“It is not a matter of indifference that a great painter should have worked in some particular place; and above all this is true of Matisse. . . . Matisse’s windows open on to Nice. In his pictures, I mean. Those marvelous open windows, behind which the sky is as blue as Matisse’s eyes behind his spectacles. Here is a dialogue between mirrors. Nice looks at her painter and is imaged in his eyes.”[i]
These are the words of the poet and long time friend of Henri Matisse, Louis Aragon. Matisse and Aragon spoke with each other often over their lifetimes and especially during the time period that Aragon spent constructing his novel on this artist.
Over the years I have read and searched the photographs in this two volume Aragon book, Matisse: A Novel. It includes so many paintings and drawings, as well as much of the correspondence between the poet and painter. While going through these images, especially the ones completed in the city of Nice, I remembered a collection of work by Alice Friman from here in Indianapolis.
I have known of Alice Friman and her work for many years. I asked her about her poem “Matisse’s Windows” and what followed was a new conversation between this poet and painter, related to the paintings of Henri Matisse. She had been telling me about a certain set of them that she had seen several years ago included in the “Matisse Retrospective” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and I still had my copy of the catalogue from that exhibition, so I knew exactly what she had been talking about.
“I don’t know really what attracts me to certain paintings. I only know it happens. You are an artist so of course you would think of ‘light’ or ‘color’ but I would say I’m looking at subject matter, and the feeling I get from what’s going on in there inside that frame…a sort of poem–loneliness, sadness, anger, mystery. Does that make any sense? The painter isn’t, can’t be divorced from his/her subject matter, surely. Matisse’s feelings are all over his paintings. Yes?”[ii]
“Fishing trawlers two hundred yards out
slosh next to roses in the wallpaper
where a smudge equals the spray
and slap of flounder
as if there were no wall, no dividing brick
between that woman playing solitaire at her table
and boats and bathers in their white caps
“At night, what fits the hand—cards,
pear, or china cat—abandoned.
It’s the window your eyes come back to
where a garden rises blue Jurassic,
and trees, blue as veins
yanked out by the souls at Acheron,
fidget for you beyond the glass.”
“Only in Nice did he pull the drapes,
drape the parrot cage. Here at last,
the dream of his middle age. Let Pablo get lost
in a jungle of geometry. Here is nothing
but circles: breasts and turbans
and kohl-lined eyes,
lounging in an overstuffed room
so hot you could kiss the moisture
off an upper lip. A male wish. An eleventh hour
wound so bright it reels to look. No night, no day.
No door. Just the woman, waiting.
Her eyes looking out, never wanting to leave.
Her only window—
the man standing in front of her with a brush.”[iii]
[i] Aragon, Louis; Henri Matisse a novel; A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; New York, New York; 1971; vol. 1, p. 119.
[ii] Friman, Alice; (From a statement in an e-mail to this author); 9 June 2021, 12:03 PM.
[iii] Friman, Alice; Zoo; The University of Arkansas Press; Fayetteville, Arkansas; 1999; p. 69.