ARTICLE: Photographing Van Gogh

 

van-gogh-photo-1024x768

Will the Real Post-Impressionist Please Stand Up

“Ah! Portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

March 30, 2016  will be Vincent Van Gogh’s 163rd birthday.

In the Artnet article linked here, they discuss how another potential photograph of Van Gogh has been discovered. The contender is circled. If true, it’s a very rare thing.

We know the paintings. The face looks back at us with frank regard, and we think we see enacted in his eyes the story as we know it in retrospect. The suffering, struggle and madness, the lonely death, before the steep and steady rise to posthumous glory.

In the self portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, we have been conditioned to see the whole romantic artist myth personified in one highly misunderstood Dutchman.

This face we know so well, we know almost exclusively from paintings. And another thing we have been conditioned to believe is that it is photography that is the true depiction of reality. It’s almost as if we want a photo to reinforce the honesty the canvases already show us.

As a painter I would suggest that the artwork shows things that a mere mechanical reproduction could never capture. Van Gogh definitely remains relevant to artists today, and is an exemplary honorary Stuckist.  But I do understand the appeal of history as captured in photographs. There’s an immediacy to them.

I did not discover that there were actual photographs of Vincent Van Gogh until I was well into my thirties. It’s fascinating to see that visage that I know so well from lingering over every expressive brushstroke of Vincent’s portrayals of himself. Trying to see how he did it. Trying to recognize the magic inherent in the simple manipulation of paint.

I can’t imitate my way to the same pinnacles he reached. It would be pointless to try. What I hope to understand is how he let himself go, to better understand how I too can become more of myself in my own art.

Even though photography was widespread during his lifetime, Vincent seems to have been a bit camera shy. There are two photos we can be certain of, both from his youth:

Boy Vincent_van_Gogh_1866

Vincent Van Gogh as a boy

.

van_gogh_age_19

Vincent Van Gogh Age 19

.

After that, nothing is certain, not even necessarily the paintings. For example, this one portrait was long considered to be a Vincent self portrait, all dressed up as a Parisian dandy:

Vincent_van_Gogh,_Portrait_of_Theo_van_Gogh_(1887)_-_02

But now it’s been decided this is probably a picture of his art dealer brother Theo. The determination was made in part due to the shape of the ear lobes, ironically.

But along the way there have been several controversial photos that claim to depict Vincent in the flesh. A Greek woman is holding onto one she claims her partisan father stole off of a Nazi train full of plunder during World War II.

The one below recently surfaced. It is said to show Van Gogh’s artist buddies Paul Gauguin and Emil Bernard. It is suggested Vincent is there with them, smoking his pipe. vincent-is-it-you

Gathering

highlight vincent-2-799x1024

Maybe, maybe not

The artist group photo failed to sell when it came up for auction. The art world remains unconvinced.

The photo below is even more doubtful, based on little more that a hunch. It was picked out of a batch of photos of nineteenth-century clergyman. Van Gogh’s father was in the ministry, so perhaps this is at least some long lost relative.

23-vg-inside

Doubtful: An uncanny likeness, but no proof

.

But since Vincent Van Gogh has become such an archetype of the artist, there is no shortage of portrayals of him in the mass media of today. Below are just a few of the times Vincent Van Gogh has been portrayed in the movies and television, as the cautionary/inspirational figure at the heart of the tragic tale of the undiscovered genius.

February 24, 1980 Film, television and stage actor Leonard Nimoy returns to The Guthrie Theater in his one-man show VINCENT: THE STORY OF A HERO on Thursday, February 28 and Friday, February 29 at 8:00 p.m. and on Saturday, March 1 at 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Tickets for VINCENT are $8.95 and $7.95 and may be purchased by contacting the Guthrie Box Office, Vineland Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403, (612) 377-2224, or any Dayton's ticket office. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Boldly Van Gogh: Leonard Nimoy wrote and starred in a play called “Vincent”

.

Kirk-Douglas-in-Lust-for--001

No Stooge: Kirk Douglas  displays his “Lust for Life”

.

Roth

Brotherly love: Tim Roth in “Vincent and Theo”

.

WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009

It’s elementary: Benedict Cumberbatch in “Van Gogh: Painted With Words”

.

