Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real Triumph of Vincent Van Gogh

This week I am busy working on two paintings, one of the mission church at Chimayo, New Mexico, and another large commissioned piece of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The thick layering process that my works go through often involves setting one aside in favor of another so that a dry surface can set up and I can later go back over the top of it without cutting into the paint.

I am very excited to now have paintings in the Taos Fine Art Gallery in Taos, NM. This is a beautiful gallery right in the center of Taos, featuring a wide range of artists from contemporary to classic. One painting from the group of 8 works originally taken to Taos has already sold, and we're certainly hoping for a good summer season there.

I've recently been thinking a great deal about the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. It occurs to me that I believe what dominates his persona are the twin perceptions his difficult life and his work. I think perhaps that art lovers have been far too consumed with the idea of the "peintre maudit", who lives and suffers for their work. This is, of course, quite true for many artists like Van Gogh and Modigliani - but this is not the extent of it and nor should it be. What has always struck me as amazing about Van Gogh was not that all of his works were masterpieces - clearly I think that he did some very poor quality works - but that there are enough masterpieces in his collection that we should be humbled most by the fact that he managed an astounding output of work while battling hopeless despair, mental illness, and terrible luck in love. That somewhere, when the entire world was spinning around him, he was able to find a quiet spot of optimism to create and thrive in. Later, while battling what many believed was epilepsy combined with other psychological disorders - he managed to go on working in his lucid periods, and create, even in the confines of an insane asylum - true masterpieces like the "Irises" at St Remy.

So shouldn't it be better said that he accomplished all that he did in spite of his despair and illness? Yes, I believe so. I think that the man shone through best through his work and his letters, and the picture that emerges is a person of great tenderness, of deep, sharp intelligence and sense of purpose - and someone who must have had a great deal of physical strength and endurance to spend years of hardship, often without sufficient food or self care - surviving on coffee at some points and scrimping on food in order that he could buy paint.

I think that is should also be better known that Van Gogh did not die unknown. In fact it is probably more fair to say that he died on the cusp of becoming known. He had had a critical article written by Aurier who praised him immensely. He had the respect of many of his fellow artists - notably Pissaro. It is also not generally well known that Van Gogh had exhibited ten paintings at the Salon des Independants in March of 1890, and that Theo Van Gogh had written to Vincent that "Your paintings in the show were very successful. Monet said your pictures were the best in the whole exhibition." It stands to reason that if, in 1890, a certain Claude Monet made a comment like that - then Vincent was no longer an unknown quantity. What would any of us give, if we lived in that time, to have received such praise from Claude Monet?

The legacy of Van Gogh is a legacy that lives on in the rest of us, whenever we use a blazing yellow, when we load our brushes and carve out new imagery in a thick, undulating surface of paint. Vincent broke down the walls that so many of us were able to step over so much more easily. My only wish would have been that he could have had some idea that he was to become one of the most renowned creative artists in the history of the world - then perhaps that lonely gunshot in the fields of Auvers in 1890 would have never happened.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star

This week I am working on a 24 x 30 in. canvas of sunflowers. I've always enjoyed still life painting, and near the very start of my art career I sold more still life paintings than landscapes! But I later came to the conclusion that my mentor Jean-Claude Quilici had perfected the still life to such a point to where I did not know where to go with it. I had a great fear that any still life I did would look too much like his! That is because his are the most perfect I know and I feel that they could scarcely be improved on. But over the past few weeks I realized that I had a great desire to paint sunflowers and irises again - so I figured that I would do it without trying to reinvent the genre. Just give in to the joy of doing it, and not over think the matter.

I found myself thinking about Jean-Claude Quilici again when I was fortunate to receive a magazine "Pratique des Arts" and an accompanying DVD in the mail. In the DVD a woman from the magazine follows Jean-Claude Quilici on an outing to paint at Les Baux in southern France, and discusses art and his career. During the DVD we get a wonderful change to see Jean-Claude at work, and to see his process of formulating a painting - something that not even I had ever seen directly. Quilici is a very intelligent, perceptive man - coupled with a humble nature and a joie de vivre that is quite compelling - I am pleased to call him my master and friend. I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson that said "Hitch your wagon to a star." At whatever points in my own art career that doubt had begun to creep in, I had the example of Quilici held up in front of me so as to say that it could be done because he did it. Keep the faith.

In other wonderful news, my wife and I are heading to Taos, New Mexico to deliver a group of my paintings to the Taos Fine Art Gallery. After May 17th my work will be directly available through that gallery for the New Mexico summer, and I am very excited about the chance to show work in historic Taos. One of the 7 paintings slated to go to Taos has already sold, even before delivery - so I am delighted!

Just this past week I posted a new group of springtime in Arizona painting on my new paintings page of my website , so do drop by for a look. I'll soon be reposting works on "The Painter's Closet" web page as well.

And I do want to tell you all about the music of a dear friend of mine, Deanna Johnston. Deanna was one of the last women left standing on the CBS show Rockstar INXS, and she has an amazing, powerful voice that has been compared to the classic vocals of Janis Joplin. Deanna has recently completed an EP that is now for sale. I have a copy and have been listening to it like crazy - you can get a copy at her official site .