Tag Archives: Vincent

Homage to Vincent

A dear friend of mine saw a reproduction of the Almond Blossom that she liked in a photo of my room and I did a “copy” of it (copy  between ” ” since I’m not capable of 100 % copying another painting). I don’t know if I did a good job, I hope, and I let you be the judges of that:

My variant - as an homage and trying to learn his technique - of Vincent's Almond Blossom

My variant – as an homage and trying to learn his technique – of Vincent’s Almond Blossom

Ugly Van Gogh’s, Monstrous Children

Every artist, even the geniuses, have their bad days.

Van Gogh did have them too, of course. And I’m talking only of the normal bad days, not the psychotic crisis bad days…

When that happened ugly painting resulted. There are a few of those in his almost one thousand catalogued paintings. Shall we love him less for that matter? of course not. The ugly paintings make him only human. And makes us kind of courageous since, usually, nobody dares to speak of those…not to diminish the genius…not the diminish the market value, also, maybe…

Anyway, here are some of Vincent’s ugly ones, the one I detest most being his cows…

Oh! les vaches!

Oh! les vaches!

Some even doubted the paternity of this painting. The local colors (except for the yellow sky, everything is depressingly local color: the cows are burnt sienna, the grass is depressingly green… I didn’t see any signature (“Vincent”) on this ugly cows, ugly painting…I wouldn’t sign it either… Of course, Vincent painted a lot, very quickly and sometimes, well, sometimes it was a flap study… Because, with a genuine modesty, he was calling most of his paintings “study”…

Then, there are the children’s portraits… (by the way, the “monstrous” from the title is not meant for his children’s portraits but for another genius children…Henri “Le Douanier” Rousseau…) Here there are some of them… None too beautiful and for certain not Vincent’s cup of tea…

Relatively ugly children's portrait by Vincent

Relatively ugly children’s portrait by Vincent

It is a Auvers sur Oise painting, one of the 70-72 paintings he produced, at a rhythm quite exceptional…He did mostly portraits and landscapes (probably more landscapes since he always had trouble in finding willing models for his portraits; usually, for money…) There is a thing about Vincent’s portraits. He declared more than one time his passion for the “modern” portrait and gave a lot of importance to the subject. Some of his greatest works are portraits, the famous Dr Gachet, Dr. Rey’s portrait, etc. The thing is well documented, though. With Dr. Gachet’s exception (but dr. Gachet was in himself a queer birdie…) very few of Vincent’s models appreciated the finished work… A good sample is Dr. Rey’s portrait (a very good one by today’s standards) which ended as a chicken’s den repairing material! the parents of Dr. Rey detested his representation of their son…)

But neither Adeline Ravoux (you see his portrait below) nor Marguerite Gachet were enchanted by their image…

Adeline Ravoux portrait

Adeline Ravoux portrait

Truth to be told, I kind of dislike it too, especially the color of her skin… it looks like that of a cadaver after staying in water for a week or two… Nor did Adeline liked the other portrait of hers…

Second portrait of Adeline R.

Second portrait of Adeline R.

Truth to be told also, Gauguin had the same problem. For instance, his portrait “La Belle Angèle”, a gift he gave to his landlady in Bretagne, was not at all considered as a successful representation of the lady and rejected …

La belle and mean angele

La belle and mean Angele

Of course, model’s tastes were, more often than not, very conventional and a lot of feminine vanity was (as always) involved… I had myself this situation, as a street portrayer, for instance with this old lady which considered herself ill-reproduced (I’ve tried to draw only a small fraction of her many wrinkles and creases…)

My refused portrait of and old hag

My refused portrait of and old hag

Imagine that she asked to be refunded the measly 7 $ in change she paid for this portrait… Oh, vanitas vanitates! (or something like that…)

Anyway, the most unsuccessful portraits were the children ones…The one with the twins is one of them…

the ugly twins

the ugly twins

The brick color of the faces, the forced smiles, the very old looking hands…ok, not the most brilliant representation of children… True, this is a genuine Vincent, with his style well imprinted on the painting… Still, his children are kind of sinister… Speaking of sinister and monstrous children, Rousseau’s children come to mind… here there are some eloquent samples:

