Retrospective – Visiting with Vincent
I’m not a follower, but neither am I a leader. I’m that black sheep in a sea of white who cuts across all the orderly lines and spins them into swirls. I’m the one who when told to do something, immediately wants to do the opposite. Consequently I don’t follow mainstream popular anything and, in some cases, deliberately avoid even those things I might be interested in because the whole world is raving about them (for example it took me ages to get into Harry Potter, despite continual recommendation, and I never saw Avatar in 3D in the cinema).
So depsite the whole world raving about Vincent van Gogh, I’ve never really looked into him or his work. I had, however, randomly seen a few of his paintings.
This painting in particular caught my eye, along with Starry Night over the Rhone…
Having only really seen them in passing, I had, nonetheless, been attracted to the colours and the brushwork, particularly the rendering of light in the second one and the swirls of colour in the first. So when a weekend workshop was offered at Splashout Studios (where I attend my weekly art class), my attention was caught.
I will admit to hesitating to take the class at first. My knowledge of recent (last two hundred years or so) art history was poor despite having studied art throughout high school (ask me about the Renaissance, I studied that twice). And I lacked understanding of why certain art movements were the way they were. But the colours above drew me in and I put down the money and dove in.
The workshop was a mixture of art history, digital art gallery and practical. Mostly practical, because let’s face it, everyone there was interested in Van Gogh, so look at some of his paintings and there is very little chance of a lack of inspiration.
We had a live subject to paint from…
And I did the painterly thing…ooh, look piccies of me…
The assignment was to paint fast and get it done in the three or so hours we had. There was no way I was going to finish it then, but I gave it a go, and I would say that I got about halfway through the painting. Here is a section of it…
I wasn’t as happy with it as I could have been. Sure, I had managed to get a lot done in the set time, but it wasn’t finished, and it didn’t feel ‘right’.
A number of things contributed to this feeling. Firstly, I’m not a fan of copying other artists’ work. I know this is a time honoured technique, but I’m an impatient-little-so-and-so and would rather look at the technique and then make an attempt using my own subject and design, giving it my own twist. I’m not Vincent van Gogh, so I will never be able to paint like him, nor would I want to. But I am open to trying things, so I gave it a go. Incidently, the painting we were taking notes from was, of course, one of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers…
Sadly, Vincent’s favourite colour, Chromium Yellow, is greening with age, so we are not seeing the artwork in its original brilliance.
The second cause for my unease was that the canvas we were using was square and didn’t fit the composition. It was nagging me and unintentionally I broke the assignment’s compositional rule (it was a closed composition where we were to include all the vase and flowers from a similar perspective as those in Van Gogh’s original painting). My own style was urging me to zoom in at an angle, to lop off part of the vase, to take full advantage of the square format. Consequently, my viewpoint is from an angle above rather than from the side. If it had been an exam, I would have flunked it.
And thirdly, I didn’t finish it. I had a piece that wasn’t up to scratch. The perfectionist in me (who from time to time, is firmly told to ruddy-well shut up) wasn’t happy.
Having said all that, there was the other side of the coin to consider. Forcing me to paint fast made me cut corners, made me slosh paint in ways that I might otherwise not have tried. I found myself daring to slap down paint in an approximation of the subject’s tone and value. Make blobs of paint on the canvas that created just enough information for our eyes to identify and realise the subject.
And I got to play with colour.
I fell in love with the marigold orange up against the aqua background, sparkling hints of yellow dazzling the complementary combo.
I got vase, leaves and shadows indicated with minimal strokes. It forced me to draw on my technical skills at speed and forced me to be freer and let loose.
I still dislike the painting I created. And I never intend to finish it because there is not much I could do with it since it is derived in such a way that I would never really be able to sell it or honestly call it entirely mine (despite no other artist having touched it). As I said, it doesn’t feel ‘right’.
So I dumped it in my studio and slated it for sanding back and regessoing to use the canvas for another painting. But then my sister saw it, wanted it, forced me to sign it, and then ran off with it. So it still exists and I’ll only have to stare at it when I visit her.
But really, the painting’s fate is irrelevant, because it and the workshop itself were the ignition source. Following it, I delved into research. I wanted to find out more, and with the entire South Australian public library system at my fingertips along with the might of the internet, I had all the information I could ever want.
- The Van Gogh File by Ken Wilkie
- Sections of Van Gogh: the life by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith
- Sections of Van Gogh: his sources, genius and influence by the National Gallery of Victoria
- Van Gogh: his life and works in 500 images by Michael Howard (one of the best books for considered opinion rather than dramatics (might consider buying it) – in fact I’ve dug up this series for other artists and intend to read Monet next)
- A whole bunch of articles online, starting with , of course, Wikipedia.
I’ve also watched…
- Van Gogh: Painted with Words (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) – Well worth a watch..
- The Power of Art episode focussed on Vincent van Gogh – and stopped halfway in disgust at the overbearing and disgustingly exaggerated and inaccurate delivery of info by Simon Schama, whom I will never believe again. History really shouldn’t have fact sacrificed for the sake of sensationalism.
- The Great Artists – Post-Impressionism – Van Gogh
I’ve been also considering reading some of his letters and started a book on the subject just recently.
So how has all this input affected my art?
Between the inspiration and the example, Van Gogh has changed my art dramatically. How is for the next post, as this one is approaching tome size, but I will say one thing…it has changed for the better.