Off Canvas: Drawing (Exhibition)

Looking for your latest fix of drawing inspiration and live in (or nearby) New York? Then hurry to Aquavella Galleries on the Upper East Side and enjoy their current exhibition, “Off Canvas: Drawing,” running through mid-June.

 Celebrating the tangible presence of the artist’s hand, this exhibition showcases some of the biggest figures in modern art, from Salvador Dali to Robert Rauschenberg, while also exploring the potential of the drawn image in a range of media. Within this curated collection they offer a fantastic selection of charcoal works. Some are more finished, while others, such as French artist Henri Matisse’s Vase de Lierre, or Vase with Ivy (c. 1915, Charcoal on Paper, 22 x 13 3/4 in, Aquavella Galleries, New York), embody impulsivity.

Henri Matisse was one of the key contributors to twentieth-century modernism. He is perhaps best known for his association with the Fauves, a loose-knit association of French painters who played with colour and pattern in their works to reinforce the painterly, expressive aspects of their art. Matisse capitalized on this approach, experimenting consistently with the vibrancy of his palette and the instinctive articulation of his brushstrokes.

Accordingly, many of his compositions, such as the famous Woman with a Hat (1905), become as much a passionate celebration of colour as they are a rendering of form. He did not limit this energy and intensity, however, to his painted works. Active as a drawer and print-maker in addition to being a painter, Matisse steeped his entire body of work with this expressiveness, as can be seen in this charcoal work from the exhibition.

This piece, which was perhaps done in preparation for a larger oil composition (La Branch de Lierre, or Sculpture and Vase with Ivy), gives us a remarkable sense of the movement of Matisse’s hand as he contemplates his composition. Matisse’s painterly works are known by their vibrant planes of colour, and here we see Matisse experimenting with a similar effect with the illusion of dimension through the incorporation of shadow. The result is a work that foreshadows the intensity of Matisse’s painting.

Matisse’s charcoal adds to the watercolour, gouache, pencil and ink works in the show, which combine to offer the viewer a tantalizing taste of the inner workings of the artist in the most traditional medias.

Time is running out to take in this exceptional opportunity (the show closes June 12th!), so put it on your calendar now! For those of you who cannot get to New York, don’t fret: you can still enjoy this marvelous collection by purchasing the gallery’s accompanying full colour catalogue (contact Aquavella directly for purchase details) or by taking a look at their exhibition highlights on their website.

Have you seen the exhibition? Tell us about your experiences below. Also, what do you think of Matisse’s charcoal work? Think about the challenge of conveying the dynamics of a full-color palette within the range of charcoal shading – how would you tackle it?

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