Arse on rock picks "children" by Le Douanier Rousseau

Arse on rock pick “children” by Le Douanier Rousseau

Shy little ? girl

Shy little ? girl

queer child

queer child

These were commissioned works, I think, and I don’t know how they were received and if the clients payed their due… If one wanted a nice, cute portrait of their child, I wouldn’t have advised Rousseau as the man for the job… Even if, the thing has to be said, these paintings are perfect; perfect colors, perfect composition, perfect harmonization and unity… Well, the design is not conventionally perfect but yes, these paintings, considered from an objective point of view (not from parents’ point of view…) are great, perfect paintings… strange, of course, even sinister, a bit…but perfect…

Back to Vincent’s portraits… Some say Vincent’s works in his Auvers sur Oise period were uneven… They were, as it happens. Nobody, no genius, can always produce masterpieces. These are a hard thing to come by.

And Vincent has plenty of them even in his last 2 months of life. No shame and no blame in producing some less enjoyable (at least for the models or the model’s parents – a long time dead and buried anyway…) portraits and cow’s rare end portraits… All those make Vincent more human, more close to us, imperfect, non-geniuses painters…

How to Decide if a Biography of Van Gogh deserves to be Read?

Recently, a good friend gave me the gift of an unknown, for me, biography of Van Gogh, “Vincent Van Gogh – A Life” by Philip Callow, 1990, at Elephant Paperback, Chicago.

Since TIME is of a very sensitive nature for me (as, maybe, it should be for everyone since it’s impossible to buy it or re-generate it…) I have to come with new ways of choosing my readings. Van Gogh being, still, after cancer healing and nutrition and meditation books, a preferred and important reading subject for me.

It took me cca 5 minutes to decide that Callow’s bio of Van Gogh wasn’t worth reading, at least, not by me. Maybe if you don’t know anything about Van Gogh (or just the media gossip, here and there) this book will be readable. But for me, or someone who read most of Van Gogh biographies, or at least, the important ones, this is an amateur, dilettant, bio. How did I arrive at this conclusion?

Well, first of all, I’ve browsed the bibliography. Aside from Vincent Letters (which, of course, are a sine qua non of ANY biography of Van Gogh) only very few of the important, interesting biographers of Vincent were there: Marc Edo Tralbaut. Only 2 other big names, but with general works, Herbert Read,  with “The Meaning Of Art” and Rainer Maria Rilke with “Letters to Cézanne” (as I’ve mentioned, works not directly related to Vincent).

So, this was a good hint this was only a commercial, conventional biography of Van Gogh, one written without the preparation or the special skills needed (the author “studied engineering and the teaching of English before turning to writing” ). Well, I’m not a stickler against engineers or English Teachers turned to writing. I think everybody deserves a chance.

But then I came to the supreme test, for me, of a good biography of Vincent. I’ve read the last chapter, the one about the death of Vincent and, eventually, his immediate post-mortem events. And there, without any doubt, I concluded that Philip Callow’s bio was, for me, worthless. No need to read, again and again, the conventional ( and false) legend of the death of Vincent. The “suicide” (taken as a given, no doubt, no inquiry of the question; of course, one cannot judge a 1990 bio of Vincent with the  StevenNaifeh and Gregory White Smith’s 2011 bio in mind, even if, for me, it’s not feasible any more; it’s kind of branded in my mind!) the good “friend” Paul Gachet doing his thing as a “family” doctor, etc. (Gachet wasn’t really a friend of Vincent, not at the end of his life; after some authors, who did extensive research on the matter, he was even a shameless profiteer not only of Van Gogh – who was his “profiteer masterpiece” though – but of all the Impressionists and post-impressionists who crossed his path: Pissarro, Monet (the “good” doctor even had the main responsibility in Monet’s wife untimely death) etc.; but that’s an entirely different subject…) Anyway, reading the chapter I was kind of bored and kind of disgusted of the conventionality and dulness of it.  Not to mention the conventional “Theo” dying after 6 months thing.  Lets say the truth, Theo’s death was, of course, precipitated, by Vincent’s. But he died of 3rd state syphilis. And their relations where a lot more complex and interesting than the conventional “loving” brother thing. (Let’s say that Vincent could be, really, sometimes, a pain in the arse for his family…) Some pretty good dual biographies are out there that really deserves to be read…

