Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Theo and Vincent

Letters between Theo and Vincent very poignantly express their intimate relationship, and can be read as being autobiographical. The only reference to these letters, was the scene where Theo is reading his most recent correspondence received from Vincent and over reacts to his wife’s question about what Vincent has written, telling her that letters should be private. Ironically in fact if Johanna  van Gogh Bonger had not compiled all of these letters, very little would be known about Vincent and Theo. The vital role she played in this fact was not portrayed in the film. It was at least refreshing to hear the actress who played Johanna, her authentic Dutch accent, as opposed to Paul Rhys’s, very English accent.

That said, I have to say Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas was overacted however I can make allowances because of this being a very early film done in the 1950s and based on Irving Stone's book. I had higher expectations for the 1990 Altman film, which I was disappointed in. The production of the movie, Lust for Life is more factual and focused on Vincent the artist as opposed to the his mental illness. If anything it was entertaining, not what can be said of Vincent and Theo.

Vincent’s letters were accompanied often with drawings which could have been referenced to in the film. Instead one was left with scenes of Vincent being tormented mentally much of the time while painting.

There was little emphasis on Theo’s instrumental contribution to introducing to the public Dutch and French contemporary artists, and the fact that Theo was Vincent’s only confidant and who fastidiously kept every letter. Theo was what van Gogh scholar, Arnold Pomerans and editor of, “ The Letters of Vincent van Gogh  states, “ Theo was the kind of man who saved even the smallest scrap of paper.” These letters are considered by Pomerans as being “ World Literature.” Vincent was a voracious reader, reading such writers as Zola, Balzac, Voltaire, Flaubert, Michelet, and novels by Bronte. Dickens, Keats poetry and George Eliot.

In both movies I have seen about Vincent van Gogh his death is always as a result of suicide however strong indications in the biography written by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith say it is very likely Vincent was shot by a young 16 year old boy Rene Secre’tan who tormented Vincent and carried an antique pistol given to him by his father, which he would use for shooting birds, rabbits and squirrels. Gaston his younger brother was kind to Vincent and wanted to learn to paint from him.
Rene, along with his brother Gaston left town with their father immediately after Vincent was shot where he was painting in the field. A gun was never found nor was Vincent’s art supplies.
Letters to and from Vincent suggest that in spite of the difficulties Vincent experienced he would not commit suicide because it was illegal and because his religious beliefs. However this does not rule out that his mental illness may have caused suicidal thoughts which he may or may have not acted upon.

Below I have compiled some of the letters to Theo, I found online, that express Vincent's thoughts and feelings about himself and art.

  In my opinion, I am often rich as Croesus--not in money, but (though it doesn't happen every day) rich--because I have found in my work something which I can devote myself to heart and soul, and which inspires me and gives a meaning to life.

            Of course my moods change, but the average is serenity. I have a firm faith in art, a firm confidence in its being a powerful stream which carries a man to a harbor, though he himself must do his bit too; at all events, I think it such a great blessing when a man has found his work that I cannot count myself among the unfortunate. I mean, I may be in certain relatively great difficulties, and there may be gloomy days in my life, but I shouldn't like to be counted among the unfortunate, nor would it be correct if I were.

            (from Letter 274 to Theo from the Hague, 11 March 1883)

I mean that in your capacity of expert, you, just as the painters themselves - in theory even better than they, because you have to give advice and to speak about pictures in the making - must know certain rules about colours and perspective. Excuse me, but what I say is true, that this will perhaps be of more practical use to you than you may suppose, and would raise you above the ordinary level of art dealers - which is necessary, for the ordinary level is below the mark.

From my own experience I know pretty well what art dealers do know and what they don't.

I believe they are often taken in, and put over deals which they later regret, just because they know too little of how a picture is made. Well, but I know that you are already taking pains, for instance by reading good books like Gigoux's.

Study that question of the colours, etc., carefully. I try to also, and I will gladly and thankfully read whatever you may find concerning it too. At present I am busy putting into practice, on the drawing of a hand and an arm, what Delacroix said about drawing: “Ne pas prendre par la ligne mais par le milieu.” That gives opportunity enough to start from ellipses. And what I try to acquire is not to draw a hand but the gesture, not a mathematically correct head, but the general expression. For instance, when a digger looks up and sniffs the wind or speaks. In short, life.

It may be politic to keep what one feels to oneself, but it has always seemed to me that serenity is a duty, especially for a painter - whether people understand what I say, whether they judge me rightly or wrongly, is neither here nor there as far as I am concerned, as you once pointed out to me.

