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Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Van Gogh’

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of gratitude.

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This short snip from a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, in October of 1883, might be the best piece of advice that any working or aspiring artist could receive. And it most likely applies to any other field of endeavor.

I can’t speak for the experience of most artists but, concerning my own work and abilities, I travel through an internal landscape with soaring peaks of great confidence that often plummet into deep valleys of doubt. One moment and I am high on a peak with a seemingly endless view that shows me all sorts of ways forwards. But in the bat of an eye I find myself in a deep and dark ravine with no indications of any path on which I can climb out.

I begin to doubt my abilities, begin to wonder if I have been the fool in thinking myself an artist. Ideas that just a day or so ago felt special and ready to burst out from me suddenly seem dull and lifeless. Inspiration dissipates like a mist in the sunlight.

But, as the decades doing this have taught, the answer always comes in working.

Empty the mind, push doubts to the side and pick up a brush.

Make a mark. Then another and another. Let it lead you somewhere, let it be the path out of that valley.

Work. Just work.

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I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

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This painting, Resplendent,  which is now at the West End Gallery, reminds me very much of one of my favorite quotes from Vincent Van Gogh, shown above. Sometimes the beauty of nature sets everything right and wipes away the obscuring webs brought on by things we cannot control, creating a path for an expression of the effect from witnessing that beauty.

In my experience, these moments of clarity are accompanied by that uncertainty to which Van Gogh refers. It is not doubt, however. It is more like the recognition of losing conscious control to an outer (or inner) entity, one where all decisions have been made beyond your waking mind.

As in a dream.

The work at that point just comes seemingly on its own, as though it was meant to be or had a need to exist.

I know this a strained explanation. It’s such a nebulous thing, this act of creating something from what often appears to be nothing, that explanations and definitions often confuse more than clarify.

And maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe the very purpose of art is to make us aware of the mystery and uncertainty of this life. Maybe it shouldn’t be easily explained.

That being said, I will stop now. Have a good day– enjoy the mystery and beauty around you.

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If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.

― Vincent van GoghThe Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Like many of my paintings, this new piece, Reaching Out, a canvas measuring 36″ by 18″, is concerned with the Search.

The search for something that we think is missing or that we need.

Love. Friendship. Knowledge. Wisdom. Fame. Fortune. Peace. Acceptance. Truth. God.

Answers to those needs and questions that never rest within us. Those things that define us as who we truly are and what place we occupy in this universe.

I think that this searching will always be with us, that we shall never find all of the answers we seek. I know that I will never find all of the answers that I desire. But finding just a few answers, even if only a glimpse of an answer, satisfies me for a time, giving me a prod to continue scanning the horizon even when I am most content in my life as it is.

So, I maintain my own personal search.

As, I am sure, you do as well.

For this Sunday morning music, I have chose a song that meshes nicely with the idea of the Search, written by one of my favorites, Richard Thompson. Titled  She Never Could Resist a Winding Road, this version is a duet between Joan Baez and Thompson. It’s a lovely song and nice way to begin your own seeking this morning.

Have a great day.

Oh! The painting above, Reaching Out, is part of my solo show, Self Determination, that opens at the West End Gallery this coming Friday, July 14.
 

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Today and the next several days ahead are busy for me as I do prep work for the June 2 opening  of my solo show at the Principle Gallery. Even though it’s really hectic it’s not a disorienting kind of chaos. I’ve done this so many times that I understand the rhythm and timing that is required for these preparations.

That knowledge takes care of some of the anxiety but certainly not all of it. Every show has a level of trepidation as you worry about how it will be received. That particular anxiety will never go away and is actually, at least for me, kind of reassuring.  I tend to think that when I stop feeling that tension before a show I will have become complacent.

So, I am currently busy, anxious and worried. In other words, things are going about as good as can be expected.

I thought I’d share a nice video I found of the work of Van Gogh set to Don McLean‘s lovely ode to the artist, Vincent. It’s a very pleasant combination for a bustling Monday morning and definitely eases the nerves.

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Yesterday I wrote about how the truth, particularly as it applies to the news, has become a subjective item.  It seems to be more about how we feel about something rather than what the facts provide. This in turn allows falsehoods to become accepted as truth in the eyes of some despite all evidence to the contrary.  It’s an unfortunate scenario that may have already affected us  and may create awful consequences at some point in the all too near future.

