Illustration Teardowns: Matisse Erwhere

A look at the ubiquitous influence of Matisse on today’s world of illustration

Author’s homage to Henri Matisse—Underwater Soul Diva—by Rob Levin. I purposely sprinkled this with several subtle Matisse elements. How many can you find? 😝

In the spirit of UX Teardowns, I’ll be looking at illustrators that catch my eye, and try to analyze what makes their work so compelling. Please note that all illustrations hereinafter (besides the one above), are the express work of the artist I’m reviewing; I do not take any credit for their works! Also, I will try to be careful to post links back to the artist’s site — so if you click their image it will link through.


Look in any book of children’s art projects, and your sure to find a version of a Matisse Cut Out project—and for good reason—this artist’s significant influence on our culture is impressive. In this article, we’ll look at some modern illustration out in the wild, that is influenced by Matisse. Especially his cut outs works.

Please note that the provided illustrations are chosen because of my observations/opinions that it has some influence from Matisse. I have not contacted any of the artists to verify that their work was, in fact, inspired by Matisse so please take that in to account. This post is simply meant to point out the importance of a historical art giant on our current world of illustration. After all, there’s nothing truly new:

Those designs take me back to the 1950s-there really is nothing new under the sun. This world-weary view was already expressed in 1382 in the Bible translation attributed to John Wycliffe’s followers: “No thing under the sun is new” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Ok, with that disclaimer out of the way, onwards!

Shopify

Shopify recently added several illustrations for their Empty States, and Meg Robichaud (aka megdraws) wrote a great article about it here.

Shopify’s new empty states illustrations. The foliage elements in particular seem inspired by Matisse’s cut outs

One of their very talented illustrators, Holly Schofield, features this beautiful dribbble shot which looks to be Matisse inspired:

illustration by Holly Schofield for Shopify—I also love the clever use of negative space for the swimmer’s bathing suit.

Anna Kövecses

Anna Kövecses, is a Hungarian born graphic designer, illustrator, painter, and photographer. Her works are colorful and minimal, preserving a child-like joyfulness. It’s Nice That describes the work as:

organic cut out-like shapes of objects and figures…minimal and friendly
Anna Kövecses uses bold colors with a sort of digital paper cutout feel to them evoking a sense of charm and childhood joy
Another cutout/collaged looking illustration by Anna Kövecses

Sandra Blikås

Her work has been described to include “imaginative swirling compositions”, Sandra Blikas use bold and vibrant colors with a digital cut-out feel to them.

Some of the S-curves in the lines and shapes that Sandra Blikås uses have a very Matisse-like feel to them. Her bold use of color transmits this as well.

ZEBU

ZEBU is an illustration & art duo from Berlin that utilize screen-printing, drawing and mural painting in their works…

Zebu–an illustration & art duo from Berlin uses screen-printing, drawing and mural painting to compose their pieces. Again, there’s a definite Matisse vibe in the rounded foliage, bold colors, and simple flat shapes.

Ayumi Takahashi

Born in China and a graduate of the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, Ayumi Takahashi paints, draws, and does digital and textile design.

Ayumi Takahashi’s lively & colourful imagery evokes a sense of play & movement, with elements often overlaying atop each other creating a paper collage feel.

Aaron Douglas

So I respectfully include Aaron Douglas as he was both a contemporary of Matisse, and is another example of an artist with a great deal of influence on today’s world of illustration. Although I find his themes, composition, colors, and tone, quite different then Matisse, the foliage elements, specifically, have a similar playful and simplified feel to them. They do have the overlap of having done important works for the theme of Jazz…ain’t got that thing if it ain’t got that swing (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!).

Aaron Douglas was younger then Matisse, but, the cut out work Matisse did was towards his later years (1940s and 1950s) and the Harlem Renaissance was much before that—so, I have no idea just who influenced who if at all.

Aaron Douglas—if you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve seen these foliage shapes show up in many influenced modern illustrations of today. His layering and use of color is just out of this world.
Aaron Douglas—again, we see familiar background elements in this powerful work.

Obviously, there are many other artists that have had huge influence on illustration today. Please do mention in the comments if you have suggestions for artists who have had a huge impact on today’s illustration.

Previous in series Figures Included. Next in series Junghyeon Kwon. Also, you may like one of my other illustration teardowns.

Rob Levin does technical things by day and illustration by night. You can view his work at https://www.instagram.com/roblevintennis and https://www.behance.net/roblevin