Ekphrasis: The Red Studio (by Matisse)


Matisse: “The Red Studio”

W. D. Snodgrass

There is no one here.
But the objects: they are real. It is not
As if he had stepped out or moved away;
There is no other room and no
Returning. Your foot or finger would pass
Through, as into unreflecting water
Red with clay, or into fire.
Still, the objects: they are real. It is
As if he had stood
Still in the bare center of this floor,
His mind turned in in concentrated fury,
Till he sank
Like a great beast sinking into sands
Slowly, and did not look up.
His own room drank him.
What else could generate this
Terra cotta raging through the floor and walls,
Through chests, chairs, the table and the clock,
Till all environments of living are
Transformed to energy–
Crude, definitive and gay.
And so gave birth to objects that are real.
How slowly they took shape, his children, here, Grew solid and remain:
The crayons; these statues; the clear brandybowl;
The ashtray where a girl sleeps, curling among flowers;
This flask of tall glass, green, where a vine begins
Whose bines circle the other girl brown as a cypress knee.
Then, pictures, emerging on the walls:
Bathers; a landscape; a still life with a vase;
To the left, a golden blonde, lain in magentas with flowers scattering like stars;
Opposite, top right, these terra cotta women, living, in their world of living’s colors;
Between, but yearning toward them, the sailor on his red cafe chair, dark blue, self-absorbed.
These stay, exact,
Within the belly of these walls that burn,
That must hum like the domed electric web
Within which, at the carnival, small cars bump and turn,
Toward which, for strength, they reach their iron hands:
Like the heavens’ walls of flame that the old magi could see;
Or those ethereal clouds of energy
From which all constellations form,
Within whose love they turn.
They stand here real and ultimate.
But there is no one here.


~ by irwin on November 16, 2009.

3 Responses to “Ekphrasis: The Red Studio (by Matisse)”

  1. Not a fan of Matisse in general, but was inexplicably drawn to this when I saw it in New York. Mayhaps it was the bright red colours which contrasted with everything else in the exhibition hall. Just had the feeling that everything in the studio was the dearest items to the painter. Not too sure if you feel it too.

  2. Yes, the way the items are placed in the painting reminds me a little of how I place my books in my bedroom! =) And why was I first drawn to the painting? Must be the rednesss! =P

  3. But I especially like the haunting line that is at the start and end of the poem: There is no one here.

    The strange emptiness of a resplendent setting in this painting somehow also reminds me of the time I went to Tibet and visited the Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama used to reside before his flight to exile. Wonderful architecture, but when I went into room after room, there was such an overwhelming sense of an unusual and unnatural lacuna in the whole place. There is no one here.

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