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VVG

Young Vincent

I finally saw the beautifully animated film, Loving Vincent.  It is an Academy Award and Golden Globe Nominee for Best Animated Motion Picture. It tells a part of the life and also investigates the controversial death of Vincent Van Gogh.

It is told by his paintings and by the characters that inhabit them. It takes place one year after Vincent van Gogh’s death. A postman who knew Vincent asks his son Armand to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Armand goes to the town not even knowing that Vincent is dead and interviews people who knew Vincent in an attempt to deliver that letter.

He finds the circumstances of the death suspicious. Only weeks before, Vincent had said in letters he was in a good mood, calm and working and in need of new canvasses.

What makes the film unique is that each of the film’s 65,000 frames is essentially an oil painting on canvas. A team of 125 painters using the same technique as Van Gogh created the images which often flow one into another as the paint swirls.

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

Vincent Van Gogh wrote hundreds of letters. Most of them were to his brother Theo who often supported him and his painting and served as his “art dealer” – not a very good one, since only one of his paintings sold in Vincent’s lifetime. He signed many of the letters “Your Loving Vincent.”  He also wrote to other family members and fellow artists including Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard.

His prose is very detailed, especially about his work. Some are illustrated with sketches and some of the collections put the letters beside the paintings he is describing.


Everyone who works with love and with intelligence finds in the very sincerity
of his love for nature and art a kind of armor against the opinions of other people.

The film was inspiring. It inspired me to borrow a few books to read more about Vincent and particularly to read his letters:  Letters of VincentVan Gogh’s Letters: The Mind of the Artist in Paintings, Drawings, and Words, 1875-1890, Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh and Van Gogh: The Life

The film and books also inspired me to take out my paints and brushes. I am the most-amateur of painters, but I have been setting things down in watercolors since I was in college, though very sporadically.

You have to let your creativity out. Usually, I do that with poetry. Visually, I am far more likely to take a photograph than paint. That is also a creative outlet but, for me, one done more from laziness.

self-portrait

Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat

What am I in the eyes of most people?
A good-for-nothing, an eccentric and disagreeable man,
somebody who has no position in society and never will have.
Very well, even if that were true, I should want to show by my work
what there is in the heart of such an eccentric man, of such a nobody.

Vincent was educated mainly in what he called “the free course at the great university of poverty.” He wanted to find purpose in his life after what knew was a long period of searching without purpose.

One who has been rolling along for ages as if tossed on a stormy sea
arrives at his destination at last; one who has seemed good for nothing,
incapable of filling any position, any role,
finds one in the end, and, active and capable of action,
shows himself entirely differently from what he had seemed at first sight.

self portrait

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

Vincent suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions. He often neglected his physical health, not eating and drinking too much wine.

His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor, which resulted in him severing part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy.

In the film, they cover some of the time he spent after he discharged himself from a hospital. He moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. There he befriended a homoeopathic doctor, Paul Gachet.

There are two versions of his death. One is that as his depression deepened, on 27 July 1890, he shot himself in the chest with a revolver. That is a very odd way to commit suicide.

Another version is that he was shot, probably by a man from the village who had harassed Vincent during his time there. The position of the wound suggests this version makes more sense.

In either version, he dies in the seemingly non-existent care from Gauchet two days later.

 

Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime. He is considered to be a genius, a madman and a failure. His fame came after his death. I doubt that he would be happy that he is often seen as a misunderstood genius or that it took until the early 20th century for him to be recognized as a great painter.

Van Gogh gave his 1889 Portrait of Doctor Félix Rey to Dr Rey. The physician was not fond of the painting and used it to repair a chicken coop, and later gave it away. In 2016, the portrait was housed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and estimated to be worth over $50 million.

Vincent and Theo's graves at Auvers-sur-Oise

Vincent and Theo’s graves at Auvers-sur-Oise

Andrew Wyeth - "Frostbitten" (1962)

Frostbitten by Andrew Wyeth, via Flickr

As a writer and as someone who has long been an admirer of the art of Andrew Wyeth, I immediately clicked a link to an article titled  was  “A Writer Learns From Wyeth.”

Andrew Wyeth worked in pencil, charcoal, watercolor and tempera, and not much in words. Yes, I believe his paintings do tell stories, but words were not his medium of choice.

Wyeth would have turned one hundred this year. That may account somewhat for the fact that Andrew was not entirely literate. Peter Hurd, who was Wyeth’s brother-in-law, asked 12-year-old Andrew to look up something in the encyclopedia and discovered he could not do it.

Andrew was home-tutored because of his frail health and his father, the artist N.C. Wyeth, was his only teacher.  He learned art and he appreciated hearing stories and poetry read aloud, but reading and writing were not a regular part of his “studies.”

The article’s author, Beth Kephart, the author of 22 books, feels that “there is much to be learned about the literary arts from Andrew Wyeth.”  Like Kephart, I have made a pilgrimage to “Wyeth Country” in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and to the Brandywine River Museum where much of his artwork is displayed. I went out with my camera to find some of the actual locations of his paintings near there.

Wyeth found inspiration at the Kuerner Farm. The early 19th-century farmhouse, the red barn and the family were subjects for hundreds of paintings and drawings over seven decades.

Kuerner farm

The barn at the Kuerner farm.

Besides the stories in his painting, Kephart does find advice is some of Wyeth’s words about his work.  “I feel that the simpler the thing, the more complex it is bound to be,” is something any poet will identify with about poetry and probably their writing.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time writing without pen and paper or computer. As Wyeth said, ” I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.”

