Tag Archives: sunflower

Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin: Art Discussions in Arles II

27 Mar

“You’ll never be an artist, Vincent,” announced Gauguin, “until you can look at nature, come back to your studio and paint it in cold blood.”
“I don’t want to paint in cold blood, you idiot. I want to paint in hot blood! That’s why I’m in Arles.”
“All this work you’ve done is only slavish copying from nature. You must learn to work extempore.”
“Extempore! Good God!”

Vincent van Gogh, Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles), c. November 1888

In this post I’ll present you the continuation of the art discussions which Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had in Arles. You can read the first part of this post here. As I have already said, Vincent van Gogh arrived to Arles in spring of 1888, and in October the same year a fellow painter Paul Gauguin joined him in sunny Provence though not without a bit of hesitation and skepticism. While Vincent admired the older painter and wanted to learn from him, Gauguin arrogantly dismissed Vincent’s ideas about art and criticised his paintings with no shyness. In the first part of their discussion, Gauguin focused on criticising Vincent’s sunflowers and here Gauguin will focus on lecturing Vincent that he will never be a true artist until he can gaze at nature, then return to studio and paint from his memory/imagination rather than directly whilst being in nature. I still cannot fathom the audacity of Gauguin to say such things, but it is interesting to read it. The passages are, as I’ve already said, from Irving Stone’s book “Lust for Life”. Vincent did indeed listen to Gauguin and tried out his advice on painting from memory and the result was the painting you can see above, “Memory of the Garden at Etten” or simply called “Ladies of Arles” which looks different from Van Gogh’s other paintings. It’s vibrant and interesting, but I still prefer his typical style of painting, exhibited in his wheat field with crows and his paintings of sunflowers and starry nights. I do like all the little dots and dashes of red on the woman’s clothes and of turquoise on the cypresses. And now here is the discussion:

The painters whom Gauguin admired, Vincent despised. Vincent’s idols were anathema to Gauguin. They disagreed on every last approach to their craft. Any other subject they might have been able to discuss in a quiet and friendly manner, but painting was the meat and drink of life to them. They fought for their ideas to the last drop of nervous energy. Gauguin had twice Vincent’s brute strength, but Vincent’s lashing excitement left them evenly matched. Even when they discussed things about which they agreed, their arguments were terribly electric. They came out of them with their heads as exhausted as a battery after it has been discharged.
“You’ll never be an artist, Vincent,” announced Gauguin, “until you can look at nature, come back to your studio and paint it in cold blood.”
“I don’t want to paint in cold blood, you idiot. I want to paint in hot blood! That’s why I’m in Arles.”
“All this work you’ve done is only slavish copying from nature. You must learn to work extempore.”
“Extempore! Good God!”
“And another thing; you would have done well to listen to Seurat. Painting is abstract, my boy. It has no room for the stories you tell and the morals you point out.”
“I point out morals? You’re crazy.”
“If you want to preach, Vincent, go back to the ministry. Painting is colour, line, and form; nothing more. The artist can reproduce the decorative in nature, but that’s all.”
“Decorative art,” snorted Vincent. “If that’s all you get out of nature, you ought to go back to the Stock Exchange.”
“If I do, I’ll come hear you preach on Sunday mornings. What do you get out of nature, Brigadier?”
“I get motion, Gauguin, and the rhythm of life.”
“Well, we’re off.”
“When I paint a sun, I want to make people feel it revolving at a terrific rate of speed. Giving off light and heat waves of tremendous power. When I paint a cornfield I want people to feel the atoms within the corn pushing out to their final growth and bursting. When I paint an apple I want people to feel the juice of that apple pushing out against the skin, the seeds at the core striving outward to their own fruition!”
“Vincent, how many times have I told you that a painter must not have theories.”
“Take this vineyard scene, Gauguin. Look out! Those grapes are going to burst and squirt right in your eye. Here, study this ravine. I want to make people feel all the millions of tons of water that have poured down its sides. When I paint the portrait of a man, I want them to feel the entire flow of that man’s life, everything he has seen and done and suffered!”
“What the devil are you driving at?”
“At this, Gauguin. The fields that push up the corn, and the water that rushes down the ravine, the juice of the grape, and the life of a man as it flows past him, are all one and the same thing. The sole unity in life is the unity of rhythm. A rhythm to which we all dance; men, apples, ravines, ploughed fields, carts among the corn, houses, horses, and the sun. The stuff that is in you, Gauguin, will pound through a grape tomorrow, because you and a grape are one. When I paint a peasant labouring in the field, I want people to feel the peasant flowing down into the soil, just as the corn does, and the soil flowing up into the peasant. I want them to feel the sun pouring into the peasant, into the field, into corn, the plough, and the horses, just as they all pour back into the sun. When you begin to feel the universal rhythm in which everything on earth moves, you begin to understand life. That alone is God.”
“Brigadier,” said Gauguin, “vous avez raison!”
Vincent was at the height of his emotion, quivering with febrile excitement. Gauguin’s words struck him like a slap in the face. He stood there gaping foolishly, his mouth hanging open.
“Now what in the world does that mean, ‘Brigadier, you are right?’”
“It means I think it about time we adjourned to the café for an absinthe.”

Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin: Art Discussions in Arles I

21 Mar

“Those violent yellows, for example; they’re completely disordered.”
“Is that all you find to say about my sunflowers?”
“No, my dear fellow, I can find a good many things to criticize.”

Paul Gauguin, The Painter of Sunflowers – Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Vincent van Gogh arrived to Arles in spring of 1888, and in October the same year a fellow painter Paul Gauguin joined him in sunny Provence though not without a bit of hesitation and skepticism. While Vincent admired the older painter and wanted to learn from him, Gauguin arrogantly dismissed Vincent’s ideas about art and criticised his paintings with no shyness. It seems that the two painters were already too mature to take advice and their art styles too developed to change. Their approaches to painting and their life philosophies were very different; Gauguin thought Vincent was nothing but a romantic fool and he despised his thick visible brushstrokes. At the same time, Vincent loved to paint directly from nature and didn’t agree with Gauguin’s “painting from memory” technique. The painting above is Gauguin’s portrait of Vincent van Gogh as the painter of sunflowers. Vincent didn’t like the way his face was painted because he thought it made him look like a madman, and that’s coming from a man who had cut off his own ear a month later… It is perplexing how Gauguin wasn’t impressed with Vincent, why I cannot imagine what joy and privilege it must be to sit beside Vincent and gaze at him painting sunflower, gaze at the very birth of the painting, take in all the gorgeous shades of yellow. I would have loved that. In my previous post I mentioned that I was rereading Irving Stone’s wonderful romanticised biography of Vincent van Gogh called “Lust for Life” and in this post I wanted to share a dialogue between Vincent and Gauguin about art:

“What is the matter with the colours in my pictures?”
“My dear fellow, you’re still floundering in neo-impressionism. You’d better give up your present method. It doesn’t correspond to your nature.”
Vincent pushed his bowl of soup aside.
“You can tell that at first glance, eh? You’re quite a critic.”
“Well, look for yourself. You’re not blind, are you? Those violent yellows, for example; they’re completely disordered.”
Vincent glanced up the sunflower panels on the wall.
“Is that all you find to say about my sunflowers?”
“No, my dear fellow, I can find a good many things to criticize.”
“Among them?”
“Among them, your harmonies; they’re monotonous and incomplete.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Oh, sit down, Vincent. Stop looking as though you wanted to murder me. I’m a good deal older than you, and more mature. You’re still trying to find yourself. Just listen to me, and I’ll give you some fruitful lessons.”
“I’m sorry, Paul. I do want you to help me.”
“Then the first thing you had better do is sweep all the garbage out of your mind. You’ve been raving all day about Messonier and Monticelli. They’re both worthless. As long as you admire that sort of painting, you’ll never turn out a good canvas yourself.”
“Monticelli was a great painter. He knew more about colour than any man of his time.”
“He was a drunken idiot, that’s what he was.” Vincent jumped to his feet and glared at Gauguin across the table.
The bowl of soup fell to the red tile floor and smashed.
“Don’t you call ‘Fada’ that! I love him almost as well as I do my own brother! All that talk about his being such a drinker, and off his head, is vicious gossip. No drunkard could have painted Monticelli’s pictures. The mental labour of balancing the six essential colours, the sheer strain and calculation, with a hundred things to think of in a single half hour, demands a sane mind. And a sober one. When you repeat that gossip about ‘Fada’ you’re being just as vicious as that beastly woman who started it.”
“Turlututu, mon chapeau pointu!”
Vincent recoiled, as though a glass of cold water had been thrown in his face. His words and tense emotion strangled within him. He tried to put down his rage, but could not. He walked to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Love, Flowers and Solitude: Part II

