Posts Tagged ‘Van Gogh’


It is the treating of the commonplace with the feelings of the sublime that gives to art its true power.

–Jean-Francois Millet


Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) is mainly known for his peasant scenes painted in the genre of the Barbizon school, of which he was an originator.  This genre marked the move from Romantic painting to Realism which depicted the reality of all aspects of the world, including the rural working class which were seldom portrayed heretofore.

This work played a huge role in the evolution of modern art as a number of artists from subsequent generations ran with this work , adding their own voice and style to the subject matter. Van Gogh, for example, directly copied a number of Millet works, such as The Sower below, in his own distinct style.

I am not moved by all of Millet’s work. Some of it feels generic but I think that is understandable as its style was so influential that it was emulated, creating a vast body of similar work. But there is something in a segment of his work that I feel is truly visionary in a way that lends credence to the statement from Millet at the top of the page. Here are a few of my favorites.

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The power of imagination makes us infinite.

John Muir


The image above was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft of the tops of the clouds surrounding Jupiter. I find myself constantly staring into it this morning with a mix of awe and dejection.

Awe at the sheer beauty and power of it. It is spectacular on a visual level in so many ways, at least to my eyes. The force of its rhythm is immense and the enhanced colors capture an emotional tone that rivals the work of the greatest painters. Looking at it, I see the ghosts of Van Gogh– I mean, this image is Starry Night taken up to the next several levels— Picasso, Goya, Chagall, Bosch and so many more.  With my last glimpse I saw Munch and Dali and an image of the Minotaur. And Thomas Hart Benton. I think any of these painters would look at this and find inspiration, would see that intangible force in it that begs to be painted.

I know that I feel that way but that is where the dejection enters the picture. It inspires but in a way that seems far beyond my meager talents and my simple mind. It’s like being a Golden Retriever watching his master, let’s say it’s Einstein, pondering the Theory of Relativity at his chalkboard. I know there’s something there because it seems so important to my master and I want to help but all I can do is bark and wonder what the hell I am looking at.

I am like a frustrated dog trying to describe the power of the universe.

But it’s early. I’ve only been looking at this for forty minutes or so. Maybe the dejection will pass and the longer I look, the more I will move myself into those swirls of cloud and color to find a rhythm, or even a trace of one, that aligns itself with the simpler ones that run within myself.

And maybe something will come of it. You can never tell what the end product, if any, will be from any point of inspiration. Maybe it will set off a series of thoughts and ideas that takes you galaxies away from the original inspiration. But an image like this has an effect in some way, even if it does show up right away.

I feel the need to look a little more. Take a deeper look for yourself.

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I think I have seen this before but it caught my eye this morning.  It’s a video of Turkish artist Garip Ay who works in the art of ebru, known to us as paper marbling.  In this video he takes on Van Gogh’s Starry Night but that is only the start. What turns out in the end is a bit of a surprise although you may see it coming in the process.  Just a neat video and a wonderful display of total craftmanship.

I’ve also included another video of Garip Ay at work.  Just seeing the process and the manipulation of the colors and the way they move on the dark water is fascinating. Mesmerizing.

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Van Gogh Still Life- Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit 1888When I came into the studio this morning there was a question waiting for me in my inbox.  In response to yesterday’s post, a blogger, JM Nowak, asked : I wonder what van Gogh would have thought? What would he think now about the popularity and sales rate of his Art? Would it make him feel more confident and self-assured…I wonder?!

The question set my mind in motion.  Would have recognition in his time affected Van Gogh’s work?  Would it have changed the arc of his evolution as we know it?  Would his style have changed to meet the will of the market if he had started to sell his work at the time?

These are hard questions.  Part of me is selfishly glad that we will never know, happy in the fact that his work came about in just the way it did, relatively uninfluenced by the market or the words of critics.  Though I do have to confess that I wish he had found some sort of satisfaction or happiness in knowing that his work became so loved and revered.

But his work evolved in much the same way as outsider and folk artists who toil for the absolute necessity of self expression, without any outside affirmation.  There is a sort of pristine purity in this that presents an interesting dichotomy:  established artists crave this purity that they can no longer have and the artists with it often desire the acknowledgment that the established artists receive.

Can the line between the two be walked?

It makes me wonder how my own work would have evolved without the galleries or patrons who have supported me these many years now.  Would my own arc or direction be the same as it is now?  I think it would be different if only for the assurance that  that the knowledge that there are waiting eyes to see your work brings.  That in itself propels the work forward at times.

But it would undoubtedly be different.  But whether it would be better or worse is debatable.  It might be narrower in scope just because I might be more tempted to follow an even more personal and esoteric path.  But I’m not really sure about that because the real question would be how long would I be able to continue without some outer affirmation for the work.  Would I be able to maintain the passion or would I abandon the work or continue to follow Van Gogh down that  vortex of madness which he ultimately followed?

