Praise for Chasing Matisse
From the Critics
“Following his dream to live in France, how simply fabulous for James Morgan. Maybe the Chasing Matisse author could join Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes and all those other happy expatriates on the travel shelf. But wait. There's another message in the best of these books….”
--Los Angeles Times
“From the pen of a less appealing writer, such a quest could easily have fallen into the worst sort of clichés. But Morgan avoids the traps, giving us a narrative of his discovery of France that is fresh, genuine and immediate.”
--The Washington Post
“This is a lovely memoir, travelogue and art history text combined….”
“An engaging tale of the middle-aged author's adventures….”
--AARP The Magazine
“Morgan's book offers an even more important lesson, perhaps: It is never too late to chase your dream….”
--The Tampa Tribune
“It is a fine, crackling narrative that succeeds as travelogue. But it is also a reflection on the nature of art and the creative process. Most of all, it is the diary of a couple late in middle age who, having lived with one foot in the world of art and the other in conventional suburban America, take the full, reckless, Matisse-like plunge into the creative life.”
--The Northside (Jackson, MS) Sun
“Morgan's record of learning to draw and paint in Matisse's shadow is imbued with good humor and intelligence….”
“CHASING MATISSE enlightens us with its fresh perspective on art and love, creativity and adventure as it makes all of our dreams seem just a little more possible.”
"Chasing Matisse is…infused with dry wit and sharp insights into the nature of art….”
“Chasing Matisse is at once a mini-memoir, travel guide and biography with a glimpse of the creative mind at work--Matisse's and Morgan's. Pour that pastis!”
--The Paris Insider
“…sparkling and witty travelogue/biography/memoir by a two-time "New York Times" notable book author….”
--Italian Touring Club
“Chasing Matisse isn’t really just another midlife crisis travelogue or smug, self-congratulatory send up of living among the natives. It is, instead, a rather sweetly sincere exploration of art as seen through the eyes of a particular artist, and the ways that lives can be lifted off of their designated paths and transported and transfigured into something else entirely.”
--Lotus Martinis (AOL Hall of Fame blog)
“Master wordsmith…Morgan takes you on his journey both through France and the life Matisse once lived….”
--Adrian Leeds, Parler Paris
From the Readers
“Oh the places you will go as you read James Morgan's fine book, Chasing Matisse….”
--Teresa Murphy, Fairfax, VA
“[Chasing Matisse] feeds the delicious little "what-ifs" in our own lives, the little itches that ask if someday we too might….”
--Sandra Barnett, Batesville, AR
“Not only have I learned new things about France and Matisse and painting, but I have a new appreciation for the wonderful opportunities that keep appearing no matter what our age.”
--Judy Gardner, Washington State
“This book is a must for all Francophiles and artistes! I loved it!”
--Sally Wissel, Atlanta, GA
“This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves art, color, travel, and France…. The vividness of the imagery and color James Morgan succeeds in conveying through words on paper is simply stunning.”
--Audra Wassom, Washington, DC
“A must-read for anyone who contemplates midlife….”
--Jerry Atchley, Little Rock, AR
“All of the critics’ reviews are right on target—this book is not travel, not memoir, not one lucky guy's adventures in France. It's much more, as the author exposes all his dreams, fears, and desires to be able to work with his art, make a life with meaning, and [it’s]told in a beautifully honest voice.”
--Helen Gallagher, Chicago, IL
Chasing Matisse Complete News & Reviews
U.S. Author Finds Key to Creativity in Matisse
By Joelle Diderich
The China Daily (Hong Kong)
PARIS (Reuters) - American writers James Morgan and Beth Arnold had spent 13 years creating the perfect home in Little Rock, Arkansas, when they decided to pack their belongings and hit the road.
Putting their beloved house on the market and their antiques into storage, the married couple set off for France to see the world with fresh eyes, picking as their guide an artist who had been dead for almost 50 years -- Henri Matisse.
In "Chasing Matisse - A Year in France Living My Dream," Morgan chronicles their travels in the footsteps of the French painter who founded the Fauvist art movement 100 years ago, and with it invented a new language of primitive color.
"What appealed to me about Matisse way beyond his pictures was his struggle, his single-minded devotion to being the artist that he wanted to be, that he knew he could be," Morgan, 61, told Reuters in an interview at his ornate Paris apartment.
"He had somehow this strength to believe in himself and to keep going," the Mississippi-born author said.
The book, published in the United States this month, is part travelogue and part biography, taking the reader from the bleak pasture lands of Matisse's native Picardy to the sun-drenched island of Corsica where he discovered light.
Like Peter Mayle's books on Provence, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, "Chasing Matisse" is sure to appeal to anyone who has dreamed of escaping their daily routine for a romantic adventure.
Infused with dry wit and sharp insights into the nature of art, it features a host of colorful characters and alluring destinations. It also paints a portrait of Matisse that goes beyond the decorative interiors for which he is best known.
LEARNING TO SEE
"A lot of people just think it's pretty pictures, but he was a tormented man, like most artists in some way. He had his devils and his demons," said Morgan, whose pen and ink sketches are featured in the book.
As articles editor at Playboy magazine in the 1980s, Morgan had worked with literary legends including Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.
After becoming a full-time author himself in 1989, he wrote several critically acclaimed books and collaborated with Virginia Kelley, mother of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, on her best-selling autobiography "Leading with My Heart."
His wife was producing her own articles, screenplays and novels, but after more than a decade living and working together, they had both run out of creative steam.
That's when Morgan remembered a line from a former art teacher -- to be an artist, you have to train yourself to see.
"As we started talking about what to do, that sort of resonated in a way and in fact made us think that maybe we didn't really have our eyes open. We had sort of gotten into habits of seeing," he said.
"Lots of people get up every day and they already know what their day is going to be, they see what they expect to see."
