Tag Archives: Vincent Van Gogh

Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge.

Phew! I somehow made it through the first week of the A-Z Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is: Letters to Dead Artists. This is a sequel to my 2016 theme: Letters to Dead Poets. This was inspired by the tradition of leaving letters on the graves of dead writers, musicians, artists in Paris’s Pere La Chaisse Cemetery which I visited with a group of friends in 1992 as a 22 year old Australian backpacker. We’d all just finished university and I was taking a year off to meander around Europe.

Much of the time, I lived with a family in Heidelberg Germany  who literally took me in off the street. This time in Europe forms the backbone of this series as I did something of an art museum crawl from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to the Alte National Gallerie in Berlin; the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin in Paris, the Uffizi and Accadmia Gallerie in Florence and the British Museum in London. There might’ve been more but that was over 25 years ago.

By the way, I should also mention that my History Honours thesis looked at the arrival of modernist art and literature in Australia and how it clashed with the established cultural elites and efforts to establish and maintain a uniquely Australian culture, which was associated with the bush at the time.

We don’t often have the luxury of reflecting back on the great minds which have influenced us, and helped to make us who we are. In addition to the minds, are the compassionate hearts who’ve taken us in when we’ve been engulfed by the vortex or haunted by horrific memories and nightmares which we can’t really put into words to share with our nearest and dearest. We need a hand and I swear some of these artists, especially Van Gogh, have swept me up and carried me in their arms through hard times and cried my tears.

Another factor influencing this series, is my undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. I was 27 years old when my neurologist finally discovered the harbour in my head, which was putting incredible pressure on just about every part of my brain. Even my sight was affected, as the pressure built up behind my eyes causing nystagmus. Despite this harbour in my head, I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History. I spent nine months overseas, although I was very troubled much of the time. I also wrote well and used to do performance poetry. I read at a number of events in Sydney, but the climax was doing a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin hung out in Paris. Indeed, its proprietor, George Whitman, was a character in his own right. However, by 1995, the hydrocephalus was starting to break its banks and a year later, the ground moved up and down as I walked, I was falling over a lot and my short term memory was shot. It was a huge descent straight into the abyss, especially for someone who’d always valued their brain. Was a thinker. It was a grief that had no sides, and yet my medical report promised a “full recovery”. It just took time.

In typical fashion, my thoughts have gone off on a bit of a wander. However, you stare deeply into Starry Night, Venus de Milo, the Little Dancer, On the Wallaby Track or The Harbour Bridge in Curve, and you’ll be seeing more than sunflowers.

Anyway, here’s a list of last week’s letters:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

When I spotted a world map printed on a cork board, a decided to plot where the artists were born and connect them with ythread of red wool, representing the Red Thread of Fate or Pinyan. Chinese mythology has it that the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. Often, in Japanese and Korean culture, it is thought to be tied around the little finger. According to Chinese legend, the deity in charge of “the red thread” is believed to be Yuè Xià Lǎorén (月下老人), often abbreviated to Yuè Lǎo (月老), the old lunar matchmaker god, who is in charge of marriages. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break. This myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmate or a destined flame.

So, this red thread is now drawing this disparate group of artists from across the world, through different times in history together and who knows what will emerge from that incredible crucible. I can’t wait to reach Z, let the dust settle and see what emerges.

I apologize in advance that these are length posts. However, as you could imagine, mowing down such Everists into a few paragraphs would be a daunting task for experts, let alone a minnow like myself. However, sometimes it takes a minnow to to go where big fish fear to tread.

I hope you enjoy this emerging series.

Here are a couple of links which stood out to me on my travels:

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series

Movie: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh Visits the Gallery | Vincent And The Doctor – YouTube

Dear Vincent – a novel by Mandy Hager (loved it!!)

I hope you learn as much as I am from this series and perhaps consider some of the artists, great and small, who have inspired you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.

If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night

It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.

“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?[1]

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh  Arles, 17 January 1889

Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.

Or, so the story goes…

Meeting Vincent

Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.