A lot to ponder at 6 in the morning…

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Stan Herd's Take on Van Gogh

Stan Herd’s Take on Van Gogh

Stan Herd is an an American artist who uses the land as his canvas, creating large earthworks that reveal themselves from great heights.  He has been at this for over 40 years, beginning in 1981 after a short and less than satisfying career as an abstract expressionist painter.  Working in the tradition of other great earth artists such as Robert Smithson and Christo, Herd has traveled around the globe for his art and has been tabbed as the  “Father of Crop Art.”  He has even been the subject of an acclaimed movie, Earthwork, that tells the story of a 1990’s project where he creates an environmental artwork on a NYC property owned by Donald Trump— yeah, that guy.

His most recent is a project from this year that he took on in conjunction with the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) that had him replicating Van Gogh‘s famed painting, Olive Trees, in plantings.  It was situated so that fliers arriving at the Minneapolis airport would be able to see it as they were landing.  There’s a great short film below that shows a little of the process and gives you a better idea of the artist.

Take a look at Stan Herd’s website by clicking here.  Great stuff…

Stan Herd  NYC- CountrysideStan-Herd-art2-Stan Herd Land Crop Art


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Many of us are familiar with the work of Stuart Davis (1892- 1964), the American Modernist whose paintings presaged the Pop Art of the 60’s.  They were bold and colorful abstracted collages that use imagery from the landscape of the popular culture at the time they were created, creating works that immediately evoke a time.  When I see them I a transported to the New York or Paris of the 40’s and 50’s, with Jazz and poetry blossoming in the aftermath of a devastating war that really changed our perceptions of the world.

But it is Davis’ early work that always intrigues, particularly a small group that was painted not to far from where I live.  There are three landscapes painted just over the state line  in rural Tioga, Pennsylvania in 1919 that are very different from the work for which Davis is best known.  They show a young artist still working in the style of those artists who inspired him, trying on their style and brushstrokes in an effort to find his own voice. 

You can see how  he had been affected by seeing the work of Van Gogh and Picasso for the first time at the legendary Armory Show in 1913, where his own work hung among the emerging giants of modern painting.  Davis was then a student of Robert Henri and painted in a style associated with the  NYC Ashcan school of painters , of which Henri was a leader.  These three pieces have thick. expressive stokes of paint and scream of Van Gogh and have few hints at where Davis’ road would eventually lead him.

The pieces are very accomplished and have a certain charm but it is obvious that they are still derivative and that Davis is still in the midst of his evolution from talented mimic to an original voice.  To me, they are an interesting insight to how we synthesize our broad spectrum of  influences into something truly original.  I would be hard-pressed to say that the man who painted these pieces would eventually become a leading light of abstract modernism but they somehow moved him along in his search for his own distinct voice.  It only goes to show that we should take in everything that excites us even if it seems out of our normal area of comfort.  It may open new and exciting worlds to us that we could never foresee.

Stuart Davis--Self Portrait 1919


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Watching the coverage of the disaster taking place in Japan has brought to mind the many Japanese influences on my work.  I have always been drawn to the work of the Japanese print masters such as Hokusai, who I have written about before, and Hiroshige.  I was influeneced by their work before I was even aware of it, mostly through their influence on the European artists in the late 19th century.  Artists like Whistler and Van Gogh were enthralled by the beauty of their woodblocks, Van Gogh even going so far as simply copying them for some of his earlier paintings.

When I began to look more closely at the work of Hiroshige, I too was captivated.  There is great unity and totality in the work, a harmony of color and line rhythm that fills the picture frame.   The colors are softly graded yet there is deep saturation  that is like a feast for the eyes.  The landscapes seem to grow organically with lovely curves and lines that evoke that sense of rightness I have often struggled to describe here.  They have a great polarity as well.  They are bold yet subtle.  They are quiet yet not timid.  they are simple yet complex. They are both earthly and ethereal. 

In short, they are just wonderful.

Take a look at this beautiful work and how it reflects its homeland.  If you can, take a few minutes and donate what you can to relief organizations whose help a great part of this nation is desperately desiring in this time of disaster. 

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Steal from everyone but copy no one.

—-Charles Movalli


I received a call yesterday from a gallery in another state that sells my work.  They mentioned during the call that a painter living in their city, who is a regular attendee of the events at their gallery, was selling work at another gallery there that was looked to be copies of my work.  They were a bit upset and asked that I take a look and see what I thought.

So I went to the other gallery’s website and clicking on the artist’s name was surprised to see four pieces that, at first glance, looked very much like my work.  All of the four pieces had compositions that were very much like mine.  No big deal, lot’s of paintings use similar elemental compositions. 

 The color palette was very much like mine as well but, again, no big deal. 

