Thursday, May 14, 2015

Van Gogh in Poetry

Vincent Van Gogh is not just a great artist (oh no) but he is also considered a great metaphor for poets. (For those of you who failed English 101, a metaphor is a description that does not use "like" or "as.") In other words, metaphors are things used to describe other things. This may seem like a roundabout way of making a point, but many times the point made with a metaphor makes more of an impact than if a poet or writer just used a plain description.

Here's a short look at how Vincent Van Gogh has been used to describe other things by major poets of the twentieth century. Major to ME, anyway and hopefully major to you. This is in no way a comprehensive list.

Charles Bukowski

This much-missed American icon (and subject of the cult film Barfly) was one of the most accessible poets America ever produced. He made his point without being sappy or using references so obscure that only he himself could comprehend them. Van Gogh shows up several times in the course of Bukowski's career.

Van Gogh is the starving artist who no one understands. He's very much like Bukowski himself, only Bukowski did receive critical acclaim and some money in his debauched lifetime. Van Gogh is described as a romantic and a professional fighter. He's also sometimes a hero for Bukowski, such as in "About My Very Tortured Friend Peter."

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton was the OTHER woman poet who committed suicide. She's best remembered, perhaps, as the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's classic song Mercy Street. She was also a very powerful and influential poet who first wrote poetry as a suggestion from her therapist. She wrote mostly about herself.

The Starry Night refers to Van Gogh's painting of the same name (the one Dan Mclean sang about.) It begins with a quote from Van Gogh's letters. It then describes Sexton's emotions when viewing the painting. It has an achingly beautiful refrain: "Oh starry starry night! This is how I want to die." You're not alone, there Anne.

The Van Gogh Poetry Challenge

While researching this article, I stumbled across the Van Gogh poetry challenge. It has some interesting work. Poetry and paintings both are stereo-typically hard to get for the average person, but I think these poems are easy to get and rewarding to read.

If you could  write a poem about Van Gogh, what would you write?

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles", By Martin Gayford: A Review

(This review first appeared at Goodreads. That's where I've been spending a shameful amount of time instead of updating this blog. ANYWAY --)

There was a telemovie made in the UK in 2007 based on this book by Martin Gayford (Little, Brown & Company). For once, the movie wound up being much better than the book. This book promises more than it can deliver. Just what happened between Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh remains just as mysterious as before reading this convoluted book. Although it is generously illustrated, none are in color -- a great handicap for two artists who were so devoted to color.

There are much better books about Van Gogh out there than "The Yellow House."

I was also disappointed at how much this book spent on Gaugain's life after the Yellow House. The book could have been better if it focused on the time of the Yellow House and only mentioned what happened to Gauguin briefly. The author apparently had very little material to work with and decided to milk it for what it was worth.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Van Gogh's Women"; By Derek Fell: A Review

There are a lot of Vincent Van Gogh biographies out there. Derek Fell's 2004 effort Van Gogh's Women: His Love Affairs and Journey into Madness is one of the best because it centers on one main aspect of Vincent's life -- how he got on with women. It starts off with Vincent's relationship (or lack thereof) with his mother. He also points out that being born on the same day as his stillborn older brother -- and sharing the exact same name as the dead baby -- really messed Vincent up before he had a chance to mess himself up.

For some reason, Vincent's relationship with Paul Gauguin is also included in great detail. I wasn't entirely sure why, as Fell notes that the two bohemian artists did not have a homosexual relationship (although they shared at least one whore between them.) I also did not care about reading so much about the creepy Gauguin when I wanted to read about Vincent.

This book also pushes the theory that Dr. Paul Gachet (Vincent's last doctor) helped kill Vincent. I'm not entirely sold on that theory, but it sure is interesting to read about.

The hardback edition I borrowed from the library had many reproductions of Vincent's works and photos of Vincent's family.  Again, Gauguin intrudes into the limited space the publishers made available for illustrations. (Big sigh.)  Still, I highly recommend the book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Van Gogh Painting At Sotheby's May Make $50 Million

Have an extra $50 million burning a hole in your pocket?  That's how much you'll need to get one of the Venus' arms of paintings, a Van Gogh looking for a buyer.  Prestigious auction house Sotheby's is estimates that Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies (1890) (also called Still Life: Red Poppies and Daisies) will go under the hammer anywhere from $30 million to $50 million (US).

The painting  officially goes on sale November 4 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale.  It is, unpredictably, predicted to be the sale highlight.  Museums, private owners of Van Gogh's works and the companies that insure them will be more than eager to see what the final price is as this will help them re-evaluate how much their Van Gogh's are now worth.

What's so special about this painting?  It's red flowers in a vase, right?  The background is similar to those of the infamous Sunflowers series.  This also may be one of the last paintings that Van Gogh did, according to the New York Observer.  It was painted at Auvers-sur-Oise, France, possibly in June of 1890.

Let's hope that Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies does not share the same fate as Portrait of Dr. Gachet which disappeared after being bought at a Christie's auction for a Japanese collector 1990. That painting's price was over $82 million. Very few Van Gogh paintings have ever been on the open market in America since the 1980's, notes The Financial Times.

Image is from the Van Gogh Gallery's excellent website.

