Matisse in Morocco
Coffee with a creative, talking cultural freedom.
The ornamental art of Moroccan design is alluring, and overwhelming, with a cultured spirit, fixed and established over time - everlasting.
A number of years ago, I was cutting a stencil from a Moroccan design, when unexpectedly the hairs stood up on my arms. During that moment I became acutely aware and humbled, realizing that this pattern had been designed by an artist who had lived over a thousand years ago. I have loved Moroccan design ever since and welcomed it into my home and interiors. There is more to design than just what we desire as decorative. Morocco is more than just a style.
Islamic, Persian, and Roman Influences
Religion in most cultures has dictated design for centuries and there is no denying that Islamic art has a spiritual influence. This artistic heritage, seductive as it may appear, has origins in the Islamic religion since the 7th century, and is believed that artisans had borrowed shapes from the Persians and Romans. Designs were created in repetitive formation and used in places of worship to inspire prayers. Stars feature heavily in designs as symbolic shapes. Important as they were used to guide one in the direction of Mecca.
Spending time in Fes and Marrakesh, where the designs adorn every wall, archway, pot, and ashtray, I sense a reluctance to embrace change. Mathematics and geometry play a role that can be relied upon. Designs are passed down through father and son, mother and daughter. It is historic, cultural, and charismatic. However, I question, does it trap the free-spirited artist from letting go? Where are all the artists? I wonder as I traipse up and down the streets in Medina seeking out those with a creative imagination.
What does culture need to define, by never changing the style that embodies it? We are copying designs whilst leaving little room for the free expression that art uses to communicate and say about its people, without it there is suppression. Fortunately, today artists are much bolder about breaking the rules of tradition and understand there is room in society for both traditional and modern.
I turn to French artist Matisse, a revolutionary, a Fauvist who dared to break free but who ventured to Morocco for inspiration. Matisse visited Morocco in 1912. Seeking inspiration or looking for a way to see beyond these rules. So it seems fitting to be writing from the courtyard of a Moroccan Riad, in Fes and inviting an imaginary Matisse to share a coffee with me.
Henri Matisse, the French visual artist, visited Tangiers for seven months between 1912 and 1913, painting 24 pictures and numerous drawings. ‘What did Matisse see here I wonder? When he searched for inspiration.’ I mumble under my breath, “Let us make some small talk before you start pushing my pen.”
“To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage,” said Matisse
But I do have questions; my thoughts reply to him. I wander around the Medina in Fes looking for original art from free thinkers like you. There is a lack of it. How can I be inspired?
“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” - Matisse.
I want to argue that point, “did you not spend two months in Spain studying Moorish art which was bought to the Iberian peninsular in A.D. 711, and did that not inspire you to learn more and travel to Morocco?” - Me.
“I did. I was searching for inspiration.” “You study, you learn, but you guard the original naïveté. It has to be within you, as the desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.” - Matisse.
Ah yes, I could do with a drink, not sure about the lover. That naivete you are born with before the rules are made. Sipping my coffee I realised how much I valued my naivete. There are many projects I would never have embarked on if I had had full knowledge about the subject. As we surge blindly forward into change, some would believe that to be perilous - Me
“You must forget all your theories, all your ideas before the subject. What part of these is really your own will be expressed in your expression of the emotion awakened in you by the subject.” - Matisse.
“We are inclined to do as we are told. See what we are told but how do we feel, as we are told?” You must paint emotion you say, but what happens to the young artist who does not have that freedom? “ - Me.
“A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.” - Matisse
Freedom is then life, and that can spark a revolution. There is so much to discover within ourselves yet to be trapped against change will only leave us to feel suffocated. - Me.
“We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky, or a thought because we too are linked to the entire universe.” - Matisse
That is hard if you have to follow what has always been done before you. We can pretend things will remain the same but what does that do to society? - Me
“...for whether we want to or not, we belong to our time and we share in its opinions, its feelings, even its delusions.” - Matisse
Delusions are not truth. If people want the truth they seek order and security. The safe and orderly lines of what always has been. - Me
“Exactitude is not truth.” Matisse
We shake our hands and I offer a small kiss on his cheek.
‘Let's leave it there,’ I replied finishing my coffee.’ He leaned back in his chair looking up to the blue sky. ‘At least it is not raining’ he smiled. ‘I may just go and paint some Iris'sMatisse visited a large exhibition in Munich featuring Islamic Art, before spending two months in Spain looking at Moorish influences. He arrived in Tangier, Morocco in 1912 and 1913. His painting style became bolder adding undulated colour to his work. During his time in Morocco, he produced 24 pictures and a number of drawings.