Matisse Revisited

I have loved Matisse forever. I considered naming my daughter Camille, well…you get it. I’m happy with Camille and so is she. But I first saw Matisse’s Jazz (cut-outs which are pretty simple but amazing) at the old SFMOMA with a group of high school students I had brought there for a retreat. We had stayed at the Youth Hostel in the Marin Headlands for like $5 a night – then I took them to the museum. At night we studied the Gospel of Mark in an open exploration, then walked the beaches.


This picture here is a favorite. I took it (1988) of the entourage upside-down in the little SFMOMA elevator which had Art Deco lighting. It really captured the various personalities of the students on that trip well in an unguarded moment. Shooting upside-down can do that.

My next reintroduction to Matisse was really through my teacher, J. Rod Larson-Swenson. He had adopted so much of Matisse’s coloration and not a few of his subjects (including the fishbowl..,or was that Diebenkorn..see now I do not know!) I am forever indebted to Rod for so many things. I think one of the best things was his utterly unpretentious approach to art and his unselfishness in it. It is why I often give mine away or look for inexpensive ways of doing iot because for people to have and own original art is incarnational!  It is the opposite of consumer art and a protest against bad art and all that commodifies it. It also debunks elitism. If I can do a masterpiece (which may cost me $400) and sell it for under a grnad – that is a success. If I can do a Kanji that is truly beautiful and meaningful – in a frame – and give it to someone who has no art – costing me less than a dollar – I am wealthy.  Rod taught me so much of that – and modeled it for me. 

J. Rod Swenson with black bean dip in my house in Land Park. circa 1992.

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