As the idea gathered steam, Arnold launched a Web site (www.chasingmatisse.com) to track their journey, taking on the roles of diary writer, photographer, travel agent, secretary and research assistant.
"I ended up with a lot more jobs than I had expected to have. In fact, I always say that I worked harder than Jim did!" said the 50-year-old, whose bold red bob contrasts with Morgan's white hair and beard.
"WHAT HAVE WE DONE?"
Plenty of people thought they were crazy to get rid of their historic home, which had been featured in several interior design magazines. The couple also had pangs of doubt.
"I would wake up sometime in the middle of the night in France and think: 'My God, what have we done?"' said Morgan.
"You know, it's one thing to sit in Little Rock on our porch and say: 'Oh, we're going to follow Matisse's footsteps!'
"Well, OK, we've got to carry everything we own, we're suddenly nomads, we don't speak the language, the money is a problem, our daughters are feeling that we've sold their house out from under them and we've abandoned them, our animals -- what about our poor pets?"
If the logistics were daunting, driving around the French countryside was also a blissful escape from the outside world. Reality made a brutal intrusion when news came that Arnold's mother had died, prompting the couple to interrupt their trip.
"That was really awful. I had to go to Arkansas and close down our family house," she said. "Within a year, my two homes in the world were shut down and that was really difficult."
Despite the setbacks and the huge financial cost of the trip, the couple have no regrets. In fact, they love France so much that they have decided to stay.
"In the end, it is about reinventing ourselves and our lives and learning to see in a new way. It's like waves that keep coming to shore. I mean, you don't see everything immediately," said Arnold.
"The messages come to the surface over time, so I feel that I am really just now getting some of the stuff that the trip laid the groundwork for.
By Susan Salter Reynolds
Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Isn't it fabulous, one sneers, trapped in the ides of March, rabbit-eyed before tax season. Following his dream to live in France, how simply fabulous for James Morgan. Maybe the "Chasing Matisse" author could join Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes and all those other happy expatriates on the travel shelf. But wait. There's another message in the best of these books: Check the path you're on. Check it frequently. Measure it against your dreams. Factor in the risk of not following your dreams the way you might any financial risk.
"The creative life is a wonderful life, which is why it pays so poorly," writes Morgan, who, at age 45, with a new wife and two daughters at college, decided to sell the family home in Little Rock, Ark., and follow the trail of his favorite painter. "Coming of age in middle age," he calls it, and the whole process, uprooting relationships and shedding possessions, takes a level of courage that many other books in this genre gloss over. Morgan and his wife travel to Matisse's native Picardy region, to Collioure at the foot of the Pyrenees, to Nice and Vence, and to Morocco.
From the gray December skies of northern France to the brilliant sunsets of the French Riviera, Morgan is clearly refreshed and inspired by the colors Matisse made famous: "I dreamed that night of a marvelous green," he writes from Morocco. "The sky was green, the sea was green, the mystery of life was tinted a deep and disturbing shade of sea foam."
Seeing Without Distortion
By Judith Warner
The Washington Post
May 15, 2005
James Morgan's passage through France, chronicled in Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream (Free Press, $25), is a very different kind of journey. Risking all, chased by debt and a dwindling bank account, Morgan sold his Little Rock bungalow home (whose inner life he explored in his 1996 book If These Walls Had Ears ) to follow a dream: living a true artist's life, developing a true artist's perspective, learning "to see without distortion," as his idol, Henri Matisse, himself strived to do. "The effort to see things without distortion demands a kind of courage," Matisse once wrote, "and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time: He has to look at life as he did when he was a child and, if he loses that faculty, he cannot express himself in an original, that is, a personal way." In Chasing Matisse , Morgan retraces the artist's path through the Picardy region of France, to Paris, Brittany, Corsica, Basque country, Morocco and the Cote d'Azur, following the light that illuminated Matisse's artistic vision and hoping to find through it "a guide to living itself." From the pen of a less appealing writer, such a quest could easily have fallen into the worst sort of clichés. But Morgan avoids the traps, giving us a narrative of his discovery of France that is fresh, genuine and immediate. He renders the feeling of being a newly arrived ex-pat in terms that anyone familiar with the experience will immediately recognize: the exploding printer, the innumerable trips to Paris's home-supply megastore BHV and -- equally realistic -- a series of happy surprises as initially inscrutable and seemingly unpleasant French people turn out to be (grab your chairs, now) really nice.
There is the art teacher who displays Morgan's work-in-progress in her studio's front window; the Paris hotel owner who grants him and his wife, Beth, a "home" in Paris; newfound friends who offer country houses, invitations and connections; the hotel maid who tearfully comes to the couple's aid when Beth's mother suddenly dies. Morgan's goal of developing a better way of seeing has most surely been realized: If the French people in Chasing Matisse are so consistently decent and compassionate, it's clearly because Morgan has the eyes to see them.
National Geographic Traveler
March 2005 Issue
In Traveler magazine's March 2005 issue, writer James Morgan journeys to the south of France to paint in places that inspired one of France's greatest artists—Henri Matisse. Here we offer Web-exclusive outtakes from Morgan's article, "Chasing Matisse."
Morgan Paints a World of Color and Art
By Sarah E. White
April 10, 2005
There probably aren't many people in the world who would see the opportunity to follow a dream and take it. But James Morgan isn't most people. The former editor of Southern Magazine and widely published magazine writer has written books with President Bill Clinton's mother Virginia Kelley and former FEMA director James Lee Witt, as well as writing two acclaimed books of his own.
Morgan's dreams aren't like other people's dreams either. In 2002, he began to devise a plan to leave his life in Arkansas behind and travel to France with his wife, Beth Arnold, following in the footsteps of painter Henri Matisse. The story of that journey is the basis for his book, Chasing Matisse.