How rich art is; if one can only remember what one has seen, one is never without food for thought or truly lonely, never alone.

Vincent van Gogh to Theo
15 November 1878


That head of his has been occupied with contemporary society's insoluble problems for so long, and he is still battling on with his good-heartedness and boundless energy. His efforts have not been in vain, but he will probably not live to see them come to fruition, for by the time people understand what he is saying in his paintings it will be too late. He is one of the most advanced painters and it is difficult to understand him, even for me who knows him so intimately. His ideas cover so much ground, examining what is humane and how one should look at the world, that one must first free oneself from anything remotely linked to convention to understand what he was trying to say, but I am sure he will be understood later on. It is just hard to say when.

Theo van Gogh to Jo
9-10 February 1889

"Real painters do not paint things as they are... they paint them as they feel them to be."

Vincent van Gogh

" I will paint the most simple, the most common things."

Vinceny van Gogh

The Great Dictator

I found this video that Charlie Chaplin did from his film The Great Dictator, in my email this morning. It is a very impassioned speech and the person who sent it stated the speech reminded them of Wilfred Owen the great romantic poet. I has the great pleasure of studying  romantic poetry this Summer with Professor Emeritus Micheal Thorpe. I was once again was stuck by how war was an constant theme and the woes of the new age of the industrial revolution and the suffering it brought. It's an important message.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Third Painting of Women in War Series

When I found this particular photo I was very moved by it. I hope I've done it justice and portrayed the emotion in her face.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Kind of Weeping Woman

This is my second egg tempera painting I did today for the next series I started working on yesterday.

It is sometimes difficult to know just when a piece is done. I think it is a common feeling that as a painter, never quite feeling a painting is finished.

I have made a minor change to this painting just a few seconds ago but I haven't posted it. I'll take another photo tomorrow of the changes I made tonight and compare the two and see which one I like better. Mean time this is going to do.

Here is the updated version I have softened the shadows on the hands.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Painting

“The violent subjugation of the Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans will only ensure that those who oppose us will increasingly speak to us in the language we speak to them—violence.”
Chris Hedges

As artists and art students we are always being questioned the why of our work, always asked to make ongoing artist statements. This can be somewhat frustrating however I see it as a very beneficial endevour, allowing and enabling the clarification of goals and makes for accountability for what is being created.

After a long discussion with my studio advisor I came away from the meeting feeling encouraged that I have a good foundation to pursue another direction creatively, as I am taking a bit of a u-turn with my work so to speak. Though my advisor felt I should not completely drop what I been recently doing with my series based on Clarissa Pinkola's book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. We both agreed I will return to the series at a later time.

I will continue working in egg tempera, as I am still very committed to continuing to learn about the medium. I have been collecting online photographers of women affected by war to use as subject matter.

Gratefully I have not first hand experience of war. My family Meyers, is a Jewish name. My great grandfather was orphaned when he first came to Minto, from the Europe.  

I hate to think of what may have happened to my great great grand parents and have a sense of loss for not knowing who they were and knowing my great grand parents fled Poland, Germany and the Netherlands because of the war.

My father had his name legally changed from Meyers to Myers because people were calling him a German Jew.  I learned of an internment camp that was established in Minto during WW11.

This unexpected interest in war began to develop for me perhaps at this time I think, as I found myself always wanting to know what happened to my family and circumstances surrounding the war.

Over this last year of university I took two courses, one on Romantic Poetry, which had an ongoing theme about war and the industrial revolution, the other called History Through Film. What I took away from both of these courses was a despairing feeling about man's inhumanity toward man, thinking about how the war so profoundly affects our world. 
In the History Through Film, I was particularly struck how Japan's identity and sense of time was changed, because of the fact that no other country in the world had ever experienced this kind of destruction and devastation from the atomic bomb, all of these events developed my interest in looking further into the meaning of war.

 “In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war's grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”
Chris Hedges, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Christine de Pizan

As a mini art project for my class, Women, Art and Society, I chose to do a painting of someone considered perhaps the first professional woman writer, Christine de Pizan,  whose thirty year career spanned from 1399-1429. Born in 1357, her family soon moved from Venice to Paris where her father, Tommaso da Pizzano was hired to work as the royal court astrologer for Charles V as well he was a Councillor of The Republic.

Christine came from a very privileged and educated background where both parents  in this writer's opinion imparted a rather unusual egalitarian sensibility to their daughter. Her scholarly mother and father were very well educated at the University of Bologna. Christine was encouraged to get an education, studying the classics and humanities.