In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.

In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.

A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.

Vincent and I were growing closer…

Starry Night MOMA

Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His Paintings

When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.

After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris.  The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.

Van Gogh’s Last Days

Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.

Vincent was only 37 years old.

If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:

Maldives Postage Stamps

Letter to Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.

Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is,  unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).

Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.

Your loving friend,

Rowena

Van Gogh Crows In A Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, Crows in a Wheatfield, Van Gogh Museum.

Letter From Van Gogh

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed.  Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.

By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!

Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.

However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:

“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”

That’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?

Your friend,

Vincent

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

[1] http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/571.htm

http://blog.vangoghgallery.com/index.php/en/2012/07/29/van-gogh-and-gauguins-chairs/

The Yellow House, Arles

 

Further Reading

https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/videos/10159187334010597/

DVD: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

 

 

 

 

Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day except for Sunday during April, I’ll be writing a letter to a dead artist who has inspired me at some point throughout my life. There will also be a few “newbies” added to comply with the requirements of the challenge. I’ve also had to cut many artists out, because this year I decided there would only be one artist for each letter. So, choosing my 26 artists has been quite a process…a quest in itself.

The original inspiration for this theme came when I dug up a letter a friend sent me from Paris in August, 1992. Only a week or so before, a group of us had walked through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery, where we had a particular interest in Jimmy Morrison’s grave. She’d returned a few weeks later and found a handwritten letter addressed to Oscar Wilde near his grave and transcribed it. It quoted excerpts from the preface of A Portrait of Dorien Gray:

The Preface

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

In August 1992, I’d given my own solo reading at the famed Shakespeare Bookshop, where the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin used to hang out. In hindsight, being granted my own solo performance at the Shakespeare as a 23 year old Australian, was a miracle. However, I didn’t know that at the time. George Whitman simply asked me if I’d been published (yes- self-published 90’s style on a photocopier) and told me to draw up a poster, which was displayed in the front window of the bookshop. That was “publicity”. George Whitman might’ve put me through the wringer, but he did give me a chance.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift

Revisiting these experiences in Paris, Letters to Dead Poets was my theme for the 2016 A-Z Challenge. I’d clearly bitten off too much for what’s intended to be a quick walk through the park, not a series of books. However, I loved researching and writing the series, which ended up taking on a creative force all of its own, and I was very pleased with the end result. Hence, I decided to follow it up with Letters to Dead Artists, which will be very much along much the same lines.

To maintain the suspense, I’ve decided not to provide an index of all the featured artists I’ll be covering. The plan is to focus on one particular work from each artist and to discuss how it’s touched me personally. Then, via the letter, I’ll ask each artist a question. There will be some bio information for each artist, but as I’m neither an artist nor a critic, there’ll be scant technical detail. Rather, this series will be about emotion, psychology, philosophy and history instead.

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

Pablo Picasso

Degas Letters

Naturally, I’m well into researching and preparing these letters. From the outset, I’ve been struck by how little I knew about each artist and their respective works. That I have known the painting well as an image, but often not the inspiration behind it, which in some instances has given the work an entirely different meaning. In a sense that doesn’t matter. However, for me, once you start seeing that painting as a reflection of your soul, it does. So, now I’m a bit unsure about all this deconstruction and analysis has been a good thing. Or, whether ignorance is bliss. After all, once you pull something apart, it’s very hard to get it back together again. Indeed, with all these intellectual twists and turns, I started to feel like I’d flown into a spider’s web. Hopefully, as the research settles, I’ll be able to clear a path. Find my way out. Yet, I have no doubt that I’ll be a very different me at the end of the month.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. So please fire up the engine as we head to A…Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly created the Venus de Milo.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Theme Reveal…Blogging A-Z Challenge.