Though Morgan didn't know much about Matisse before his brother-in-law advised painting his house (at 501 Holly in Little Rock, subject of his book If These Walls Had Ears) in the "Matisse colors" of the Mediterranean, Morgan was interested in drawing as a child and picked it up again after he and his wife moved into their Craftsman bungalow. After taking a three-month course at the Arkansas Arts Center, Morgan felt more drawn to Matisse and began exploring his life and art. He didn't understand the obsession with Matisse, though they did share a love for color, particularly deep blues the artist was famous for.
"Matisse's relentless need to create inspires me, and no doubt more today than if I had discovered him when I was thirty," Morgan writes. "Now I can appreciate the courage and commitment he showed, time and again, when circumstances threatened to snatch away his dream." Morgan wouldn't allow anything to snatch away his dream of studying Matisse in France, and the universe seemed to line up to make the trip possible.
"When the decisive moment came, it was as clear as the stars on a winter night," he writes. "There was almost alignment: Last daughter leaving for college . a commissioned book project taking us to France . a hint of freedom beckoning."
So off they went, though it wasn't all baguettes and red wine on the beach. Running low on money with a house still on the market in Little Rock and the war in Iraq looming, Morgan writes of the "project": "It's either the craziest, most self-destructive dream of the craziest dreamers the world has ever known. Or it's the most important thing we've ever done."
From the outside it looks like both. There were certainly crazy elements, such as not knowing the language or having many contacts in France. But there were also undeniably magic moments of great kindness and beauty it would be hard to imagine Morgan and Arnold weren't destined to witness, like the lodgings that turn up as if by fate and the people who offer to store the couple's belongings when they must return to Little Rock for Arnold's mother's funeral.
The book charts the course of Matisse's life and career, from the dreary farm country of France where he grew up longing for light and his father's acceptance, to Paris and the islands off the coast of Brittany, to Corsica and Morocco. Likewise the book follows Morgan and Arnold to the same places as Morgan paints in Matisse's world and seeks to understand the nature of art.
"Making a painting is, on some level, the physical expression of living a life," Morgan writes. And to be a good painter, and a good resident of the planet, one must learn to see in a different way, which can't be taught. He wrote: "it's sometimes making art that causes you to see like an artist, rather than the other way around."
In this vein, Morgan at one point seeks to literally deconstruct Matisse, making copies of his work and trying to figure out what made his drawings so successful. "He could render a perfectly beautiful woman in about fourteen strokes of his pen," Morgan writes. "The face was constructed of eight lines: the roundness of the forehead; the jut of the nose; the cheek, chin, and jaw; two quick eyebrows; a line for the eye; a blip of a nostril; and a bow-shaped line for the lips."
Morgan's descriptions of his travels paint Matisse's world for the reader, showing times when Matisse fought for acceptance of his art and times he was successful, though he still endured insomnia, marital problems and lack of confidence in his ability. Morgan's drawings that accompany each chapter serve both to ground us in the places he writes about and to chart his progress as an artist.
Readers will be swept away by the artistic descriptions Morgan provides. "In Corsica, the sun commands your full attention," he writes. "From dawn to dusk it delivers a forceful sermon on its own stunning centrality, and after a few moments in its presence you wouldn't dare dispute it."
There is a lot of humor in this book, from the quest for a fabled tree burned by Spanish marauders to the foibles of power conversion (and the hard-learned lesson of the difference between an adapter and a converter) and the joy of shopping at French hardware stores. There are also many poignant moments, when art makes an impact and a gesture by another person changes a life.
A good part of the story that does not involve Matisse has to do with artist Charles Pierre-Humbert. A poster for a Pierre-Humbert exhibit haunted Morgan through the streets of Paris, and when he came across the gallery one day the gallery owner arranged for Morgan to meet the artist's widow, who became a good friend, allowed Morgan and Arnold to visit both of her husband's studios and even gave them one of his paintings.
This is a lovely memoir, travelogue and art history text combined, filled with wonderful meditations on art and life (and the life and work of Matisse). Morgan's passion is so evident it might even inspire some readers to follow dreams of their own.
Love of Matisse Inspires French Pilgrimage
By Karen Haymon Long
The Tampa Tribune
May 23, 2005
`Chasing Matisse - A Year in France Living My Dream,'' by James Morgan (Free Press, $25)In the best books, you think of the characters long after you've finished reading their stories. You miss them and regret leaving them behind.
And so it is with James Morgan's `Chasing Matisse - A Year in France Living My Dream.` Equal parts travel narrative, personal journal and portrait of the great French painter, the book compels readers to want to live in - or at least visit - France and to linger over all the masterpieces Morgan describes so well.
His passages about Matisse blue could even make readers want to paint every room in their house and their front door the master's favorite color.
Morgan's book offers an even more important lesson, perhaps: It is never too late to chase your dream. Morgan, the older brother of Tampa Tribune reporter Phil Morgan, left his old life behind in Little Rock, Ark., to move to France with his writer wife, Beth. They paid homage to Henri Matisse by living in the places he lived and absorbing the magical light he saw and painted.
On their pilgrimage, which also takes them to Morocco, where Matisse lived for a time, Morgan, a painter, too, seeks out the great artist's homes and the windows and doorways he immortalized.
The two eager travelers soak up French culture, make friends along the way and grow to feel more and more at home. At times, Morgan paints scenes that move him, some of which are featured in the book.
Always, Morgan seems immersed in Matisse and the homeland that so colored his art. Throughout his book, he weaves insights into Matisse. He describes him as a man who deeply loved his family but felt most comfortable when he was away from them. He tells how Matisse was shunned by other painters at times for not conforming to their ideas of art, and how later in life he lived with one of his models instead of his longtime wife.
In poetic prose, Morgan writes of Matisse's worship of light.
