Henri Matisse recognized the expressive potential of printmaking, and over the course of his career, he created a large body of graphic works that both informed and rearticulated themes he explored in other mediums. During the 1930s, the artist started making collages as studies for paintings and sculptures by arranging cut paper into decorative configurations. Bedridden during a prolonged convalescence following a serious operation in 1941, he began to consider further the possibilities that “painting with scissors” offered—an experiment that endured for the last decade of Matisse’s life.
Jazz is one of the fantastical imaginings to hail from this period and the only book both written and illustrated by Matisse. Its twenty vivid stencil prints are based on images realized from various shapes cut out of gouache-painted sheets of paper and are accompanied by poetic notes expressing the artist’s thoughts and opinions. The subjects of these compositions range from circus performers and music halls to Matisse’s travel experiences. The artist once commented that “Jazz is rhythm and meaning,” and the title suggests a connection between the process of making visual art and musical improvisation.