On April 1st, the 2018 Blogging A-Z Challenge launches and with it, I shut off from the real world and immerse myself in yet another uber-ambitious theme. Something that not only requires a lot of research, but also having my thinking cap switched onto “Genius”,. This could be dangerous. Two years ago, when my theme was “Letters To Dead Poets”, my brain went into overdrive. Steam and sparks were flying out my ears. My circuits blew up. By the end of the month,  I was a zombie staring blankly at an empty screen. So, to prevent an all-systems collapse, I’m trying to get as much down before it starts.

If I was being true to myself, my theme would be “Ways of Procrastinating” using all 26 letters of the alphabet. After all, this weekend alone, I have:

  1. Bought new stationery for the challenge.
  2. I also bought a cork board with a world map printed onto it so I can pin the relevant places and link them up with red string as we go.
  3. I’ve cleaned my desk, including my desk drawers and vacated a drawer especially for my April Challenge material.
  4. Last night, I watched a couple of old movies…The Jackal and Play Misty For Me.
  5. Today, I took my daughter shopping to spend her birthday money.
  6. I also took the dog for a walk…another proven procrastination strategy.

However, that ISN’T my theme for 2018.

Rather, following on from the success of Letters to Dead Poets, this time I’ll be writing…

Letter-from-Vincent-van-G-001

Letters to Dead Artists!

For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m Australian and so I’ll be featuring a number of Australian Artists you might not have heard of, but art is universal. However, I have diverse tastes and I’ve managed to include an artist from all five inhabited continents.

“A picture is a poem without words.”

Horace

I’m not going to ruin the suspense by listing all the artists now. However, the point of this series is that I’ll be writing to artists who have impacted on me personally and where there’s some kind of history, memories, a story. These stories revisit 9 months I backpacked through Europe in 1992, travels through Australia and also my undergraduate History Honours thesis: The Cult of Ugliness The Modernist Threat to the Bush Legend.

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.”

Winston Churchill

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

So, stay tuned for the launch on April 1st and I hope you’ll also share some of your thoughts and passions about these artists in the comments.

Wish me luck!

xx Rowena

Absent Friends…Quote Vincent Van Gogh

“I often think of you all, one cannot do what one wants in life. The more you feel attached to a spot, the more ruthlessly you are compelled to leave it, but the memories remain, and one remembers – as in a looking glass, darkly – one’s absent friends.”
― Vincent Van Gogh

cafe-st-michel

Sitting at our mystery cafe in Paris Summer 1992.

I read this quote and immediately I thought of hanging out with my friends at the cafe in Paris. Although I consciously know it was now 24 years ago, I still picture us all sitting there, walking, engrossed in philosophical ruminations or falling in love. It was Summer. It was Paris. We were young.

xx Rowena

An Oasis of Gold: Sunflower Seeds MH17

A sunflower
among sunflowers
in a sprawling field,
her face shines
brighter than the sun.
So glorious,
her luscious, golden smile
weaves its magic:
captivating poets, painters, dreamers…
as well as a wee child’s heart.

Stretching her green leaves
ever upwards,
her time has almost come.
Thousands of seeds
all set to burst
into the azure sky.
Spread their wings.
Fly around the world.
Grow new life.

Yet,
in her very prime,
when her seeds were all but ripe,
devastation hit.
Slashed from her roots,
brutally cut down,
all but decimated
by the exploding metal bird,
she was gone.

Seeds of hope.

Seeds of hope.

Her seeds scattered
across the scorched earth:
tears wrenched
from her broken heart,
fused with molten metal.
Once so filled with promise,
now,
they’re just
part of the wreckage.

Yet,
plucked from the ashes
and sheltered in the strangers’ hearts,
those precious seeds
flew to foreign fields.
Found life in the Australian soil,
where they now stand tall:
still captivating poets, painters, dreamers…
as well as a wee child’s heart.

Beneath the Southern Cross,
they stand…
Ukrainian sunflowers blooming
in the Great South Land.

Rowena Newton
19th July, 2015.

To read more about these sunflower seeds, click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/seeds-of-love-plucked-from-devastation-flight-mh17/

A personal message from Sydney Morning Herald's Chief Foreign Correspondent,  journalist Paul McGeogh & Photographer Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.