Once he had seen the sun, Morgan writes, `nothing beneath it looked the same. That must be the curse of the true painter, for whom the right light is home. Until he found his, this man from the dark plains of Picardy was compelled to chase after it, tracking it from one shore of the Mediterranean to another, searching for the perfect wave, the perfect ray, the perfect beam, which he would then attempt to trap in the nanospace between color and canvas, or between color and color.`
Seamlessly, Morgan tells some of his own story, too, both past and present, so that readers feel like fellow travelers sitting at an outdoor cafe with the author and his wife, sharing a bottle of wine.
But mostly, he shares his love of Matisse and in doing that makes Matisse fans of us all.
First-person travel books often come in the form of vision quests, and Morgan's is no exception. At 59, he parlayed a writing career into a liberating spree around France. His mission: to "read, write, paint, think and travel." (All that and his wife, also a writer, went along, too.) An amateur painter, he aimed his brushes toward an obsession with the "affirming spirit" of Henri Matisse and, voila, a book is born. Chasing Matisse joins the genre of boomers in search of the luxe life; think A Year in Provence (1990). Readers who revel in such tales, and who have a passion for art, will likely identify with Morgan's effort to follow in Matisse's footsteps, and to find his light, colors, and inspiration in Morocco, Corsica, and Venice. Morgan's record of learning to draw and paint in Matisse's shadow is imbued with good humor and intelligence, though also an abundance of closely observed rituals of travel, as if shopping for office supplies in Paris is somehow more of a transforming experience than it is in Little Rock.
Steve Paul--Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Lifelong Friend Writes Book About Artist
By, R. David Sanders
The Northside Sun
April 21, 2005
I do not ordinarily do book reviews (I think I did one in 1996.), and I certainly do not do shameless plugs. But in this case I will make an exception for my old junior-high and college buddy, James Morgan, whom I have known for almost 50 years as Jim. Jim moved from Jackson to Hazlehurst at the beginning of sixth grade. It was 1955, and we immediately bonded through a shared, off-beat sense of humor and an intense interest in both the emerging phenomenon called rock-‘n’-roll and the fascinating things that were beginning to happen to girls our age – two topics not entirely unrelated. Jim had the mysterious (to me) ability to draw cartoons, which were usually of a ribald character. Jim was in Hazlehurst only two and one-half years before his family moved to Miami, but it was long enough for us to establish a life-long friendship. His move to Miami simply meant that, once I had a driver’s license, I had a summer-time destination, where I met all of his neat Miami friends.
I went off to boarding school, but we stayed in touch. After high-school graduation in 1962, we spent the summer hanging around his Aunt May’s house in Hazlehurst, learning enough six-string guitar to negotiate Kingston Trio songs, all in preparation for snowing yet-unmet coeds. We roomed together freshman year at Ole Miss. There was a whole clutch of us English majors who thought that we were going to become – what else? – writers. Long before the explosion of writers in Mississippi, where everyone today seems to have a novel “in development,” our chief inspiration was Faulkner, who had died the summer before we arrived, although Morgan’s penchant was for the spare prose of Hemingway. The rest of us eventually sobered up and became lawyers or investment bankers or dentists, but Morgan soldiered on, finding work first as an editor. After stints at Kansas City Magazine and TWA’s in-flight magazine, he moved to the high-profile position of articles editor for Playboy, in charge of the part of the magazine for which everyone allegedly bought it. Then, about twenty years ago, he landed a gig back in the south, editing the newly-created Southern Magazine in Little Rock.
By this time, Jim was writing as well as editing, contributing pieces mostly to magazines. It was in Little Rock that Jim met Beth, a fellow writer who soon became his wife. It was in Little Rock that the old urge to draw, or paint, reemerged. Jim took some formal lessons and began to paint regularly. Southern eventually went the way of most start-up magazines, but Jim and Beth were making a living as free-lance writers by then. Soon after Bill Clinton’s election, Jim was chosen to ghost-write the autobiography of Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelly. Later he wrote If These Walls Had Ears, a book that is a series of vignettes of middle America in the Twentieth Century as seen through the lives of the eight families that had occupied the Craftsman bungalow in which Jim and Beth lived in Pulaski Heights. Then came The Distance to the Moon, the chronicle of a trip in Porche’s new Boxter automobile that began in Miami and wound up tracing Lewis and Clark’s trek to the Pacific. In part an analysis of the American male’s love affair with the automobile (John Updike had said that the American male, among his other attributes, every ten years drives the distance to the moon.), Distance was as much a rumination on the trajectory of Jim’s own life. His style was becoming increasingly personal.
When Jim and Beth had begun to select finishes and furnishings for the Craftsman bungalow, Beth’s late brother, Brent Arnold, then a decorator in New York, had urged “Matisse colors, Vuillard patterns.” Morgan’s growing interest in painting now began to turn its focus increasingly to the work and life of the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Matisse’s revolutionary use of color and his reckless and undiluted commitment to “seeing” objects in his own way set him against the art establishment of fin-de-siecle Paris. Matisse’s long creative period – into his eighties – gradually led the aging Morgan – then in his late fifties – to supplant his old artist-hero from Ole Miss days, Hemingway (whose creative capacity played out as he aged until he ate the business end of his shotgun at 62), with his new artist-hero, Matisse. With Jim’s sons from a previous marriage now grown and married and Beth’s younger daughter about to enter college, they conceived a book project that would turn into a personal spiritual odyssey for both of them: sell the house, farm out the pets to relatives, and move to France indefinitely so that Jim could work on a book about Matisse.
