“People will stare, make it worth their while.” The luxury jeweler’s famous quote stands in for Gaïa Matisse’s bio on her Instagram profile, and at first glance, you’d think she might just be another fun-loving, carefree young New York Socialite you remember meeting at the bar. But take a deeper look, and make it worth your while; because the beautiful heiress, great great grand daughter of revolutionary French artist Henri Matisse, has many stories to tell. Intellectually provocative, vibrant and delightfully natural, Gaïa answered our questions about legacy, ambition, privilege and art.
LF: This is going to sound pedestrian, but I grew up with a reproduction of The Goldfish in my dining room. This painting reminds me of my childhood and the sight of it warms my heart. What was your childhood like, and what are your fondest memories?
GM: Born in Paris, and with both my father, Alain Jacquet and my mother, Sophie Matisse being artists, my childhood was as normal as it seemed. We traveled back and forth between Paris and New York until we moved to Tribeca when I was five years old. My childhood consisted of endless trips to galleries, lots of traveling and an exposure to many artists who would come by for the frequented dinner parties my parents would host. Some of my fondest memories were the shows I would put on – either in school or just at home – and watching the reactions I was able to create in the audience.
LF: What are some of your favorite paintings, drawings or sculptures from your great great grand-father’s body of work, and why?
GM: Blue Nude with Hair in the Wind is one of my favorites. The cutouts and the simplicity of the lines, when looked at close then viewed from far away, create such a strong and elegant presence that brings the blue dancing woman to life. His ability to transfer all of that energy with such little material continues to inspire me and encourages me to always keep going and to fully embrace the nature of my free spirit.
LF: Do you recall a time where you suddenly understood the magnitude of your family’s fame and impact on the world, culturally?
GM: Growing up as a child, I never felt the magnitude of the last name I carried because it was never something that separated me from other kids around me. My friends at such a young age didn’t know who Matisse was, nor was it even something I really fully comprehended – to me it was just my name. My whole family consists of artists, and although my parents would explain my heritage to me and I would be brought to museums, I never really felt its impact until I grew older. It wasn’t until high school when I began method acting with my mentor, Elizabeth Kemp, that I was really able to view art in a new way and appreciate it in a way that had surpassed me as a child. Through theater and acting which became my art medium I was able to explore the art medium of paintings and sculptures in a completely new perspective.
LF: You grew up surrounded with visual artists. Seems like you are more of a performer and a muse, but have you personally experimented with painting or illustration at all?
GM: Growing up and surrounded by art I would always experiment with painting and drawing, but it never really captured me the way acting has. It was more of an activity I would do when given the materials, but not a means in which I felt I could express myself. Even as a child at the dinner table I would always put on little “spectacles” [shows] for my parents and act out stories. Even just dancing and singing, whatever came to mind was fun, I loved to make my parents smile and to make them laugh.
LF: You graduated with honors from NYU’s Gallatin school, how did you like going to school?
GM: Well my college experience began at University of California Santa Barbara, as I was eager to travel and explore new territory out of high school. For a couple of months I was overwhelmed with the beauty and ease of the lifestyle, but soon realized that it was not enough for me. I needed to be surrounded by people who would challenge me outside of my work and push me further to create art outside of the typical college classes. In my decision to transfer schools, NYU seemed like the only option, as I missed the beautiful chaos of New York and was drawn to the Gallatin school in which I could mix my studies of acting and psychology of the self through both eastern and western perspectives. Eventually creating my concentration; The Self and Other: Integrative Performance and Eastern Psychology. My two years at Gallatin were the most rewarding school education, allowing me to choose classes in which I was challenged, but also was able to apply to my daily life, giving me a new perspective on life. I had always loved acting since childhood, but in learning about Eastern Psychology I was really able to apply certain practices like Buddhism to learn more about myself and use it in my preparation of acting and character transformation. In order to fully take on another “self” I believe that it is crucial to have a very strong understanding of your own self, which I was able to explore through my Gallatin classes and my study of theater outside of school as well.