Marrying at the young age of 15 years in 1380 and after the death of both her father and her husband, Etienne de Castel, Christine found herself without income, widowed and having to support three young children, along with her widowed mother at the age of 25. Sadly one of her children died in childhood.

In order to make ends meet she began writing romantic poems, which found great favor with those among the wealthy court, and increasingly got much recognition . She would receive compensation, in the form of perhaps a piece of cloth or jewels for her work. This was commonly practiced with male poets but unheard of with poets that were women.

Her most notable and successful work, The Book of the City of Ladies was written using French vernacular, published  in 1405 , having great philosophical depth, and gave an account of the history of women, using Boccaccio De Mulierilous Claus ( Concerning Famous Women ) as source material. Her writing was very cutting edge, in that she challenged the social and cultural mores of a misogynistic society. It was written in response to the well known popular writers of the day.

My egg tempera painting depicts Christine de Pizan at her laptop writing away. I know this is  incongruous imagery, however it is my attempt to convey that in spite of and perhaps because of the fact she lived so long ago, she still commands the attention of  contemporary feminist artists in light of existing misogyny and basic human rights still being very much at the forefront of the feminist mindset in today's world. Christine de Pizan was a kind of warrior and one of the first feminist writers who paved the way for women in the future, and she no doubt would be very much internet desktop publishing savvy!

Linked References: The Woman Warrior

                              New World Encyclopedia 

                              Christine de Pisan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Goya -

The film by Carlos Saura, Goya In Bordeaux, though cinematography was powerful, beautiful and interesting in parts, it left me with more questions than answers , due to the fact I found it to be lacking in information. I would have appreciated either an actual theatre performance or a film based on Goya's paintings, rather than a combined attempt at a somewhat strange low budget theatrical like production and film, that was more about the man, his spiral into mental instability and his romantic love interests which always appear to be emphasized in movies about artists. These combined aspects I found rather confusing and more about the cinematography than anything else, although I very much appreciated the actor who played Goya, and the remaining cast members as I think they were all well chosen. I particular loved the authentic and historically accurate costuming, the element of dance and use of music.

I would like to have seen more information about his very early development and life as an artist, considering he began his apprenticeship at the early age of 14 years, with Francisco Bayeu designing tapestries and later with royal court painter Anton Raphael Mengs. I am curious to know why he fell out with Mengs. Interestingly in 1763 and in 1766  Goya was denied entrance into the Royal Academy, I would also like to know why.

The emphasis on Goya's mysterious illness throughout the movie which left him introspective and withdrawn but with no explanation of it's possible cause, but it has however been speculated by some, that he may have actually suffered from Meniere's disease which would have caused his hearing loss vertigo and tinnitus or perhaps was poisoned by his paint pigment which may have caused a series of strokes and dementia.

Goya's 42 tapestries designs I would like to know more about, as I believe these played a part in the historical story of Spain that Goya's work encompassed.  I found it interesting in my research to learn  that his appointment as a member of the Royal Academy and his commissioned painting done of Charles 1V of Spain and His Family, the artist is looking out as a viewer on the family, as if in mocking judgement.

This family portrait is very unflattering and may indicate Goya's disillusion and disdain  for the monarchy and it's corrupt government.

The Black Paintings, which are extremely compelling and disturbing in nature, reflecting Goya's desperate state of mind mentally are both powerful and revealing. The film did an excellent job in imparting this to the viewer and was very effective. Interestingly it has been claimed that these were not produced by Goya according to an controversial article written in the New York Times.

In Goya's painting, The Yard of Lunatics expresses a terrifying vision of mental illness unlike what was depicted by previous artists on this subject matter and was done at the time of Goya's own complete mental brake down.

Another film about Goya entitled The Secret of the Shadows addresses what director David Mauas refers to as, micro signatures found in several of Goya's paintings.

There is much mystery around Goya and perhaps this is what is compelling about the artist and his art, as he and his work is left for us to interpret what it is he says to us and what is essentially Goya. Today however he is considered the last of the "Old Masters" and the "Father of Modernism".

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

La Larona - The Weeping Woman

This is my latest painting, La Larona -The Weeping Woman. The story itself is a powerful daunting one that makes you pause, and think about what is really important in life, our relationships.

For me, my relationship with myself, with others, and with the God of my understanding is paramount in my life. That said, it is easy to get distracted and myopic in my perspective at different times in daily life losing touch with the right and wrong of people, places and things. It is having an attitude of living in the future or dwelling on the past and not appreciating or being content in and with the present moment. I have learned the hard way that projection into the future or having regrets from the past is a sure formula for unhappiness and losing your soul. Searching for something outside myself to give me happiness is futile. It makes me think of what Carl Jung refers to as being "Spiritus contra spiritum" .  "Attempting to fill a spiritual void with a material reality", is Jung's definition of addiction.