The result is Chasing Matisse, a book that is not easy to classify. It is part travel writing, in which Jim and Beth, able to speak only rudimentary French, roam the French countryside following the course of Matisse’s life and painting, from his birth place to Paris to Belle-Ile to Corsica to Morroco to … well, you get it. It is a fine, crackling narrative that succeeds as travelogue. But it is also a reflection on the nature of art and the creative process. Most of all, it is the diary of a couple late in middle age who, having lived with one foot in the world of art and the other in conventional suburban America, take the full, reckless, Matisse-like plunge into the creative life. As folks in Hazlehurst would say, they just up and did it. James Morgan has deep family roots in Mississippi, and the book is also the familiar tale of a sensibility formed in the deep south wandering in foreign climes. The dramatic choice Jim and Beth made was to have what existentialists in the middle of the last century used to call an “authentic” existence. It is what I would call living a life guided by one’s deepest instincts for meaning and significance.
James Morgan will sign copies of Chasing Matisse at Lemuria Bookstore on Tuesday, April 26, beginning at 5:00. Come by and check it out. I will be hanging around in the background, probably muttering some of the lame humor that used to crack us up in junior high. Readers may learn more about Chasing Matisse at www.chasingmatisse.com.
Have you ever fantasized about ditching it all – the house, the job, the routine, even the comforts you enjoy – to follow your dream? James Morgan did and, in CHASING MATISSE: A Year in France Living My Dream. he tells the funny, sad, but always defiantly hopeful stories of his coming of age in middle age Pushing aside all the “what ifs,” Morgan sets out to follow in the footsteps of his creative hero, the great artist Henri Matisse, in the hopes of finding himself and realizing his truest talents. Part memoir, part travelogue and part biography of Matisse, CHASING MATISSE follows Morgan and his wife Beth through a year of searching throughout France and Morocco for the secrets of a live lived to its fullest.
After thirteen years in their beautifully restored Arts and Crafts home (about which Morgan wrote another, critically acclaimed book), the couple was restless, ready for a new chapter in their life. Inspired by Matisse’s unyielding creative drive and spirit that propelled him well into old age, Morgan takes up painting again after a long hiatus, and decides to visit Matisse’s studios, see through he same windows, walk the same streets, and even paint some of the same scenes. They sell their beloved house, put their furniture in storage, and begin their quest for a dream that always seemed just out of reach.
Following Matisse from Picardy to Paris, Corsica to Vence, their trip, initially planned to last a year, turns into a lifetime adventure as they absorb and share the details of each exotic place – from the littlest things, like finding a fantastic soupe de poisson (fish soup) or realizing a growing appreciation for the accordion, to the larger satisfactions of an unexpectedly inspiring view of the City of Lists in the cold winter rain to rediscovering the sites, portals, and significance of some of Matisse’s most haunting masterpieces.
But CHASING MATISSE is not just about understanding Matisse or becoming a better painter or enjoying the treasures of France. It’s about living the life that calls you. It’s about learning how to see the things one cannot see with the eyes alone. For, as Morgan learns, we don’t see just with our eyes; we see with our brains and our hearts. CHASING MATISSE enlightens us with its fresh perspective on art and love, creativity and adventure as it makes all of our dreams seem just a little more possible.
AARP: The Magazine
Featured in column called "Hot Reads": Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream by James Morgan (Free Press). An engaging tale of the middle-aged author's adventures as he and his wife trace the creative footsteps of the great artist.
San Francisco Chronicle
Column, Leah Garchik
Monday, May 30, 2005
As to expats on the right bank, James Morgan, whose new book is "Chasing Matisse,'' was here with his wife, Beth Arnold, a few weeks ago. Morgan, an editor and writer whose credits include a stint as a Playboy editor and collaborating with Virginia Kelley, Bill Clinton's mother, on her book, began life over in France -- before settling in Paris -- by walking in the footsteps of the painter Henri Matisse. His book starts with an observation by Matisse that might serve as a metaphor for starting a new life in a new place at middle age: "Nothing is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose, since before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.''
April 6, 2005
"Chasing Matisse is sure to appeal to anyone who has dreamed of escaping their daily routine for a romantic adventure. Infused with dry wit and sharp insights into the nature of art, it features a host of colorful characters and alluring destinations. It also paints a portrait of Matisse that goes beyond the decorative interiors for which he is best known."
EastBay Express (San Francisco)
By Anneli Rufus
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
No matter how many summer vacations you plan or how well you plan them, a moment comes when you realize that you will never sword-fight with Lord of the Rings fans in Kazakhstan, or reach that tiny island off the north coast of Australia where the school shuts down for Scabies Day and the last handful of speakers of an obsolescent Aboriginal language say Ngimatimingilimpangipulampi when they mean That's what I dream about. They're too far away, there's so much else to do, and places change into entirely different places so fast nowadays. Luckily for you, Gayle Forman fenced with the faux-Middle Earthers and Mark Abley learned some long Tiwi verbs, and both are the authors of new books.
Travelers' tales have cast narcotic spells ever since Herodotus enthralled ancient Greece with his descriptions of Phoenicia or the first sailor spun the first yarn about a massive squid -- dispensing that vicarious buzz of actually having been somewhere. If the main reason we read at all is to escape ourselves and our sock-strewn carpets and the same old swatch of sky over the same old Wal-Mart, then true accounts of real escapes transform our transit into a near-total immersion. Reading about good writers' trips is the next best thing to being there, or sometimes actually better, because you can emerge from those pages clean and dry and not riddled with intestinal parasites.
In this X-treme age, in which your bingo-playing grandparents just got back from Ulan Bator and your mail carrier kicked butt on the latest Survivor, it isn't enough for travel writers just to travel anymore. Now they have to go somewhere outrageous or lethal, or if they go somewhere ordinary they must arrive with an insane agenda. In this self-indulgent-- some would say narcissistic -- age, travel narratives are as much about the teller as the tale. When ex-Seventeen reporter Forman recounts circling the globe with her ex-punk librarian husband Nick, she radiates all the look-at-me clamor of a self-described "weird girl" and "self-righteous brat." In these Dr. Phil days, travel writers are constrained to spill, disgorging shameful confessions alongside descriptions of hammocks and yak milk. In this explicit era, travel writers have to tell us when they get some.