 The texture of the panel was very evident and one had a pronounced fingerpaint-like feel, one that I use often.  Again, not a big deal.  I often outline my normal technique at gallery talks and have described the process I use here in this blog.

The artist used trees as the central character in his pieces but who hasn’t at some point?  He used a blowing tree with reddish leaves and intertwined trees as well, both staples of my work.  Is any of this a big deal?

I want to say no.  I have had a number of people over the years do this with my work ( even to the point of adopting my own titles for their copies) and I have always resignedly viewed it as a form of flattery.  They obviously have seen something in the work that makes them want to try to recreate it in their own form.  There’s a form of validation for the original in this copying, a verification that something is working well.

It only becomes a problem for me when the copying painter stays solely in the realm of my work and doesn’t evolve their work into something that has its own voice and vocabulary of imagery.  Serving as inspiration and influence in the form of being copied is fine for the short term but a real artist will soon move beyond the inspiration and create work that is their’s and their’s alone.  Would we know the name Van Gogh if he had continued copying works such as Millet’s The Sower, as he did early in his painting life?

The problem of copying other people’s work is that, while one can try to emulate composition, strokes, texture and color, there is no way of copying the intent and mindset behind the original.  Or the rhythm of the actual physical act of the original artist.  Basing one’s work solely on the work of another reduces that person to the level of a musician playing in a cover band, playing the hits of others.  That’s fine and dandy,  if that is this person’s only aspiration but most people turn to art because they feel a need for self-expression, to create something that says who and what they are.

I know that’s why I came to painting.

Now, I happen to know this person whose work so resembles mine and have known him for a number of years, having done business with him at one point.  He’s a really good guy and I don’t suspect for minute there is anything amiss in his study of my work.  Hopefully, his work will soon start to make the evolution and I will see only his mind’s voice at work when I check on his work in the future.

Which I will…

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Millet- The Gust of WindIn reading yesterday’s paper, I came across an article describing an exhibition opening at the Everson Museum in Syracuse called From Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces of the Davies Collection.  It is in Syracuse until the beginning of next year when it moves to the Corcoran in Washington, DC.  The exhibit features works from many of the greats- Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh, to name a few.

The thing that caught my eye though, was this painting by Jean-Francois Millet, The Gust of Wind.  There was a real familiarity in seeing it and I immediately recognized the similarity of this piece with the compositions of a number of my paintings.  The tree blown to one side from the wind.  The way the tree sits at the top of the hillock.  Even the shape of the ground and the way it dominates the picture plane.

Of course, I could do this with many, many paintings by a variety of painters.  It’s a simple composition of a tree on a rise, after all.  But because it was Millet, it struck me because I have always so admired his work and often felt a kinship to it.  As a youth, a piece of his at our local museum, the Arnot, was always a favorite.  His paintings of field workers always drew me in with their sweeping fields and expansive skies.

Millet-  The SowerAnd then there was The Sower.

The Sower was arguably Millet’s most famous image, a simple depiction of a farmer spreading seed.  It has great motion and a  beautiful diagonal line through the sower’s body.  Like the painting above, there has always been a sense of familiarity with this image.  I have memories of a pair of bronze bookends from my childhood, probably from a garage sale and now long lost, that had the image of The Sower on them.  Something in that figure clicked in me even then and I have always responded when seeing it.

This image was further immortalized by Van Gogh in several of his paintings, one a pure copy albeit in his own distinctive style.

Millett After   Van GoghMillett's Sower Van Gogh

Seeing Millet’s figure in Van Gogh’s paintings made a huge impression on me many years ago.  It triggered a chain of creative impulses that I still feel to this day.  Seeing The Gust of Wind in the paper brought them back to the surface for me and I may well be working off this little surge of inspiration for weeks or months to come.

So, if you get a chance check out the exhibit and the Millet…

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The first time I remember being truly struck emotionally by a piece of art was many years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, long before I ever dreamt of being able to paint.  I came across this Van Gogh's IrisesVincent Van Gogh painting, one of his Iris pieces.  It seemed to literally vibrate on the wall.  I was mesmerized, to the point of nausea and a throbbing headache that made me exit the room.  

I often think about that experience, especially when I speak to high school or college classes where it seems they are more intent in their subject matter than in the way they express their emotions in the paint itself.  This piece is a merely a group of irises in a pitcher, probably a subject painted through the ages by thousands of painters.  Hardly anything earth-shaking there.  But it’s in the paint and the strokes that the emotion burns through.  The thick application of the background and the rich lines of the foliage all express much more than the mere subject.  To me, this piece is brimming with desire and heartbreak, love and anger– a spectrum of human experience. 

So I try to get kids to look beyond the subject and try to see what is really contained in the surface of any painting.  After all, a pitcher of irises may say much more than it seems.

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