24 Jan

In the first part of my little series, I wrote about Georgia’s early charcoal drawings, her correspondence and blooming romance with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. In this part, I will continue where I left off and focus on her fascinations with flowers.

“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.”

Georgia O’Keeffe, Hibiscus, 1939

According to Georgia, they would make love, and Stieglitz would take pictures of her afterwards. She found it difficult and tiresome to stand still for so long. Sometimes he would focus on a specific body parts such as her bosom or her pretty delicate hands. In a similar manner Georgia would later focus on the detail of something that she was painting and cropped it, particularly flowers. When I think of Georgia’s dazzling portraits of flowers, I see her as a little girl out in the meadow, running freely and led by childlike curiosity, observing them through her magnifying glass and discovering an entire new world. Georgia was just as inquisitive as Alice in Wonderland, but also a very patient person with an acute observation. She gazes at flowers, she starts understanding their language and gesture, the petals hold no more secrets to her wise eyes. Enraptured with what she had seen and discovered, Georgia takes the paint – all sorts of colours fitting for a flower – yellow, pink, red, white, blue, orange – and paints for us all that the flowers try to hide from us. Georgia applies almost Zen-like principles in her art, and life too, her focus was always on patience and observation. She says herself: “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia’s paintings of overwhelmingly large flowers confront us with something we take so little to notice or appreciate. Just think about it, how little we spend just gazing at something; meditatively gazing without anything to gain from it, without a final destination.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Hibiscus with Plumeria, 1939

Georgia’s paintings of flowers are something most exquisite, no one before her painted flowers that way; huge flowers in vibrant tropical colours dominating the canvas, stretching their large petals and drawing you into their world. Fluid forms and lyrical softness are reminiscent of her early watercolours and charcoals, but the way of painting was something quite new. Inspired by Stieglitz and the photography that he introduced her to, she began painting in a very fine, precise way so that no brushstrokes are seen and the overall effect of paint on canvas is smooth. Personally, I would love to see the brushstrokes because it is like the artist is speaking to you, but perhaps without that technical segment we are able to focus on the thing Georgia is painting and not her as the creator behind it; by eliminating the heavy visible brushstrokes, she is revealing to us the flower itself, its petals, and allows it to be a world of if its own. She tricks us, feeds us illusions. Gazing at Georgia’s paintings of flowers makes me think that this is how a butterfly must feel when it lands on a flower, this is how a bumblebee must feel when he pays the beloved flower a visit and becomes one with its lush fragrant petals. We too don’t just observe Georgia’s flowers from afar, as we would a standard still life with flowers or a painting of a flowery meadow, we are engaged – we too become a part of the flower, at least for the moment. I think in some way, her paintings of flowers are really psychedelic.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Petunia and White Morning Glory, 1926

Georgia O’Keeffe, Sunflower, 1935

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris, 1926

Georgia O’Keeffe, Oriental Poppies, 1927

At first, I didn’t think of Georgia’s flowers as ‘romantic’ in a way Claude Monet’s flowers are, scattered in the meadow or surrounding a lady sitting in the grass, but now I am thinking: what would be more romantic than painting a flower in such an intimate way – from the point of its most ardent lover and admirer. And did the flower petals blush from too much attention when Georgia painted them?