Or not. Forman comes right out and broadcasts the news that -- between nightclubbing with members of a not-exactly-queer third gender in Tonga and talking gangsta rap with Tanzanian rappers -- by the time she and Nick reached Central Asia, "we'd stopped having sex." Ohhh-kay. They reconnected in South Africa, though, and "it felt like a second honeymoon." Later still in this quirky, chatty narrative, they hit Amsterdam, where a savvy prostitute warned Forman that marriage "is like a poison."
Overlaying one's own sojourn over an historic or celebrated one is a classic starter. Sometime painter James Morgan (who honed his chops as a teen, painting Elvis Presley over and over and over) left Little Rock to follow in his idol's footsteps through France, Corsica, and Morocco; the warm, often wistful result is Chasing Matisse….
Jackson (MS) Free Press
By Lynette Hanson
July 6, 2005
Summer reading takes on a life of its own for many of us—we go on vacation somewhere and take a book or two that we’ve been meaning to read. Just in case you’re all caught up on your reading, here are a few that might be of interest to you—read on and see what you think.
Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream by James Morgan (Free Press, 2005, $25) When Morgan came to Lemuria to sign his book, I told him that at first I was so jealous, just reading the title, that I wasn’t sure I wanted to devote time to reading about his being able to live out his dream—he assured me that I was among the many who have shared just that with him. Thank goodness I overcame that feeling and went with Morgan and his wife on their trek through France where they found out just as much about themselves and their future as they did about Morgan’s muse. This book is just right for the deck or balcony, in the shade, with some iced tea on the side table.
The Paris Insider
Reviewed by Terrance Gelenter
At an age when most Americans are nervously trying to figure out how to juggle social security and their diminished retirement income when their working life eventually comes to an end, author James Morgan and his wife put their lovingly restored home on the market and took off for France to follow in the footsteps of Matisse and create a new life.
For Morgan, an author who always dreamed of painting, Matisse was an inspiration both for his work and for the way that he shed the shackles of middle class conformity and artistic conventions to follow his inspiration.
After arriving in Paris the Morgan's odyssey takes them north to the Picardy of Matisse's youth, then back to Paris to absorb Matisse's Paris years, to Belle-Ile on the Brittany coast, a long pause at Collouire in the Pyrenées, on a ferry to Corsica, magical Morocco and finally Nice, to peer through the windows of Matisse's apartment and see the incredibly sunlit blue of the Mediterranean.
Chasing Matisse is at once a mini-memoir, travel guide and biography with a glimpse of the creative mind at work--Matisse's and Morgan's. Pour that pastis!
The Italian Touring Club
This sparkling and witty travelogue/biography/memoir by a two-time "New York Times" notable book author is a middle-aged coming-of-age quest with a clever difference--the author recreates his own life by following in the footsteps of the indomitable, versatile artist, Matisse.
The Wickwood Country Inn Newsletter
By Julee Rosso, inn owner and co-author of the Silver Palette Cookbooks series
Books that we couldn't put down!
- Chocolate, Art Rosenbaum
- Multo Mario, Mario Batali
- A Walk on the Beach, Joan Anderson
- Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- Catherine de Medici, Leone Frieda
- Blood From a Stone, Donna Leon
- Chasing Matisse, James Morgan
- Take Big Bites, Linda Ellerbee
- The Lake, The River and ..., Steve Amick
- Dishing, Liz Smith
Lotus Martinis (blog)
AOL Journals Hall of Fame Inductee
August 22, 2005
Everybody has a dream. And James Morgan is living mine.
Not unlike Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes before him, author James Morgan drops everything in midlife to run away to Paris and beyond ~ in Morgan’s case walking and painting in the footsteps of his favorite artist and hero, Henri Matisse.
Also like Mayle and Mayes, the argument could be made that Morgan, who was enjoying a very successful career as an author, editor and journalist, was in fact already living a lot of other people’s dreams ~ it does raise the question of just how many ‘dream’ careers one person ought to be allowed in a single lifetime anyway....
But that would be missing the point.
Because Chasing Matisse isn’t really just another midlife crisis travelogue or smug, self-congratulatory send up of living among the natives. It is, instead, a rather sweetly sincere exploration of art as seen through the eyes of a particular artist, and the ways that lives can be lifted off of their designated paths and transported and transfigured into something else entirely.
“Check the path you’re on,” writes Susan Salter Reynolds in the LA Times book review that sent me trotting off to Borders. “Measure it against your dreams. Factor in the risk of not following your dreams the way you might any financial risk.”
There’s a refreshingly ‘gee whiz’ quality to some of the writing: describing a visit to Etretat the author marvels at itsbeauty ~ ”How do people live in places like this? I wondered. You can’t work, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat. All you can do is watch.”
Other observations contain the stuff of genuine enlightenment. Upon hearing a story from another artist regarding the way artists see things in the context of what they are painting, Morgan writes, “From that story , I understood that it’s sometimes making art that causes you to see like an artist, rather than the other way around. I needed to look at Picardy, alone, with a sketch pad in my hand.”
Only 84 pages in, the book, which includes the author’s pen and ink sketches, is pure pleasure. It’s about ways of seeing, and how different individual perception can be. Before leaving Arkansas for Paris Morgan interviews an ophthalmologist about the process of seeing and is told, ”We don’t see with the eye. We see with the brain. The eye is just a camera, like on a security camera...That’s the eye. Vision is back in the back where the TV monitor is,with the security guard looking at the monitor. And that’s the brain.”
Which explains why two people can look at precisely the same thing and one see a Paris of ‘magic and beauty’ and the other a ‘gray, impersonal fortress.’ And why one man’s dream is another man’s dead end.
Eventually I will forgive James Morgan for living my dream. But only just. Besides, maybe I’ve still got time. I’m checkin’ my path.
