers or meditations on how we can bring Christ into the world, or how we can make any mental or spiritual contributions to the consumer world. A teacher for example will think of ways to combat reified learning experiences.

            On the back wall appear the 14 traditional stations of the cross starting in an S pattern at the lower right: the Condemnation, Carrying of the Cross, First Fall, Meeting with Mother, Simon Carrying Cross, Veronica's Veil, Second Fall, Meeting with the Women of Jerusalem, Third Fall at the left, then at the upper left, the Stripping of garments, Nailing, Crucifixion, the Taking Down, and Burial. It is a global view of the Passion with all lines converging on the cross. All that came before, and all that will come after is because of the Cross. Here, Veronica's veil does have an image on it - a face of suffering. The faces of the other two murals are empty allowing subjective filling in. This one is the face of the Savior. Is it the artist, too, who leaves his imprint on the Chapel wall? The fallen Christ resembles Jazz's Icarus the swimmer. There is a harmonic connection between the two characters.

            On the right wall in the sanctuary altar area is Saint Dominic in a monk's robe with huge hands carrying a book. They are the artist's hands, says our guide with much respect. Dominic fits in well with the Rosary. Around 1200 he started the Dominican order of monks to go out in the real world and combat heresy and teach. He is known for emphasis on study. This view counters the Rosary as a simplistic prayer to substitute "Hail Marys" for psalms. The Rosary is flexible, open to simple and complex meditation.

            Dominic's order are traditional enthusiastic teachers. Balzac dressed in a Dominican Monk's robe (Rodin's statue) to write his huge work. The monk's robe symbolizes the serious structure, and need to be away from society to think: coupled with the need to be in society to write about that society. Balzac would alternate his working and observing times. In this ceramic, it is Matisse as teacher-artist. The book he is holding is Mallarmé's, whose words "Everything in the world exists to end up in a book," point to a figurative book which will give us religious access to the material world. I hope we writers and readers are contributing to this book.

 

                                    How to Pray the Rosary: New and Old Mysteries

 

            Mysteries are truths that are difficult to understand like the Incarnation, being human and divine at the same time. Literature, the arts and religion share a common goal: to elevate ourselves to a higher plane of living. Our mysteries involve how thoughts are brought into existence, how combinations of words and images give rise to ideas, and how ideas are born. We will use literary examples to give new readings to the Rosary mysteries. The combination of reading literature with a Rosary mentality and seeing the Rosary with a Literature-Art mentality will raise our level of comprehension better than if we separated the disciplines.

 

                                        Valéry's Visitation and the Joyful Mysteries

 

            The Joyful Mysteries concern Christ's Birth and Childhood: The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, The Nativity, The Presentation at the Temple, and the Finding of Christ teaching at the Temple. In Valery's "The Steps," a four quatrain poem, the speaker waits in bed for a lover whose reserved, tender steps offer promises of physical and spiritual love.

Your steps, children of my silence
Slowly, saintly placed
Towards the bed of my vigilance,
Proceed mute and frozen.

Pure person, divine shadow.
How sweet they are! Your reserved steps.
God! All the gifts that I can divine
Come to me on these naked feet.

The speaker is anticipating the event and is excited. In the remaining quatrains the lover is asked to defer the kiss because the speaker likes this moment of anticipation where the act is real in the mind without having to be real in the world.

If, from your advanced lips,
You are preparing to appease
To the inhabitant of my thoughts,
The nourishment of a kiss,

Don't hasten this tender act.
Sweetness of being and non-being.
Because I have lived waiting for you,
And my heart was only your steps.

Like simple glossy rosary beads, this poem can be enjoyed on the literal level as the pleasure of anticipation being greater than the actual event. In this way, we do not have to worry about failure. We may also take the poem deeper, the steps as a metaphor fulcruming up the creative process, whether it be poem writing, song writing, painting, or scientific theorizing. The artist likes this stage because the work is pure form. However, artists need to put their thoughts and rhythms into real forms. In this poem, the artist's lover is the muse whose steps are like children, but in the last stanzas the situation of the creator and created reverses itself. The poet becomes the "inhabitant of my thoughts," and assumes a more child-like relation to his work, who, in the last lines is a heart waiting to be born.

            In Mary's Visitation to Elizabeth, her "Magnificat" canticle is a forerunner of Valéry's text. The Savior being born in Mary's womb will give food to the hungry and raise the lowly to a higher place. It is the visitation of Christ in her womb that fills her with joy. "My soul doth magnify the lord" magnifies the light of incarnation, and thus, this prayer becomes a hinge to draw light on the other joyful mysteries. The poet-Mary gives birth to the divine, and at the same time is ambiguously attached to the creation as a child. The Joyful mysteries concern birth and childhood. To incarnate this visitation more fully, and to become illuminated, will take suffering and pain.    

 

                                Dickinson's Agony and the Sorrowful Mysteries

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries are the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning of Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and The Crucifixion and Death. The Agony in the Garden is the less dramatic of the five, the one that gets the least press, yet it is really the most dramatic in an intellectual, spiritual way.

Emily Dickinson defines success in a deconstructive way.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory
As he defeated - dying -
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear.

The paradigms of success are victory, the flag and the nectar which are to be comprehended or understood physically and mentally. Is success something tangible? Is it important? Whatever it is, only those in agony can understand it. Dickinson prefers agony as a water mark to truth:

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it's true -
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe.
The Eyes glaze once - and this is Death
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

 

You know people love you when they love at inconvenient times. That kind of love cannot be faked. Parent figures have this - my mother - my aunt. Agony, which means struggle, reveals the love in what you are doing. Love and agony go together. Agony is crowning proof that the inhabitant of your thoughts is being given something important.

