Vantage Theater Stages World Premiere Of 'The Color Of Light'
Jesse Kornbluth's play looks to the later life of artist Henri Matisse
“A Model for Matisse” (2005)
“Matisse Live” (2014)
Matisse helped revolutionize modern art through his bold use of color and flowing sense of design. Although born in the latter half of the 19th century his impact is still felt today on artists like Yvette Deas.
"The way he handled color is a gift to any painter or anyone who loves color and works with color but also his persistence that no matter what life threw at him that he kept going and he found a way to keep making (art), to remind each of that we don’t have to let life defeat us no matter what our process is, and we can adapt and we as artists we can make things work," Deas said.
The new play "The Color of Light" by Jesse Kornbluth looks to Matisse in his later years and how he continued to push himself to try new things as he worked on designs for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence.
His drive to continually innovate impressed artist Kelvin Ming Young.
"When we saw the play about how Matisse changed the way he worked later in his life, I realized that I was doing the same thing too," Ming Young said. "I was really adapting the way I work to my situation as opposed to letting the situation control my work."
Ming Young started painting on canvas and now works on an iPad producing digital images. Both styles of his work are on display along with Deas’s paintings as part of Radiance: Art Exhibit. The exhibit was designed in conjunction with Vantage Theater’s world premiere production of "The Color of Light."
Director Robert Salerno said it’s all part of a confluence of theater, visual art, gallery space and a diverse group of artists.
"And the aim of this confluence, of all these different people coming [together], is to create beauty. So this is hopefully, a work of art about art," Salerno said.
Vantage Theater prides itself on doing new work and work that has something to say. In this case, the play says something about art and its importance in our culture.
"It addresses the false dichotomy between art and spirituality and religion," Salerno said.
In the play, Kornbluth writes this exchange for Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie.
Matisse: I call upon that which is holy in me and ask that it be revealed in my work.
Sister Jacques-Marie: But your work isn’t religious.
Matisse: All art is religious if the artist is sincere.
"She, over the course of things, approached him about creating a stained glass window for the chapel at her convent," Salerno explained. "So because of his great feelings for her, he not only agreed to make the stained glass window for the chapel but to create a whole new chapel and design every element. This, of course, caused a stir."
And not just because he was an atheist. The play shows that Mother Superior was also appalled by his art. In the play, she states: "This is a jumble of child-like lines, graffiti, horrible, unacceptable!"
But Matisse tries to win her over to his vision for the chapel.
In the play, the artist says, "When you first enter you will see the Tree of Life, the way to heaven. The walls are glazed tile painted white. I will paint them and then glaze them again. They will truly reflect light. It has never been done before."
Matisse’s insistence on pushing boundaries inspired Salerno.
"My favorite phrase is, 'to achieve the impossible you have to attempt the absurd,'" Salerno said. "What I wanted to do was I wanted to immerse the audience in [Matisse's] images and in the end, we have a special scene where the audience actually enters into some of the art."
In order to achieve this, Salerno had to work with museums and the Henri Matisse estate to get permission to use images of the artist’s work. Then he had to find a way to bring those images to vivid life on the walls of the stage so people could appreciate Matisse’s art in all its glory.
"We have a certain wow factor that we want to expose them to in the show because we use his images, Matisse’s images, in the show. So hopefully they will come away with an appreciation of Matisse as an artist and as a man," Salerno said.
And an appreciation for the role art can play in our lives as something beautiful and transcendent.
Matisse asks in the play, "Why does art exist? It’s to make people feel good and happy about themselves and that there’s a reason for living."
"The Color of Light" and Radiance: Art Exhibit are both taking place at Tenth Avenue Arts Center Jan. 11 through Feb. 3. Tickets are $30 and include access to the gallery. In addition to the works by Deas and Ming Young, the exhibit includes art by Pia Stern.