When I thought my time was quasi-infinite I’ve come across a lot of quirky , poetical, far-fetched biographies or writings about Vincent. But, at least, they were not boring and dull. So, if you came across this particular biography, do not read it. You’ll waste precious time. Even the 60-70 years old “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone (a serious biographer and writer) is better as a biography of Vincent. In fact, that’s a a classic. And if you have the time to read only ONE biography of Vincent Van Gogh, go with Naifeh and White Smith’s bio. It’s the best to date (and I assume it will be for the next 25 years at least…)

By the way, they don't pay me to advertise their book. The book advertise itself, by it's outstanding value...

By the way, they don’t pay me to advertise their book. The book advertise itself, by it’s outstanding value…

I hope my little tips of how to decide if a book about Vincent deserves reading would help you to gain time. Because, I know it now, time is the most precious thing you have. Don’t waste it.

123 years since Vincent Van Gogh died

Just a reminder and a moment of silence to mark the passing of Vincent, this tortured soul who distiled such beauty from his torment…

Vincent as a Zen Buddhist Monk. One of my favorite self-portraits of Vincent.

Vincent as a Zen Buddhist Monk. One of my favorite self-portraits of Vincent.

Special thanks to authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith for their splendid biography of Vincent, one of the most comprehensive, well written and probably true of all books ever written on Vincent’s life (and there are plenty!)

Personally, they made me understood better all I knew about Vincent (especially from the less known periods of his life, the early years as a painter and the “suicide/ death” of the painter. We doubt now very much that Vincent commited suicide himself (not that it matters much…he was prone to suicide, sooner of later) and their  version of his demise, as an accident Vincent accepted as fate, is a lot more believable that all the corny bullshit we usually read or hear concerning his bitter end.

Self-portait, Why Do We Do it?

I counted about 37-38 self -portraits Vincent Van Gogh painted of himself. There are only 2-3 images of him, painted by others, one a regular portrait made by Van Rappard, another one that I know, a sketch by Toulouse Lautrec… Why this proportion? and why, finally, why did he (or Rembrandt or any other painter) would paint self-portraits?

At the Easel Van gogh self-portrait

At the Easel Van gogh self-portrait

One reason (valid for Van Gogh and for Rembrandt – the two greatest Dutch painters…) would be the ready availability of the “model”. You just need a mirror and here you are, the model is ready to be painted… and Vincent complained constantly about the difficulty to find models…

Of course, this is a rather mundane reason even if a valid and true one. Usually, even when initially this was the reason, the results are almost always more than that… You want it or not, when you do your self -portrait something more gets through, always… Consciously or not, you do more than just making a portrait. You witness a definite moment of your life, you consciously or unconsciously put more in it than the physical features of your mug…

Self Portrait said "a flamenches"

Self Portrait said “a flamenches”

When you consciously testify of your life (the thing André Malraux said it’s the best you can do with you life, “testify of your life” (témoigner de son vécu”), the results are always interesting. It could be a great painting (or not) but it will always be an interesting psychological document.

Yesterday, for instance, I did discovered in the cupboards where my father keeps just about everything (which is an annoying but sometimes useful habit) an old self-portrait of mine which I was convinced was lost. As so many of my paintings and drawings which are sold (for peanuts, usually), given, lost and thrown away or destroyed … Not only mine; weren’t the parents of the now famous Dr. Felix Rey from St. Remy de Provence filling a hole in their chicken house with the portrait Vincent made after the good doctor?

But this one I found again and in a surprisingly good state, almost perfectly preserved after about 38 years (a life time!). Which is a praise and an encouragement to use the tempera technique, a technique I liked then…

Here it is:

Self portrait nov 75

Self portrait nov 75

(to be continued)

The Vanished Van Gogh

It takes no doubt some very big intellectual “cojones” to reveal a Vincent Van Gogh like the one Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith just did, relative recently, by publishing ” Van Gogh:The Life”. This book goes a long way against the tide, against the legend and conventional myth of Vincent Van Gogh. Of course, the myth admits Vincent was a “mad” genius (and essentially, he was, but the accent is on GENIUS not on mad…) but the way the 2 authors extend the madness to, practically,his whole life is, to say the least, unusual, singular.