By Adrian Leeds
April 25, 2005
Dear Parler Paris Reader,
James Morgan may be "Chasing Matisse," but Matisse is chasing me.
As a proponent of Carl Jung's theory of "synchronicity," inexplicable coincidences resonate as signs to be reckoned with, creating a natural path much like a tiny stream finding it's way down a hill. In this case, artist Henri Matisse is creating the path -- to what is yet undiscovered.
The odalisque casually reclining at the end of the bridge crossing the river Seine to the suburb of Le Pecq, where the Hôtel de Ville sits on the quai Voltaire, struck me as Matisse-like in repose and form. I considered his many languid ladies painted nude or clipped from blue paper as I crossed it on foot just last weekend.
Friday when I sat in the waiting room of the ophthalmologist for an annual eye exam, one framed work of art on the wall stared me in the face -- Matisse's "Nu Bleu" paper and gouache cut-out done in 1952, the year I was born. In my hand at that moment was James Morgan's new book, "Chasing Matisse."
Master wordsmith and even more a master of marketing, Morgan is publicizing it with the fervor Matisse's colorful palette. He was quick to send me a copy for review, and I was quick to open the cover to discover why Matisse is so often on my mind.
Morgan takes you on his journey both through France and the life Matisse once lived, exploring the tiny towns in Picardy where he was born and raised, to Paris where he studied art, to Brittany for summer vacations, to Corsica where he honeymooned, to Toulouse and Saint Tropez, Morocco, Antibes and Nice (where he died), plus a few points in between. Morgan lived his dream -- a year in France chasing Matisse and now chasing his own dream with a new life in Paris.
Sunday, I planned to visit the exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg, "Matisse Un Seconde Vie," on till July 17th, but the lines were long on a rainy weekend afternoon. Instead, I opted for the quiet halls of the old Biblioteque Nationale on rue Richelieu to see the Mario Giacomelli photos "Métamorphoses." The photos are definitely worth a visit, so catch the exhibit before it closes if you can. The ancient library (now void of books, librarians and readers) has a very respectable "petite librairie" (little bookstore) filled with art and photography books at reasonable prices. Staring me in the face on the rack at the entry was Taschen's published "Matisse" with Nu Bleu on the cover. A mere 7 euros later, Matisse was in the bag.
Tonight at Shakespeare & Co., I'll be among the listeners in the tiny reading room on the first level to hear author Leonard Pitt speak about his latest book, "Paris Disparu," and I wonder if Matisse will come falling down from the shelves. Believe me, anything is possible in Paris.
A la prochaine
Chasing Matisse Complete Reader Reviews
Chasing Matisse, June 27, 2005
Reviewer: Teresa B. Murphy (Fairfax, VA)
Oh the places you will go as you read James Morgan's fine book, Chasing Matisse. Morgan and his wife, Beth, leave their comfortable lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and set out for France to visit the places Henri Matisse once inhabited. The physical journey that Morgan takes the reader on makes the book worthwhile; however, it is the psychological journey Morgan takes as an artist that makes this book particularly compelling. Morgan, an accomplished writer, chooses to pursue a lifelong dream, painting. And, who better to lead him on this quest than his hero, Matisse? As he visits the places that stirred Matisse's imagination, Morgan learns "to see" as an artist, and he shares those sights as well as his insights with the reader. It takes a lot of courage to uproot oneself in order to pursue a dream, but Morgan does so and describes the process with such honesty and grace that the reader cannot help but be inspired. If you have ever thought about changing your life, you have to read Chasing Matisse. It's a book that stays with you long after the final page is turned.
Chasing Matisse, June 25, 2005
Reviewer: Sandra S. Barnett "Sandy Barnett" (Batesville, Arkansas)
Short of being there yourself, what is more fun than to travel relaxed in your favorite chair with a nice, new book that transports you to France, to Paris, to Belle-Ile off the Brittany coast, Corsica, the French Riviera, and you get to go without having to struggle with armloads of luggage?
In Chasing Matisse, Jim Morgan and his wife, Beth Arnold, leave a fine life in Little Rock, Arkansas to follow the elusive stuff we call our dreams. With some misgivings, they pack-up; stash away what they cannot take and say goodbye to family, friends and pets. And we, the lucky readers, are invited to go with them. Along the way, we discover that Chasing Matisse is more than just a well-written travelogue, it is a book about longings and discovery, about shared joy and love as much as it is about France or Matisse.
Two of James Morgan's finest qualities that shine through in this book are his passion for art and painting, and his honesty. He chases Matisse as a student follows after a master. He crosses France seeking color, line and freedom. As we travel with him, we learn that Jim Morgan has gifts of his own to offer, his words, his own lines, well chosen and colorful, plus he has a welcoming penchant for seeing and tasting the world.
The book feeds the delicious little "what-ifs" in our own lives, the little itches that ask if someday we too might. . . .
If you have enjoyed Frances Mayes in Italy and Peter Mayle in France, you will love James Morgan in Chasing Matisse.
Wonderful book!, June 24, 2005
Reviewer: Johanna Notman "Hanneke" (Minneapolis)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; while I was reading it I had an art book and an atlas next to me so that I could follow the journey. Having just visited my daughter in Paris twice, who is a Student Abroad there, I was really taken by the author's wonderful experiences. The observations of life there are wonderful, learned a lot about art and France etc and wish I could do the same. Wonderfully relaxing and pleasant. Read it!
My favorite book this year!, June 24, 2005
Reviewer: JGardner (Washington)
Little did I know when I bought this book that it would be such a great companion on my trip to Paris in May. I began reading on the long flight from the West Coast and was immediately intrigued with the first line on the cover about leaving everything to start a new adventure. Then I arrive in Paris and see posters everywhere touting a new exhibit for Henri Matisse in the museum at the Luxumbourg Gardens. The whole experience was enhanced by the wonderful insights of this author. Not only have I learned new things about France and Matisse and painting but I have a new appreciation for the wonderful opportunities that keep appearing no matter what our age. I can't wait to read his next book!