Scorsese

In “Dreams”: Martin Scorsese

.

Serkis

My precious: Andy Serkis in “Simon Schama’s Power of Art”

.

doctor-who-vincent-van-gogh-e1305009078131

Vindication: On “Doctor Who,” Tony Curran as Vincent gets a glimpse into the future

VIDEO: When Worlds Collide-A Python Talks Conceptual Art on Doctor Who

Tardis Art

Cameo: Wonderful affunctionalism

I’ve made no secret about my vintage Doctor Who fandom on this blog. Recent comments by comedian John Cleese reminded me when he made an art-related appearance on the legendary television series in 1979.

For his brief dialogue, story editor Douglas Adams served up a piece of art babble worthy of Vogon poetry status. Cleese and actress Eleanor Bron give the Doctor’s time machine, the Tardis, a critique that could straight out of  Saatchi gallery press release. (See the John Cleese clip from “The City of Death” at this link. )

Cleese: “For me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful… afunctionalism.”

Bron: “Yes. I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art, its structure of line and color is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.”

Cleese: “And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it *is* here.”

[Doctor, Romana and Duggan dash in and enter the TARDIS; it dematerializes]

Bron: “Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Pompous elitist art patrons like the ones caricatured here are real enough. They are the type of people that have given non-talents like Tracy Emin a simulacra  of relevance and a facade of a career.

The establishment rejects the self-evident principle expressed in the Stuckism manifiesto: “Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.”

The elitist’s response is, “We declare it is art because we say so. We camouflage our unscrupulous power trip with lots of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual banter. We don’t care about art, we care that we are the only ones whose opinions matter.”

The art world is full of hopeful supplicants who will wage war on behalf of the most absurd cultural institution dogma, hopeful their conformity will be rewarded with crumbs of acknowledgement. Their whole identity is invested in acting as defender of the woefully inept establishment artistic status quo.

Sadly most of these acolytes would not acknowledge real art if it appeared – or vanished – right before their own eyes.

Bonus video clip: Cleese and the Doctor (Tom Baker) indulge in a little backstage skit with some Python bite.

 

EXPLOITS: Stills From The Movies In My Mind

Two Doctors

Richard Bledsoe “Two Doctors” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

How do artists decide what imagery to depict?

The possibilities are endless.

I often say before I start into a new work, “What am I going to paint? It could be anything.” Since I am an intuitive artist, working not from observation but from visions that arise in my mind, the potential subject matter is limited only by the freedom of imagination and the skill I have to render it visible.

Other artists might work in the great traditions of landscape, still life, portraiture, or figurative painting. I’ve come to realize that the visions I present are a blend of all these different explorations into a single unified image. I’m sort of a mutant form of a history painter, the genre once considered the highest form in the hierarchy of Western art, but much neglected in the modern and contemporary art worlds.

The difference is story telling. Rather than make a detached work of art for art sake’s, emphasizing merely formal concerns, history painting depicts a moment of drama. It shows action arrested for contemplation, rich in implications of past, present, and future activity. It injects the element of time, suggests consequences and resolutions are pending, and extends the liveliness of the art beyond the edges of the canvas.

I gained insight into the nature of my painting by going back to first principles, and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I saw Star Wars in 1977 when I was 7 years old, quite possibly the perfect age to have seen that movie. I spent my whole youth wanting to be a film maker. And 10 years later, in 1987, that’s what I went off to college to try to be.

What I learned along the way during my college years was it was very hard to work collaboratively with all the people needed to bring together a major project like a movie. And not only that, in academia, for the most part the need was to act as a cog in someone else’s machine, working on someone else’s project.

Technological advances have made creative control at lot more feasible at the entry level these days, but this was the 1980s. Film was an expensive and unwieldy undertaking.

However, I made another discovery in college: painting. From the first moment I tackled a big surface as a student project I was hooked, although it took a long while and several changes of majors to understand this. But now I’ve been painting seriously for 25 years, and it remains as fascinating as ever.

I’ve found the way to show my vision and tell my stories without needing the resources of a film studio. As I’ve gained comprehension of my art, I’ve been clearer about what it is I do.

I’m showing you stills from the movies in my mind. The possibilities are endless.