            The Agony in the Garden at first seems less theatrical than the other Sorrowful Mysteries. The scourging, crowning of thorns, cross-carrying, and crucifixion are very cinematic but the Garden is the space of true drama where Christ is mentally and physically torn by what he is about to do. By undergoing this agony, Christ consents to human destiny, and gives birth to it. In Dickinson, success is used only as a road map to where anguish is. The suffering spaces of where you love must be cultivated. The Beads on the forehead become a string of jewelry, just as the beads on the rosary can be turned into the real agony of divine sacrifice, if we take them that deep. If we have arrived at this level of incarnation, the glorification should already be present. Matisse does this by coloring in his art.

 

                                        Matisse's Chapel and the Glorious Mysteries

   

 The Glorious Mysteries are highlighted by the third: the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which allows us all to receive the spirit of Christ and persevere. I see this experience in assimilating the ideas and processes of good teachers and continuing in their spirit. This is the eternal part. The Glorious Mysteries are the Resurrection of the Body, the Ascension into Heaven, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption of Mary to Heaven, and the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven (old reading) and First Disciple of Christ (postmodern reading).

    Mary is a model Christian by presenting Christ to the world. The Chapel has become sacred space, not so much because it is a Church (In Catholicism the whole world is drenched in divine radiance, thus all places are equally sacred), but because the combined effort of architecture, sculpture, painting, literature and music transform this place into a sacred space of prayer, for the artist and participating faithful/audience alike. Crossing the altar opposite the murals are stained glass windows expressing the idea of foliage from the characteristic tree of the area, the cactus with large oval spine covered stalks with yellow and red flowers. The artist describes the effect:

The yellow is roughened and so becomes translucent only while the blue and the green remain transparent, and thus completely clear. This lack of transparency in the yellow arrests the spirit of the spectator and keeps it in the interior of the chapel, thus forming the foreground of a space which begins in the chapel and then passes through the blue and the green to lose itself in the surrounding gardens. Thus, when someone inside can see through the glass a person coming and going in the garden, only a meter away from the window, he seems to belong to a completely separate world from that of the chapel. (Flam, 129)

The effect is like a book. "They [the tiled walls, mural paintings] are the visual equivalent of a large open book where the white pages carry the signs explaining the musical part composed of the stained glass windows"(Flam,129). We have an overall rosary effect with the Dominic and Virgin/Child murals offering a tranquil joyous contemplation, and the Stations offering a more passioned painful encounter of the artist with the tragedy of Christ. The glory comes because we have raised our level of existence just as Mary is assumed into the skies. The three sets of mysteries do not happen chronologically, but more simultaneously in contemplation of the early stages of visitation from God, through the suffering and love, and the lifting of our minds and hearts to God, which is a definition of prayer. This simultaneous feeling, especially the desire to elevate ourselves, is similar to music.

 

                                Learning to Fly: Matisse and Michelangelo - Trent and Vatican II

 

            In the 16th century, the Catholic hierarchy convened the Council of Trent to combat the threats of the Protestant Reformation by building pride in its history and practices. Many customs of the Church are derived from this council, including emphasizing the importance of the Rosary, Lenten devotions, religious music, and different rites of adoration of the Eucharist. Michelangelo, especially in the Sistine Chapel painted much of the Church's traditions. The Last Judgment can make you frightened or in awe.

            Matisse represents more the spirit of Vatican II, the Council that promoted an ecumenical movement of all Christian churches, more involvement with the laity, and a general updating. Vatican II reminds Catholics to emphasize Christ in the rites. The Rosary, for example, should emphasize Christ over Mary. Matisse has done just that in his Chapel with Mary presenting the Cross-Christ to the world. Also, the multi-disciplined artist is less of a hero type representor than Michelangelo. His art concerns everyday people. Picasso doubted the good faith of Matisse, who probably did not believe in God in the traditional way. As evidenced in cutting away from traditional art with scissors, Matisse shows a comprehension of the soul and the spiritual by cutting away from Renaissance images. He is a Christ person in the definition of Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. Rahner would call him an Anonymous Christian who witnesses a deeper meaning to the material world.

            Matisse distinguishes between ordinary and inventive writing. The latter makes new signs in new contexts to give privileged views of reality. He further distinguishes drawing as the prose component of the art, with color as the poetry. This poetry is Matisse's voice, as opposed to written legal language in the Certeau sense. The voice alone cries from the heart in subversive language to the limits of our world. The voice is Matisse's expression in art and he expresses it musically. Music keeps us vertical as we swim diagonally through life.

            The French artist teaches us to fly and freefall. Tom Petty sings, "I'm learnin to fly, but I ain't got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing." Other times Petty is happy chanting "Freefalling, yes, I'm free, freefalling." Freefalling, and comprehending it at the same time, is the most important and exhilarating experience we can learn as we toboggan down the hill. Thanks for the lesson.

                                                                        References

Aragon, Louis. Henri Matisse: a Novel. Trans. Jean Stewart. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich, 1971.
Barthes, Roland. Image Music Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. (179-90, 155-164)
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. trans. Steven Randall. Berkeley: U of California P., 1984.
Flam, Jack. Matisse on Art. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978.
Flores, Angel, ed. An Anthology of French Poetry from Nervalto Valéry. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor 1958. (For the Mallarmé and Valéry Poems-translations are mine)
Imhof, Paul and Biallowons, Hubert, eds. Karl Rahner in Dialog. Trans. Harvey D. Egan. New York: Crossroad, 1986.
Matisse, Henri. Jazz. U.S.A.: Georges Braziller, Inc. 1992.
________. Chapel du rosaire.
Nietzsche, Frederick. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
Schneider, Pierre. Matisse. Trans. Bridget Strevens Romer. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.