Matisse colors, Vuillard patterns, June 24, 2005
Reviewer: Raymond Ruiz (New Orleans, LA)
This is the story of a couple's journey from a safe, secure home in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the nomadic life of gypsies in France. Jim and Beth decide that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (my quote from Socrates). They sell their home (eventually, after months in France, with money getting short), and follow in the footsteps of Henri Matisse- Jim's new role model, who urges us to see as if we were children--to really see things as they are. For me, it's a story of Jim's moving from the male infatuation with bravado a la Ernest Hemingway (literary icon and Jim's former role model) to the "gentler, kinder" exploration of the true artistic genius of Matisse-- from killing wild game in Africa to prove your masculinity to contemplating, and then seeking to re-create beauty--the kind often associated with women (or, the softer side of men). Matisse sought serenity through luxe, calme, et volupte'.
Pushing 60 when we meet him in the book, Jim was a former editor of Playboy magazine, and of Southern magazine. He had dabbled in drawing as a teen, and was pretty good at it. Through some more schooling, and a lot of practice, Jim rekindles his interest in art, and sets out to follow in the footsteps of Matisse's life journey. (Beth's travelogues online offer further warmth, humor and insight into their journey.) The resulting drawings and paintings of Jim [...] are the perfect complement to his story. Jim refers to himself as an amateur painter. This is too humble an assessment. Jim's drawings are superb. They echo so perfectly his words in the book--and in fact, truly exemplify luxe, calme, et volupte'. I hope his next project will be a coffee table volume of his drawings and paintings. The colors are magnificent, and his lines flow like the curves of delicate wrought ironwork. Bravo for a job well done.
A Francophile's dream!!, June 20, 2005
Reviewer: Sally L. Wissel "Avowed Francophile"
Once I picked up this wonderful book by James Morgan, I simply couldn't put it down, yet like others, I didn't want it to end! I lived vicariously with the author and his wife on their artistic quest for Matisse. Beth's website is wonderful as well! This book is a must for all Francophiles and artistes! I loved it!
A Must Read for Any Aspiring Artist or Francophile, June 17, 2005
Reviewer: A. Wassom (Washington, D.C.)
This book is an absolute must read for anyone who loves art, color, travel, and France. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The vividness of the imagery and color James Morgan succeeds in conveying through words on paper is simply stunning. And the masterful way in which he weaves his own self-discovery together with a travelogue of France, a painting lesson, and biographical glimpses into the life of Henri Matisse is delightful.
Best of the Best, May 16, 2005
Reviewer: J. Atchley
If you've read Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes, you might be expecting a humorous look at life in another country. This book is not like that. Morgan is a thoughtful, introspective artist who risks all to follow his passion, and he brings us along with him as he travels around France to get inside the head and heart of Henri Matisse. This is a wonderful, informative study of Matisse and his struggles for artistic identity as he singlehandedly explodes color onto the drab palette of French art. It is also a personal journey for Morgan, and you will be touched by his sensitivity and candor. A must-read for anyone who contemplates midlife.
So enjoyable, I didn't want it to end!, April 24, 2005
Reviewer: Ellen Kennon (St. Francisville, Louisiana)
I highly recommend this book. Chasing Matisse totally transports! James Morgan is truly a very gifted writer. This is one of those "best-sellers" that will be popular for eons.
Baby, I know what you mean! Living the good life in France., April 20, 2005, Reviewer: J. Wythe Walker
Kudos to the author! Jim Morgan does it again! The man keeps reinventing himself, moving forward in his quest to expand his personal horizons and live life to the fullest. After an earlier career as a successful magazine editor (Playboy, Southern Magazine), Morgan chucked it all to pursue his childhood dream of being a writer, like his hero Ernest Hemingway. Now, at the age of 62, he's written yet another beautiful book. This one is a moving paean to his love of Matisse, France, painting and his wife, Beth. If you've ever wanted to be inspired to take a chance on following your dream, Chasing Matisse may give you just the push you need. Buy it, read it, savor it, laugh over it. I'm sure you'll love it, just like I did!
Extraordinary Travelogue, April 12, 2005
Reviewer: Susan May (Little Rock, AR)
In Chasing Matisse, Jim Morgan takes the reader on a tour of Henri Matisse's France. He takes us into the interiors we've seen in Matisse paintings as well as the land and seascapes seen from those rooms. In this delightful book, Morgan introduces us to Matisse, the man and paints a verbal canvas describing the vivid colors seen and painted by Matisse. I loved this book and highly recommend it.
How to Follow Your Bliss, April 11, 2005
Reviewer: Jeanette Locker (Avila Beach, CA USA)
This very enjoyable read should appeal to the interests of several types of individuals. For those who like to travel, the book takes you through parts of France as well as Corsica and Morocco. For those who appreciate art and artists, the life of Matisse unfolds in unique ways throughout the book. For all us who dream of leaving home to pursue the fantasy of living in a different culture with fascinating people, this book helps you realize that it can be done. For me it is a reminder of the 5 wonderful months we spent in Nice. We were not chasing Matisse, just the Nicois food customs and way of life. With each page I lived our dream once again.
Helen Gallagher (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 19, 2005,
The Journey Stays With You
All of the critics reviews are right on target - this book is not travel, not memoir, not one lucky guy's adventures in France. It's much more, as the author exposes all his dreams, fears and desires to be able to work with his art, make a life with meaning, and told in a beautifully honest voice! I had the pleasure of hearing the author, Jim Morgan, speak at a book signing last week at The Bookstall of Chestnut Court and was charmed by his humble sincerity. You will be too when you take this journey along with him, Chasing Matisse.