New York- and Paris-based artist Jackie Matisse (granddaughter of Henri Matisse) has been making and flying long-tailed, Asian- style kites for decades. Her interest in kites began around 1962, inspired by two events. One was seeing a solitary kite flying in an empty sky over Harlem while she was on her way to La Guardia airport. The second was her purchase of a Thai “serpent” kite she saw displayed in a tiny box in a store window. Advertised to be 22 feet long, to her surprise it actually was, and, as she said, it “flew with unbelievable ease.”
This kite and the image of that lonely kite in Harlem got her to thinking about kites as a means of artistic expression, as a way of sculpting the air and drawing in space with both line and color. Soon she began making kites with tails as long as 35 or 40 feet. She also began adding various colorful abstract designs to their tails and heads. As a young person Jackie Matisse lived in Paris and New York and early on met many artists including the Surrealists as well as Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, and Jean Dubuffet. Her openness to kites certainly shows an artistic sympathy to the Surrealists, who flouted conventions and admired both naïve and children’s art. Like the Surrealists, Dubuffet, who took it upon himself to instruct her about art when she was a young girl in Paris, also had an interest in the art of children and the insane.
And there was Alexander Calder, an artist of whom she was personally very fond, as she was of Joan Miró. Her kites echo Calder’s interest in a sculpture based on movement and change, just as they reflect Miró’s almost naïve, childlike isolation of colorful forms against a simple background.