I look at some of his sketches and prep for a painting and I immediately think of writing drafts. Wyeth’s advice on revision to writers might be the same as he said about his art  “I obtain great excitement in the changes. Because with them, the painting begins to discover itself. It begins to roll. It’s like a snowball rolling down the hill.”

Drydock

Drydock, 1987, Watercolor,

I like looking at his watercolors (like Drydock above) done on the same kinds of spiral bound pads that I use for my own watercolors. He has his own favorite tools, as do most writers. His medium rough watercolor paper (not stretched and 22 x 30 inches) and only three sable brushes (Nos. 5, 10 & 15) and no flat brushes for the background washes.

I particularly like Wyeth’s use of titles. The painting at the top of this post might have simply been called “Apples on a Windowsill” but it’s called Frostbitten which suggests a lot more. What would the title Faraway suggest to you? Take a look at his painting with that title – Were you close? If not, what story is suggested in that painting?

The paintings do have stories, though the stories behind them are mostly not known to viewers. For example, his painting Winter.

“Winter” — 1946

There is only a small patch of snow in the painting, where we might expect a white, wintery canvas.  The painting was inspired by a day when Andrew was walking near the railroad tracks where his father was killed.  He saw a local boy running down the hill facing the Kuerner farm and joined him. They found an old baby carriage and used it to ride wildly down the hill. The painting shows the boy and a shadow stand-in for Wyeth. Wyeth said of the painting, “The boy was me at a loss, really. His hand, drifting in the air, was my hand, groping, my free soul.”

That hill is the same one Wyeth would use two years later for probably his most famous painting, Christina’s World

Christina’s World

 

Art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art, and sometimes films imitate art.

Filmmaker Vugar Efendi put together a compilation of shots from films along with the paintings that inspired them.

You may have seen filmmakers pay homage to older films by imitating shots – the original Star Wars film has shots that echo a number of other films including John Ford’s The Searchers and the Stranger Things series on Netflix has lots of tributes to films from the 1980s that the filmmakers watch and loved.

Paintings may be less obvious. Not everyone would pick up on Jean-Luc Godard filming a shot based on a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. It is an old tradition. One referenced in Efendi’s supercut is from the 1927 silent film Metropolis.

L’empire des lumières influenced William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and La Robe du soir is alluded to in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight while Architecture au clair de Lune slips into Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Some instances are unexpected: Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy used in in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Sometimes the reference is not exact but a scene feels like it is “in the style of”a painter – such as the look of the Bates’s home in Hitchcock’s Psycho looking like a house from an Edward Hopper painting – but without the color or sunlight. (Wim Wenders used a much more literal recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in his film The End of Violence.)

I first saw these videos mentioned on the Slate website, but the three-part video has been posted in other places too.

Here are the pairings so that you can check you “art of the cinema” knowledge.

“Much of our lives involves the word ‘no.’ In school we are mostly told, ‘Don’t do it this way. Do it that way.’ But art is the big yes. In art, you get a chance to make something where there was nothing.” — Marvin Bell

Marvin Bell was born in Center Moriches, a farming community on the south shore of Long Island in 1937. In 1966, he published his first book of poetry, Things We Dreamt We Died For, to critical acclaim. Ten years later, he published Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See,which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

“Words are like flies: you notice them when they’re buzzing; when they’re not, it’s as if they don’t exist at all, ” says in The New Yorker. She came upon a billboard with a single word – parbunkells – in black Apple Garamond typeface on a white background. An advertisement for a new product?

Some investigating led her to Julia Weist, an artist.  She came across the word (which means two ropes bound together with nooses [loops] on all four ends and merged in the middle) and thought it was “a nice metaphor for things coming together.” It is a real word with hundreds of year of usage. Just not on the Internet.

She had been looking for a word that did not appear in the results of a search engine. Not an easy task, though Weist also has a degree in library science.  I had my students one semester try to find a relevant course topic that was not in Wikipedia. Also a tough assignment.

Next, Weist went beyond normal curiosity. She decided to put the word somewhere easily visible in public, just to see what would happen. Weist got billboard space via 14X48, a group that fills empty billboards with work by young artists. It would stay up until someone placed a paid ad in that spot

When her billboard version appeared (June 12) in Queens, New York, if you did a web search on “parbunkells” you would only find a website she created. That didn’t last long.

Her experiment in attention and reach began to appear all over the web on social media sites. Someone created a Twitter handle for the word. Someone bought the domain name parbunkells.org and then offered it on eBay with a starting bid of $8000 and “Buy It Now” price of $20,000.

I did a Google search on the word today and came up with about 4200 search results for “parbunkells.” Given time, this post will be included in those results.

The experiment turned out to be an interesting way to study viewership and the way social media spreads memes. There is something to be studied in the eventual engagement with the word that occurred and also the engagement with Weist that emerged.  A “microcosm of the Web’s life cycle.”

I am quite taken today with Anthony Howe’s massive kinetic wind sculptures. Some people say they look alien. He says they emulate human feelings.

Anthony Howe was born in 1954 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He creates wind-driven sculptures that move and pulse and play with vortices. He uses computer-aided design, shaping the metal components with a plasma cutter, and completing his work by use of traditional metalworking techniques.

Because it is difficult to predict the effects of strong wind, he says that he “over-engineers” his work. I like that he tests the sculptures by fixing them to his pickup truck and driving down a highway. Imagine passing that on the road.

 

 

 

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