EDIT November 5: The painting went for $61.8 million.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vincent Van Gogh The Musical -- Just Say No

The passion of the artist committed to finding the sacred in the common ... the suffering of an ignored genius ... the ultimate tragedy of an artist dying on the verge of international acclaim ...  all of this is just a fraction of the complex portrait of the man, the myth, the legend -- Vincent Van Gogh. 

And soon it will coming to you -- as a musical.

WHAT?  No, sorry -- you read that right.  According to the Telegraph, Vincent will premier in Amsterdam sometime in the autumn of 2015.  Why 2015?  Because that is the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh's death.  It will be produced by a Dutchman, Albert Verlinde.  The aim of the musical is to "bring Vincent van Gogh's works to life in a non-traditional way".  Content is expected to focus on the decent into madness and the Ear Thing.
Non-traditional is right.  Amsterdam -- you have been warned.

The Don McClean pop song was bad enough (hey -- at least that was catchy if way too fanboyish).  Do we really have to suffer through a two-hour musical?  Or even just the knowledge that a musical on Van Gogh exists?  Only if it's a comedy, please. 

The rather bemused and confused Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam plans on holding a special exhibit that somehow has a tenuous connection with the musical.  The director of the museum has been quoted in the press as saying, "It's perhaps a little odd to celebrate his death."

Just when you think pop culture can't get any worse -- it does.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Overview of Van Gogh's Relationships

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) painted people with remarkable sympathy but failed to get along with people in real life. He was deemed a failure by most of his family, had no lifelong friends and never married. In his entire short life, he had just one trusted confidant - his younger brother Theo. Theo was so attached to Vincent that he died a mere six months after his older brother.

Van Gogh's Family

Vincent was the oldest son of five children. He was born about one year after his mother gave birth to a still born son named Vincent. His father was a pastor, but more importantly his Uncle Vincent worked as a successful art dealer for the French firm Goupil & Cie. Vincent originally was going to follow his uncle's footsteps and sell art as opposed to creating it. He even worked in Guopil & Cie.'s London branch for two years.

Vincent did not receive any support from his large family with the sole exception of his brother Theo. Most of Vincent's letters to Theo survived and have been published. Vincent was considered bizarre and a misfit by his other family members. Vincent tried to woo his widowed cousin but she refused him. This caused a huge rift in the family that already was pushing Vincent away.

Van Gogh's Lovers

Although the legend claims that Vincent cut his ear off as a present for his favorite whore, this legend has been debunked. But Vincent did go to prostitutes. No "decent" woman would have anything to do with him. Modern doctors state that Vincent's bizarre behavior may have been the result of a combination of mental illness and a chronic ailment such as epilepsy or migraines.

Vincent moved to The Hague in 1881. In 1882, he met a pregnant prostitute, Clasina Maria Hoornik, and fell in love with her. They lived together, which caused a major scandal. The relationship was doomed from the start, but Vincent's tenderness towards his lover shows in his drawings of her, including the much loved Sorrow.

Van Gogh's Contemporaries

Most other artists would not have anything to do with Vincent, since his poverty made him have poor grooming habits and his ailments made his behavior unpredictable. He did briefly study under Anton Mauve, then a famous Dutch realistic painter. But Mauve soon tired of his scandalous student and soon would have nothing to do with him.

The only artist to attempt to collaborate with Vincent was yet another social misfit, Paul Gauguin. They briefly shared lodgings at Arles, France but often fought. Both were alcoholics and both were impoverished. Some biographers claim it was Gauguin who cut off part of Vincent's ear.

Additional References

Van Gogh.Rene Huyghe. Crown Publishers; 1967.

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh. Irving Stone & Jean Stone, editors. Plume; 1995.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Van Gogh's Ear Regrown: WTF?

I was first hoping that this was an Internet joke, but apparently it's not: some modern German artist has claimed to have re-grown the infamous ear of Vincent Van Gogh. The Van Gogh DNA is supposedly from the back of an envelope Van Gogh was thought to have licked and from the saliva of a direct descendent of Theo Van Gogh, Lieuwe Van Gogh. It was then put into a computer program for three years and ABRACADABRA a 3-D printed image of Van Gogh's unmutilated ear was born.

Okay, I'm sure the actual process was a wee bit more complicated, but STILL, that's about what happened.

The 3-D ear was then placed in a spiffy box so that viewers can whisper their secrets into Vincent's ear -- which looks more like a creepy Jell-o mold than an ear. The piece is still not finished. It's still growing in a funky bubbly solution while it is on display in ZKM Karlsruhe Museum. In 2015, the piece is to be displayed somewhere in New York (where it may get an interesting headline in the New York Post but then be ignored.)

Anyway, the piece is called Sugarbabe (why not something that can be easily remembered, like Van Gogh's Ear? Trying to be ironic? Or just being a pain in the arse?) CNN gave this "news" the best treatment with this title "Apparently This Matters: Vincent Van Gogh's 3-D printed ear."

The artist, who's name I don't feel like mentioning, told the press that ear is alive: "Absolutely it’s alive!” she says. “What we did is create a machine to mimic the body. The whole system in which the ear lives you could say is the skin. The nutrition comes from the plasma. We have a pump, which is the heart, and an oxygen exchange like a lung.”

Wait -- WHAT? Did I miss something? Since when have ears been given personhood status?

I think even Vincent would have been fatally embarrassed by this one.