LF: What turns you on in the art of acting?
GM: The ability to explore new worlds and the challenge to create and live in circumstances that are unimaginable. I love the process of transformation into a completely different being, while also inevitably reveals [to yourself] parts of yourself that were not conscious. I want to be able to change people’s perspectives and inspire them in the way that many actors have done for me.
LF: So many of my favorite creatives (in many disciplines) currently are self taught. It’s a privilege in America to get a good education. What is your take on this? Where do you think you would be if you were born in New Mexico to a family of farmers, for example? I guess what I’m asking is, what is the true essence of Gaia?
GM: Moving to New York and having had the education that I did, I do believe that it is a privilege and I am very lucky to have had the support from my parents in following the path that I chose. While I had the support and time to figure out what it was that I wanted to do with my life, I still believe that I would of came to it at some point. I do believe that growing up in a family of artist has had a huge impact on who I have become, but I also know that as an individual I am constantly curious to learn more and explore the unexplored. I’m the type of person who can’t just stand still; in life we have so many opportunities just even to be born that I feel there is no excuse not to live life to the fullest. While some are more fortunate than others, as humans we each have the ability to create and influence others and I constantly want to remind people of that. While America allows many freedoms it also comes with the challenge of living under the pressure and expectations of our society. If I were to be born in New Mexico to a family of farmers I would obviously see life very differently, but I know that my driving force and my true essence would still expand further and I would keep reaching for the stars, always knowing that there will be something greater that I can achieve.
LF: Who do you look up to and admire, career wise?
GM: Elizabeth Taylor and Meryl Streep.
LF: Recently I was chatting with a friend about how social media and our generation’s overall’s obsession with “self” is preventing a real underground party culture like Studio 54 to ever exist again. Like celebrities don’t mess that much with “mortals.” Do you ever wish you would have been born in another decade?
GM: With my interest and study of the Self along with acting I have thought a lot about this idea of the presentation of self and what it consist of. With social media being such a huge part of our generation, I do believe that it does prevent a certain type of underground party system – nothing is hidden anymore. Even though this is unfortunate it also allows us to appreciate other places and cultures in which this underground culture is still extremely present. That is one of the main reasons I love Berlin… because of how much this obsession with the self is really a celebration of individuality and many do it for themselves not others. Our society’s obsession and pressure of such unrealistic standards does make me sometimes wish I was born in a different decade. I would have loved to live in the 60’s or 70’s where there was such a freedom of expression that was not judged but rather celebrated. Our minds today are so consumed by thoughts of what others will think that many times we keep our true “self” hidden or morphed to try and fit into a more appeasing version. We all wish for what we can’t have, many of which are ideals present in previous decades, but we have to also remember that it there is always a duality of something negative. Although right now we might see this obsession of the self and social media as negative, we also can use it to exploit its negative aspects and make room for a new type of acceptance and freedom that could possibly parallel past decades.
LF: Where is your favorite place to travel back to?
GM: I love traveling back to the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, it’s a nice little escape from the city and also where my father and his parents are buried, along with many great artists. Its beauty and quietness also makes it a perfect place to sit down with a book or simply reflect on life.
LF: How’s your French, by the way?
GM: Fluent in French, but of course it is stronger when I travel back to Paris and am surrounded by my friends and family, as I don’t speak much of it with my friends in New York.
LF: If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
GM: My father, Alain Jacquet. He was a French pop artist who lived between Paris and NewYork, and lived within the most memorable decades, many of which I have thought to be much closer to than our current times. He passed away when I was sixteen, so we never really had a chance to speak to each other as adults or about his past. It wasn’t until after his passing and my further exploration into acting that I was able to understand the magnitude of his life and the decades in which he lived through, many of which I have longed to be a part of.
LF: How FAST do you live?
GM: Extremely fast, but always in the moment.