in Features | 08 SEP 16
Featured in
Issue 5

Artists' Artists - Tim Braden

Artists write about a work of art that has influenced them

in Features | 08 SEP 16

Henri Matisse, Les Poisson Rouges (Goldfish), 1912

Henri Matisse, Les Poisson Rouges (Goldfish),1912, oil on canvas, 1.4×1 m. Courtesy: Pushkin Museum of Art, Moscow

I could look at this painting for hours. It shouldn’t work. Amateur artists are told not to place the subject dead in the centre. The glass fishbowl, with its refracted surfaces and looping planes, gives you all the depth you need to read the space, but it should be falling off the table — is that why the curious, cartoon-like goldfish looks so concerned? Yet, that tilt gives the painting the dynamism it needs and somehow it all comes together.

Matisse had great powers of observation and he always got the balance right, but he also knew when to abandon reality in favour of a stronger image. The floating green discs of the flowers at the top left become a wallpaper, giving more depth if you need it. What’s going on with the plants at the top right? Are they growing out of the floor? Does it matter? Matisse decides to put a big green leaf there, where a flower pot might be, to mirror the leaf on the other side of the bowl. The painting has all the symmetry of a Persian rug.

As so often with Matisse, a painter most famous for his sense of colour, it is his use of black that brings everything under control. I remember an art teacher telling me to look at how he uses black, and she was right. Black anchors all the elements and, here, it skews the composition off to the right and breaks the symmetry. If you took away the mass of black, the painting would have the soft pastel
dreaminess of a Pierre Bonnard (no bad thing!).

Tim Braden is an artist based in London, UK. Earlier this year, he had a solo show at Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, USA; he had a solo show with Bruce Haines Mayfair, London, in 2015.