A weirdo from the beginning to the end, a maniac, a paranoid, quarrelsome, sometimes generous, sometimes blatantly ungrateful human being, the Naifeh & Smith’s Vincent is quite an unpleasant person to deal with. Failure after failure are minutiously described, with an almost scientific accuracy. And these 2 authors are very convincing. Not that they are lirically passionate (like so many of the authors that made a sentimental, often edulcorate myth of the “mad genius” Van Gogh…) They are more like the enthomologist looking with a “manic” (a word they use quite a lot!) attention at an interesting bug through a microscope… Of course, they already exercised this kind of  “focus” on Jackson Pollock, another genius with mental problems…

For me, a fan of Vincent Van Gogh for more than 40 years, it is kind of paradoxically funny, to sing the praises and pay and hommage to them, the 2 guys who ruined “my” Van Gogh for me. For I cannot close my eyes and see “MY” hero Vincent anymore. Vanished.

As I am about to finish my reading of their brick of a book (which I start to read from the end – the fishy “suicide”, Naifeh & Smith variant – and now I will finish in the middle…) “my” Vincent is there no more, lost and vanished. I suppose, even our personal myths grow old, wither and die…

What is still here? Well, it is “their” Vincent, a troubled, bizarre, too passionate (with a short fuse and a short – if intense – flame), paranoid, impossible to live with, mad (truly and ugly mad, from the beginning, and not conveniently romantically mad like in the Hollywood movies…) human being. I’m not a psychiatrist but, if I were, probably I would have diagnosed his sickness as Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness which was not in the books back in the 1890 ties… (May the Lord forgive me the sin of adding yet another dilettante diagnosis of Vincent’s sickness! I just couldn’t help myself, for very personal reasons…)

Eventually, their Vincent proves to be quite an unglamourous figure. A sad, unhappy, difficult being. Difficult to deal with. And if there was, no doubt, a lot of suffering involved, the most of it was self inflicted, the result of his mental sickness.

Van Gogh, for me, is NOT a hero and a model anymore. At least not as a person. Oh, boy!

File:Vincent Willem van Gogh 102.jpg

Of course, his body of work is still there, his letters, his drawings, his paintings. Not all of them are masterpieces (even if treated as such by the Auction Houses; but then, did you looked at that little horror of a Scream by Munch they sold for 120 millions or such?!) but the inevitably few who are…well, those sunny, colorful, a la prima, perfect paintings and drawings they do for sure tip the balance in his favor. Maybe it was God’s scope to make him the way he was and give him so much unhappiness and pain. So that he can draw and paint those awesomely happy, luminous and colorful images that are now a part of our everyday life. Those masterpieces – the pure essence of a life so full of failure and self – inflicted sufferings – are redeeming. More than enough to tip the balance from Vincent, the madman, to simply “Vincent”. “Vincent”, the way he signed his paintings. Vincent, the genius.

I Am Too Old For This Shit

La Bohème, la vie d’artiste, for the moment I will set that aside. As you can read in my title, I really am too old for this shit… 20 years older than Vincent at the moment of his death. I’ve tried and will still try to go on and finish what I can, I know this is just a phase and maybe, one day, if I’ll live, the nostalgia of an artist life, the urge to draw and to paint could come back with a vengeance. But for now, I will just stay (literally) on my arse 8 h per day, helping clients of Chatr to Talk Happy… It will pay the bills…

What can I do? No Mecena offered to do for me what Theo did for Vincent or Ambroise Vollard for Gauguin…

Painting, art, literature, will still be with me and I’ll even try to write a blog post here and there, when a lonely idea will traverse my head, full of the ” sound and the fury” of so many voices…

Here it is a kind of farewell photo, something to match the famous “Self portrait of Vincent On The Way to Tarascon” (the painting destroyed during Dresden bombardment, at the end of WW2):

Danu, on the Zen Path, near the Nation’s Lake, Sherbrooke, Quebec.

I’m kind of old and kind of tired but if some not so probable Mecena will point out his/her nose  and insist that I finish my body of work…well…we’ll see then…

So, farewell for now, my few friends. You, at least, keep up the good work…