Sunday, April 13, 2014

YouTube Video: "Simon Schama's The Power of Art: Vincent Van Gogh"

This 2006 documentary is one episode of an eight-part series where historian Simon Schama takes a look at famous painters and how they impacted art and society. There is also a book to accompany this series. This is beautifully shot with some gorgeous footage of where Van Gogh lived. I gets a bit Painted With Words at times, but is well worth the time. This is not a comprehensive documentary of his life (the whole ear thing is barely mentioned) but concentrates on how why he painted as he did.

Although I recommend this program, here are a couple of warnings:

  • There's swearing
  • Van Gogh is pronounced wrong
  • There is a disturbing scene of Vincent eating a tube of yellow paint
  • There's Simon Schama himself, who takes a little getting used to. He has a peculiar voice and a very drone-like way of speaking. However, he does have a droll sense of humor and has a great sense of why Van Gogh matters.
Vincent is played by British actor Andy Serkis (yes -- the same guy who did Gollum). I wonder what would happen if a Dutch actor was ever cast for a British documentary on Vincent. However, Serkis uses a lower class British accent, which certainly would have made a direct impact on the BBC audience. He uses a frantic energy and a steady determination which grows on you during the course of the show.

My Favorite Van Gogh Painting: Sunflowers

I've just realized that I've had this blog for over a year and have yet to write extensively about my favorite painting by Vincent Van Gogh. I will now rectify this immediately.

As this post's title suggests, my favorite Van Gogh painting is Sunflowers (Tournesols).  Ah, but which Sunflowers, you ask? Van Gogh did numerous paintings featuring these gaudy flowers in different shades, vases and sometimes with other flowers.  The one I like is the most famous version with a yellow-gold background, painted in 1888 and now hangs in the National Gallery  in London.

Why? Well, my Mom bought a cheap framed reproduction when I was a very small child.  It hung on the stairway next to the stacks of National Geographics that my family once collected (and are now long gone.) About 40 years later, after my parents' divorce, my two busted live-in relationships and God knows how many moves, it's about all that's left of my childhood.  It's still owned by my Mom.

When I was 29, I had a mental breakdown and ran away to live with a busker in England.  That didn't work out and I burned a lot of bridges back to America.  And then one day my make-shift shelter in the woods was burnt down.  The fire brigade suspected arson.  I knew someone was trying to kill me and my dog.  I never thought my Mom would take me in, but she did -- and took my dog in, too.

She set up a bedroom for me in the basement.  There, propped against a mirror, was the Sunflowers painting.  I had come home.

Below is a short news clip about two of the most famous versions from London and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam of Sunflowers being shown side by side.

What is your favorite Van Gogh painting?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Orangutan Being Called the Next Van Gogh

Let me clear. I have nothing against orangutans. I like orangutans. But I have a real hard time taking seriously anyone who compares an orangutan's paintings to a Van Gogh. That's what ABC News is saying on their website.

Rudi Valentino, the 36 year old male orangutan lives at the Houston Zoo. It must be kinda dull at the zoo, because 10 years ago, Rudi took up a new hobby -- painting. He paints on any surface he can get a hold of. Van Gogh's painting career only lasted ten years.

According to Rudi's keepers, his favorite color is pink and that he has "an artistic temperament."

Rudi's works are being auctioned off tomorrow, April 10, in order to benefit the zoo. Rudi's not the only animal artist in the auction. There are also works by an elephant, a clouded leopard and a pig. I have seen some of Rudi's work (pictured) and I have to say I'm not impressed. Sure, he still paints better than I do, but he's not quite in the Van Gogh department.

If Rudi is supposedly like Van Gogh, then his keepers need to keep him away from booze and whores is all I'm saying.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scientists Use Van Gogh Paintings to Look at History of Climate

Vincent Van Gogh doesn't just matter to art lovers, but also to scientists. Some Greek and German scientists have looked at hundreds of paintings and photos from 1500, including Van Gogh's recently discovered Sunset at Montmajour (pictured) in order to see what the skies used to look like. Their article was published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Why bother looking at paintings? Well, they didn't have photographs (let alone color photographs) back in 1500. One subject painters seemed to love was how the sky looked like after a volcanic explosion. By comparing the paintings to color photographs of polluted skies and skies after volcanic explosions, scientists hope to get a better picture of our planet's climactic history.