But you can’t judge the facts like you’re judging a piece of art.  The facts should not be affected by how you feel about them or whether you like or dislike them.  They stand as they are.  Can you imagine being innocent and on trial?  All of the evidence and testimony proves your innocence but you are convicted because the jury felt that you were nonetheless found guilty.  The jury just didn’t like something about you.

Unfortunately, that’s not that far-fetched an analogy.  

I thought I’d run the post below from a few years back that talks about how the emotional subjectivity is appropriate in art, where your feeling is as important as the facts.

Painting is a blind man’s profession.  He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.

–Pablo Picasso

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I love this quote from Picasso.  I think that is what all art really is– an expression of  feeling.  Emotion.  I know my best work, or at least the work that I feel is most directly connected to who I truly am as a human being, is always focused on expressing emotion rather than depicting any one place or person or thing.  At its best, the  piece as a whole becomes a vehicle for expression and the subject is merely a focal point in this expression.  The subject matter becomes irrelevant beyond that.  It could be a the most innocuous object,  a chair or a tree in my case.  It doesn’t  really matter because the painting’s emotion is carried by the painting as a whole-  the colors, the texture, the linework, the brushstrokes, etc.

In other words, it’s not what you see but what you feel.

I think many of  Vincent Van Gogh‘s works are amazing example of this.  They are so filled with emotion that you often don’t even realize how mundane the subject matter really is until you step back to analyze it for a moment.  I’ve described here before what an incredible feeling it was to see one of his paintings  for the first time, how it seemed to vibrate with feeling, seeming almost alive on the wall.

It was a vase of irises.

A few flowers in a pot. A floral arrangement.  How many hundreds of thousands of such paintings have been created just like that?  But this Van Gogh painting resonates not because of the subject matter, not because of precise depiction of the flowers or the vase.  No, it was a deep expression of his emotion, his wonder at the world he inhabited, inside and out.

I also see this in a lot of music.  It’s not the subject but the way the song is expressed.  How many times have we heard overwrought , schmaltzy ballads that try to create overt emotion but never seem to pull it off?  Then you hear someone interpret a simple song with deep and direct emotion  and the song soars powerfully.  I often use Johnny Cash‘s last recordings, in the last years  and months before his death, as evidence of this.  Many were his  interpretations of well known songs and his voice had, by that time, lost much of the power of his earlier days.  But the emotion, the wonder, in his delivery was palpable.  Moving.

Likewise, here’s Chet Baker from just a few months before his death.  He, too, had lost the power and grace of youth due to a life scarred by the hardship of drug abuse and violence.  But the expression is raw and real.  It makes this interpretation of  Little Girl Blue stand out for me.

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Vincent Van Gogh Wheat Field in Rain 1889If you work diligently… without saying to yourself beforehand, ‘I want to make this or that,’ if you work as though you were making a pair of shoes, without artistic preoccupation, you will not always find you do well. But the days you least expect it, you will find a subject which holds its own with the work of those who have gone before.

-Vincent Van Gogh

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I really just wanted to show these two Van Gogh paintings that feature the falling rain as part of the overall composition.  I recently have been particularly interested in seeking out  lesser known Van Gogh paintings.  There is something quite exciting about these more obscure pieces, something that fills in the blanks between the better known work.

But beyond that, the sentiment above from Van Gogh really resonates with me.  Sometimes it seems as though those paintings which you aim at with all your greatest effort fall flat while on those days when you have little idea of where the work will go, something special emerges quite unexpectedly.

It is those days and those painting that you crave as an artist.  Oh, it is gratifying to create work that you feel is well within your body of work.  That is to say, work which follows a path you have trod upon many times before.  But to have those days and those pieces that surprise you– well, that is beyond gratification.  It has an almost religious aspect,  like a confirmation of one’s belief in something greater.

But those days are often rare and come without a hint of what may emerge.  Even sitting here now, I don’t know if today will be one of those days.  But just knowing that it is possible makes me anvious to get at it.

Enjoy the Van Goghs and I am going to move into my day.

Vincent Van Gogh-Landscape at Auvers in the Rain 1890

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