12 x 16, oil on canvas
On this last official day of winter, I am sending you a little sunshine I discovered in a tube of paint...
My inspiration is of course Vincent Van Gogh, and I've searched his life story to learn what he found most inspiring. To begin with, the color yellow was a reoccurring theme--he said "A sun, a light, which for want of a better word I must call pale sulphur--yellow, pale lemon, gold. How beautiful yellow is". Another inspiration was Japanese art, and if you have visited Monet's home, you know that both these were huge inspirations to him as well. From what I can gather, Van Gogh was especially smitten with the fact that the Japanese integrated art into their daily lives, celebrating beauty in a way that made art indispensable. He offers this heartfelt explanation "...one's sight changes. You see things with an eye more Japanese, you feel color differently." Van Gogh was enthralled with Provence where he lived in the "Yellow House" and painted yellow fields, a place where artist Paul Gauguin came to visit and paint with him for a couple of months. From Gauguin, he learned the importance of working from memory (I wish someone would help me learn that) and for a short time, he experimented with outlining his shapes as the Symbolist's did. Early on, he was more a tonalist painter at a time when the Impressionists were beginning to be popular, was enthralled by Rembrant's work, saying that what he loved most about the old master's work was that he "dashed off a thing from the first stroke and did not retouch it so very much." Van Gogh was slow to discover color, but when he did, he made it his own. Also, the invention of the camera brought a whole new way of composing a scene, inspiring Van Gogh (as well as the Impressionists) to experiment with cropping painted images.
Before he discovered a life of painting, his first vocation of choice was preaching, but he was so overzealous about living like Christ, denouncing possessions, and choosing extreme poverty that he was asked to leave the church. Years later, this zeal and humility became a theme in much of his work, as evidenced in his choice of subject matter in the paintings of his chair and the bowl of potatoes (above). He linked subjects like potatoes to poverty, and referred to the working class peasants as "the righteous poor", idealizing and romanticizing them in many of his paintings. Also, I learned that he often copied the work of artist Jean-Francois Millet. Van Gogh was mostly a self-taught artist, so this helped him to understand Millet's technique as well as subject matter, the humble working class. Vincent felt more at home in the "seedier" parts of town, often living and working alongside the peasants who inspired him. Sewing, weaving, farming, mining...these were the peasant labors he romanticized as spiritual tasks, noting that this humble class of people were "closest to God." Honoring the dignity of their hard lives and work in his own work, he explains "I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food." A humble man who valued truth and simplicity in his subjects as well as in his own life.
Explaining how great artists learn to go beyond what most of us see to convey the true essence of their subjects, Eckhart Tolle explains: "Van Gogh didn't say: 'That's just an old chair.' He looked, and looked, and looked. He sensed the Beingness of the chair. Then he sat in front of the canvas and took up the brush."