By Carol Antman for The Island Connection
In 1941, sick and confined to bed, unable to stand at an easel and paint, it seemed Henri Matisse’s artistic life was over. Critics had labeled him the “wild beast” for his startlingly bold colors. Now he was a broken man But Matisse was not bowed. He began each day with poetry which he compared to oxygen, “just as when you leap out of bed you fill your lungs with fresh air.” From his bed he began “painting with scissors”, cutting out huge color-saturated shapes and arranging them with the help of his assistants and grandchildren until they filled his room. “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed…I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”He continued to create for 13 more years, pushing his art further than ever. He called it his “grace period”.
He even attached a piece of chalk to a long pole and drew the faces of his grandchildren on the ceiling so he could look up at them while he went to sleep.“I am deeply contented, happy,” he said.
Christopher Lawing, Vice President for Programming and Research for the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, enthusiastically recounted this inspiring story as we toured the light-filled galleries where 80 framed prints of these collages are on display through September 7 as part of the exhibition The Art Books of Henri Matisse.
Jazz is the most famous with its imagery drawn from the circus and music halls. It’s considered one of the greatest illustrated books of the 20th century. Christopher pointed out Matisse’s masterful use of positive and negative space, how he “riffed on philodendron” and his preoccupation with color and light that fueled his intense joie de vivre. Mario Botta, the museum’s architect also “curated light” in the diminutive building where soaring windows frame skyscrapers.
Christopher explained that critics responded with shock, amazement and occasional laughter to Matisse’s work, but “we need artists to shock and awe to move us forward.”We speculated together on which contemporary artists were moving us forward now. I left inspired, full of new ideas.
The exhibit was a perfect introduction to Charlotte, a big city full of the vitality and creative energy, where history combines with modernity. The Dunhill Hotel is a stellar example. Built in 1929, the ten-story hotel has been fully restored. The independent hotel is an Historic Inn of America. Its refined architecture with neoclassical embellishments adds character to Charlotte’s modern big-city shape. But it is decidedly a 21st century luxury hotel with all the modern conveniences in its 60 well-appointed guest rooms. As downtown Charlotte pulses and hums around it, the Dunhill is a quiet, elegant oasis right in its center. We parked our car upon arrival and never needed it again.
Within walking distance are many attractions: the Mint Museum, the McColl Center for Art, Discovery Place, the Blumenthal Performing Arts center, the Bank of America Stadium, the Time Warner Arena, Spirit Square, the Levine Museum and others. The Dunhill offers a package with the Bechtler with discounts and amenities.
In 2014 the hotel challenged Chris Coleman to come aboard and create a fresh, new Southern concept that would put its restaurant The Asbury on the A list for discerning culinary travelers.
A devout locavore, Chris sources from about 40 local farmers, fishermen and food artisans. His inspirations are the bounty of the region, his grandmother and his sense of humor.“I like to mix it up a little.” He tops deviled eggs with cheeky fried cornichon, he decorates plates with colorful nasturtiums and serves a cast iron skillet of Maw Maw’s biscuits with sass-worthy Bacon-Onion. “When the world seems crazy and nothing much seems to make sense anymore, turn to Bacon Jam. It makes comfort foods comfortable… Watch your cares magically melt away.”
Creative sparks were also flying up the street at 5 Church where the hostess Mercury Arteaga explained, “I love this restaurant; It’s more of a museum.”The entire book Art of War was inscribed on the ceiling! Sea-creature-inspired light fixtures, undulating sculptures and ironic murals gave the space a funky, lively vibe as a young crowd toasted brunch with mimosas and ate sunny-side egg pizzas. Word on the street is that this restaurant is opening on Market Street in Charleston. Outside the windows teams of crazily speeding bicyclists were racing a course through cordoned off streets. The big city buzz was electrifying.
I’ll return to Charlotte again, perhaps for a girlfriends’ get-away, NASCAR, a Panthers or Hornets game, concerts or culture. A few days in a big city of skyscrapers and vitality is like a Red Bull for the mind and Charlotte is only 3 ½ hours away. In a cab after a long night out that included Margaret Cho at the Comedy Zone followed by late night blues at the Double Door, we were happily satiated by our big-city experience.