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Posts tagged amy worthen
Notes! Amy Worthen on Henri Matisse's Jazz

by Rachel Buse on May 29, 2014


Look what Amy Worthen found: the French publication VERVE, issue #1, cutting edge in 1937, with a cover by Matisse. She brought it out for her presentation on the Matisse series “Jazz,” paper cut-outs, shown in full for the first time in 8 years — at Des Moines Art Center. (Source: John Domini)

-First cutouts were used for mock-ups of set designs. Also did them for many book covers.

-Associated with the Fauve movement, French for “the wild beasts”

-Jazz was assembled in 1947, near the end of Matisse’s 40 year long career

-A collaboration between artist, publisher and printer. Also, the collector, museum and viewer.

-Matisse would cut from paper that had been first, covered in flat washes of gauche. “flat, unadulterated color” Let the paint dry, then cut.

-At the end of his life, Matisse was ill and would draw from bed with charcoal attached to the end of a long stick.

-Is the series joyousness in a vaccum, or was it responding to and referencing the time? (How was it seen in it’s time?)

-Post WW2, a dark time in history


Icarus, Plate VIII (Source)

-10. Icarus – The story goes that he had wax wings and should not fly too close to the sun. He did and they melted. He fell into the sea and drowned. His heart in represented as a red dot.

-19 – 21. The Lagoon – In response to a trip, depicting paradise. Abstracted landscape depicted foliage and water.

-Circus motif metaphor of the artist as acrobat, swimmer. The artist is risky, defying gravity. 

-No music motifs. Why Jazz?

-The printing process is called Pochoir, which mean brushing ink through a metal/plastic stencil. The stencil makers are called, “découpeur”. The printers called, “coloriste”. This process allows for the prints to be made with gauche, preserving the original intense color of the cut-outs

-The prints used from 3-9 different colors

“Cutting directly into color reminds me of a sculptor’s carving into stone.”

– Matisse

-Try it! Spontaneously cut some shapes. Cut straight, turn. You get the shape you cut, and the leftover shape too. Henry used both the initial shape and the leftover shape.


John Domini holding his cut shape. (Source: Rachel Buse)

-Correspondence exists documenting multiple requests to get Jazz for the permanent collection at the Des Moines Art Center. It was so rare, many nos, one gallery offered reproductions. In 1985, the 20th of the original 100 pressings was donated to the permanent collection be Mr and Mrs. E.T. Meredith III

-After the first 100, 250 more were printed with writing from Matisse beside/within the series. Preference for collectors in the original 100, hung flat. 

-Three types of compositions throughout: half, full, duality. Compositions consider the ability to be bound as a book.


Portfolio designed to store the prints. (Source: Rachel Buse)

-The portfolio cover is brush-drawn lettering by Matisse

-prints on view in the print gallery until September 21, 2014

-Construction of the Des Moines Art Center (1948) corresponds with the creation of the prints (1947). “The prints are at home here.” The space is a contemporary of the prints. 

Rachel Buse makes sculpture.  WEBSITE

What made abstract expressionism go soft?

Hornet’s Nest:  Abstract Expressionism on Paper, Des Moines Art Center

Gallery Talk by Amy N. Worthen, Curator of Prints and Drawings (Gallery Guide)

Exhibition closing September 23, 2012


Lee Krasner American, 1908–1984 Black and White Collage, 1953 collage and oil on paper 30 x 22 ½ in. (76.2 x 57.2 cm.)

Review from guest contributor Heath Lee 

September 13, 2012

Des Moines Art Center’s renowned Curator of Prints and Drawings, Amy N. Worthen writes eloquently in her gallery guide about the inspiration for the title of her recent Print Gallery exhibit, Hornet’s Nest:  Abstract Expressionism on Paper:

“Hornets-buzzing and dangerous insects-chew wood, mix it with saliva, and excrete a paper-like substance that they use to make their nests.  The exhibition’s title…suggests the stinging combination that resulted when Modernist Abstraction and Expressionism collided in the mid-twentieth century to produce Abstract-Expressionism as well as the works on paper that these artists created.”

On September 6, at 6:30 p.m., Worthen spoke to a packed and enthusiastic house of gallery-goers about the works in Hornet’s Nest, the rise of Abstract-Expressionism in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and how this movement coincided almost exactly with the founding of the Art Center in 1948

The exhibit was created to celebrate the visit of Jackson Pollock’s famous Mural from 1943, on loan to the Art Center this past April 5-July 15 from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.   The works selected for the Print Gallery were all created between 1939 and 1970 and represent iconic Ab-Ex artists such as Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, Jean Dubuffet, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell. 


Jackson Pollock American, 1912–1956 Untitled (p19), 1944–45 (printed in 1967) Drypoint and engraving on paper 15 ½ x 22 ¾ in. (39.4 x 57.8 cm.)

The Art Center recently acquired a Jackson Pollock drypoint engraving on paper Untitled that is featured in the show.  This very rare print is from a posthumous edition of fifty, printed in 1967.  The work, notes Worthen, is “very spontaneous, about gesture and moving towards the abstract.”

Pollock’s work contrasts splendidly with his wife Lee Krasner’s piece entitled Black and White Collage from 1953.  Krasner literally used scraps from her husband’s discarded and ripped up works to produce her own art.  The Pollock work and the Krasner work are the “centerpieces of the show” in Worthen’s estimation. 


Henri Matisse French, 1869–1954 Le Lagon (The Lagoon), plate xViii from the portfolio “Jazz”, 1947 screenprint (pochoir) on paper 16 3/8 x 25 ½ in. (41.6 x 64.8 cm.)

Along with works by stars of the Ab-Ex movement, are works by artists from earlier periods, such as Matisse.  The French artist has three joyful “cut-outs” from his Jazz portfolio in the show.  Worthen explains:  “Matisse made his cut-outs here with scissors.  Their biomorphic shapes allude to natural forms, but they become more and more abstract.”  Incidentally, Lee Krasner was extremely influenced by Matisse in her own collage work, having seen a cut paper collage exhibit of Matisse works in 1949. 


Harry Callahan American, 1912–1999 Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night, Chicago, 1946 (printed 1980–1981) Dye transfer print 9 1/8 x 13 9/16 in. (23.2 x 34.4 cm.)

If you have never seen Abstract-Expressionism photography, don’t miss the two dye transfer prints by American artist Harry Callahan both entitled Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night, Chicago, 1946.  Worthen describes his work as “liquid calligraphic light on film.” 

During the talk, Worthen explained that cool and more impersonal 1960’s Pop Art eventually came along and quenched some of the fire and heat of the Ab-Ex movement.  This is perhaps best illustrated by Paul Hachten’s print, Parasubin (1970) which seems to cage up the energy of Ab-Ex art with its orderly grids

Parasubin’s colors are opalescent and unnatural.  Worthen pointed to this piece as an example of the “last gasp” of Ab-Ex style and an example of the inevitable overlap between art movements.  This work perfectly illustrates Worthen’s point that by 1970, “Abstract Expressionism, now subdued and tamed, has lost its sting.”  


Heath comes from a museum education, historic preservation, and writing background.  She started her museum career at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Program and Education Director.  Heath has since worked as a consultant for significant southern historical museums such as Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, and Menokin Plantation, home to Francis Lightfoot Lee.  She has written for numerous magazines, newspapers and blogs. Heath is currently under contract for her first book, Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause, abiography of Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis, daughter of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis.  Heath holds a B.A. in History from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa and loves being a docent at the Des Moines Art Center.  Her favorite pastime is exploring all the super cool art museums and galleries across the Midwest.