Lately I have been doing research about war in terms of the differences in the attitude and perceptions that men and women have toward it, and how it is likened to addiction, according to what the past NY Times war correspondent, journalist and Pulizer Prize winner, Chris Hedges states in his book,War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

The world is full of war and sometimes we often wage it with our conscience, those personal conflicts taking place within our own spirits.
I have in the past found myself on the front lines of some one else's personal battle becoming a victim or the one who has victimized in one way or another. I have taken a few emotional hostages in the past, but that's another story.

This last egg tempera painting, of La Larona-The Weeping Woman is the conclusion of this series I have been painting, based on Clarissa Pinkola's book ,Women Who Run With The Wolves. It was not my intention for this to be the last one and I will probably come back to the series again. However I have reached a juncture in my work where I am questioning what that hell am I doing as an artist. I suspect many creative people wonder this and perhaps are like me in search of deeper meaning and purpose to their work and art practice.  I think this is growth. I find myself being pulled and gravitating toward more serious work that explores feminism and global issues. It's much easier said than done and I am feeling a bit adrift right now but I have faith that I will find my way along the stepping stones in my creative path.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rembrandt Loved Dogs

 " Practice what you know and it will become clear what now you do not know."

                                                                        -  Rembrandt van Rijn

Not unlike Artemisia Gentleschi, Rembrandt was inspired by Caravaggio in his use of intense light and realism.What always impressed me most about Rembrandt's work, is the spiritual atmosphere and quality that emanates from  his depiction of people, particularly in the Old Testament stories, that is very apparent in his early work such as, Tobit and Anna , in his later work, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph and The Return of The Prodigal Son. There is a strong sense of compassion that allows the viewer to experience this, I think because Rembrandt was able to transcend what he deeply felt spiritually into his work.

 In the movie, "Rembrandt" that was produced in 1939, we recently watched in class the plot did not convey this spiritual quality in his work, although Rembrandt was portrayed as a spiritual man, especially after a experiencing a number of humbling life difficulties he had to face. The film showed Rembrandt's return to his childhood home after financial hardship due too his own money mismanagement and other challenges that seemed to break his spirit. I think this pointed out an important factor that seemed to be pervasive throughout his life in spite of his successes and wealth in his earlier years; he didn't forget his humble beginnings as the son of a miller.

Perhaps something that gave Rembrandt an advantage as an artist is a condition called stereo blindness. This was concluded after careful examination of 36 of Rembrandt's self-portraits.
Margaret S. Livingstone who is a professor of neurobiology from Harvard Medical School published a letter in 2004 which stated that Rembrandt's eyes didn't align properly. This condition is the inability to perceive in three dimensions and enables one to flatten what is seen in order to render two dimensional work. Scientists have found this condition is more common among artists comparatively to those with normal stereo-acute vision.

Many modern artists have been inspired and copied Rembrandt's work and Pablo Picasso notably drew from Rembrandt's dry point drawing entitled , Christ Presented to the People. Picasso's work was a depiction of a theatre performance.
Rembrandt's pupils were required to copy drawings and paintings and had  his students copy his own paintings as well before they were permitted to actually render from life.
                                      Pablo Picasso, Le théatre de Picasso

Rembrandt was a very prolific artist producing a possible 300-600 paintings, 300 etchings and 1,400 drawings.

Many artists make self-portraiture a part of their art practice, however Rembrandt seemed  preoccupied in doing so. I suspect that perhaps this was because Rembrandt was convicted by his own personal spiritual beliefs deeply embedded into his soul from an early age given to him by his Calvinist parents, who imparted a strong sense of right and wrong to him and perhaps his portraiture was his search for an honest discerning truth about his character as a man.

Although Rembrandt's character may have been somewhat problematic for him earlier in his successful career, being involved in 25 legal battles, probably linked to his financial difficulties, wealth did not bring him happiness, considering the loss of his children and his wives which caused him great sorrow and suffering, as they could never be replaced.

The Night Watch was believe to have contributed to the beginning of his financial downfall and popularity because the painting was not well received, however this proved not to be true  and was unfounded, as he continued to receive support and recognition for his work.


                                   " Choose only one master...Nature"

                    "Painting is the grandchild of nature. It is related to God."

                      " Sincerity is the eventual deception of all great men."

                            "Without atmosphere a painting is nothing. "

                                                         - Rembrandt van Rijn

A small point of interest, Rembrandt loved dogs and they were often included in many of his paintings.