I spy, with my little eye

Kenneth Stubbs, Sunbathers. 1962

Kenneth Stubbs, Sunbathers. 1962

Lets keep exploring the diverse use of pattern by artists this week.  Matisse used power of pattern to echo and repeat, giving motion, harmony and vibrance to his compositions. Here, Stubbs uses pattern as actual building blocks for the bodies themselves. This is no “Where’s Waldo” people, but still lots of fun.

The flat colored shapes contruct the forms of the legs, arms and faces, but also merge and flow together as your eye runs over the painting. A kaleidoscopic whirl of pinwheels and curves. The golden sand, a large anchor for the smaller patterns that comprise the bathers. The blue columns marching behind the forms also lend a strong vertical backdrop for the patterns to play.

I like that each body is created from many colors, like a totem. Which belies a deeper wisdom. We aren’t monolithic at all; we are comprised of various personalities and emotions that join in a patterned dance to make a multifaceted “one.”

I see a clear, almost academic, sense of proportion (Stubbs loved the Golden Ratio) and a strong cubist bent using color to define form and perspective. Can you find the sleeping mother and baby? A menage-a-trios with men in curvy beards? How about the squirrely the children at the right of the painting? A boy in aqua trunks ready to make a break for waves, and a tow headed girl wrangling what might possibly be.  . .  is that a monkey?

Invitation only

Taking center stage today is Matisse, that glorious virtuoso, giving it up for these talented ladies. The fun of this painting is the way Matisse uses pattern and color to “play” off of one another, creating an energetic, inviting composition.  He visually mimics the beat of music with rhythmic patterns that echo and repeat throughout the painting.  So lets turn up the volume- hey!

The first rhythm I notice is the series of palm leaves swaying behind the women. If you let your eye follow each tendriled finger, up and down, and up and down each leaf. . . you will start to fall into a lilting beat. Next, notice the dancing reds. The staccato saw tooth pattern of the couch’s red throw echos the triangular trim of the purple pants.  The yellow squares of the rug steady the background, thumping out a deep base line.

Watch the melody played with the curves of the women’s bodies. Look at the yellow woman– the curves of her shoulders, her knees, her hands. Follow those curves to the right to the purple lady’s bottom, knees and feet. A punctuation of circles of breast, of guitar and apple. Repeat.

The green of leaves refrains down through the furniture of the couch and table. Yellow dress plays yellow guitar plays pants pattern.  And my favorite, the “XOXO” pattern in the black ottoman. The colors play like notes and the patterns play like rhythm.

Despite their masculine solidity, these women are entirely feminine and welcoming, at ease against a background of high-octane abstraction. Despite the static heft of the figures, an energy vibrates. Relaxed and happy, you really hope they’ll invite you to stay.. .and listen to some real music.