If it hadn’t been for Kerry sending me the photo above through to my phone today, it probably wouldn’t occurred to me to write about Van Gogh. The photograph was taken in April this year at the touring Van Gogh Alive exhibition in Auckland. The clever little scene, where I am perched on a chair, is a 3D recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, France. He lived in Arles for little more than a year, yet his output of work from February 1888 until May 1889, was prodigious. Yet this post isn’t just about the famous Dutch artist; quite likely the most well-known artist of our times, but what his paintings conjure; in my memory, and imagination.
I would have been very young when I first noticed his work, as two tiny prints hung on the wall of my childhood home. Café la Nuit (above) and the portrait of Pere Tanguy (left). The original paintings of both were done in Arles. The one of the cafe is very well known and many people will recognise the image here. Café la Nuit was painted in 1888. I must thank my artistic father who probably hung these small prints for his own enjoyment, not knowing the influence they would have on me.
However, I will return to the well-known painting of Van Gogh’s bedroom, and focus on the chairs. Chairs that he painted on many occasions. The one I selected to copy, may very well have been a copy itself, as there have been so many people emulating the original. The image here, is from the original. Painted in Arles in 1888, and housed in the National Gallery London.
if it hadn’t been for lockdown last year, I probably wouldn’t have painted my own version, as an exercise that Tony McNeight offered during a Covid lockdown last year to keep students motivated. My version is rather more colourful than the original, but no more highly textured. Van Gogh loved texture, and his work is certainly very tactile, with the thick layering of paint with every mark of the brush.
I chose to sketch the chair, using Aquarelle pencils at first, on Hanhnemüle cold pressed, 140lbs watercolour paper, brushing over them with water then finishing off with a touch of ink. I always enjoy creating texture, and although I was copying the famous artist, I quite liked ‘my’ chair. It was a chance to re-acquaint myself with the Dutch painter, and I can’t complain about that. I was fortunate to visit Amsterdam back in 1994, and naturally I found my way to the Van Gogh Museum. There were many of his portraits on display, much smaller than I imagined they’d be, but colourful and dramatic. The self-portraits were astonishing, for they were numerous, and while Van Gogh apparently painted himself as practise, they conveyed the artist’s brilliant talent and troubled mind. I enjoyed looking through the gallery’s archive, while writing this blog, and I’m sure you would too – if you haven’t already.
And I finish as I started with another photograph from the Van Gogh Alive exhibition.