This isn't the first time this group has used paintings to help figure out the history of the air. They previously published a large study in the same journal back in 2007. They also commissioned a contemporary artist to paint sunsets after a dust storm in 2010 on the island of Hydra. Paintings by JMW Turner were also used in the study.

According to the study's authors, "Because of the large number of paintings studied, we tentatively propose the conclusion that regardless of the school, red-to-green ratios from great masters can provide independent proxy AODs [Aerosol Optical Depth] that correlate with widely accepted proxies and with independent measurements."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Van Gogh, 4 Other Artists Immortalized in Food in Art Fund Competition

Let me begin by saying that I used to be homeless.  Food was a sacred issue.  To find any was rapture and to waste any was an unforgivable sin.  You could play with your food -- but only if nothing was wasted and everything was eaten before it began to rot.

So forgive me if I cannot get into the food art fad, which got a huge shot of publicity in February when the prestigious Time magazine did a feature on 5 artistic masterpieces recreated with food, including Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear turned into a vertical ploughman's lunch (pictured, left.) The frame is made up of sliced bead and French loaf, the eyes peppercorns, the coat button a pickle slice, the green bits lettuce and the bandage a smear of brie.  Somewhere there are gherkins, pickled onions and yellow cheese.

Another interesting creation was a Rice Crispie Treat splattered with icing to mimic a Jackson Pollack painting. Also there is a recreation of Damien Hurst's Skull which defies explanation, although apparently almonds played a part in it.  See even more on Art Fund's Instagram page, Facebook page or on Twitter using the #ediblemasterpieces.

These creations were done to raise money for the UK non-profit Art Fund as part of the Edible Masterpieces Project, a competition which goes in until 30 June, 2014. This uses all kinds of fundraising events to give money to UK's art galleries and museums so they will not close.  Now that I can sink my teeth into.

Image is from Slate, which got it from Art Fund. I'm not sure if the image is copyrighted. (Sorry!)

"Van Gogh: The Life" By Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; The Review

I meant to write a review of Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith ages ago but couldn't because I still haven't finished the book.  Why haven't I?  It's over 1000 pages long in itty-bitty print.  It's the only time I was glad Vincent Van Gogh died at age 37 or who knows how long this monster would've turned out. Quite frankly, my life is too short to spend months reading just one damn book.

The Good

This is unquestionably the most thorough and best researched biography ever written of Van Gogh's entire life and legend. It also made headlines around the world back when it was first published in 2011 for it's theory that someone else shot Van Gogh instead of Van Gogh. Naifeh and Smith claim that two teenage boys that liked to bully Van Gogh accidentally shot the tormented artist. Van Gogh did not want them to get into trouble, so he told everyone that he shot himself. At that point I his life, Van Gogh was looking forward to death. It's a convincing argument, I have to admit.

The Bad

There are a couple hundred pages of notes. The notes are in even smaller print than the text or captions.  Now, granted, most people ignore the notes, but I'm one of those people who does not.  Perhaps I can blame Richard Dawkins for his very entertaining notes for that, but there you are. Hi -- my name is Rena Sherwood and I am a note reader. However, it's impossible to read the notes and match it up with the text because there are no note numbers in the text.  You have to read the book and then the notes or keep flipping to the chapter notes after reading a chapter.  No thanks.

The Downright Ugly

If Van Gogh is your hero, get ready to have your illusions completely shattered. Van Gogh may have been an artistic genius, but he had a boatload of problems. He would self-sabotage himself so much so that you can start predicting how he will lose friends and make powerful enemies before it happens. Van Gogh's paranoia and intensity makes his letters hard to interpret. He would constantly mention a great new friend in one letter and then never mention that person again, except to trash talk him or her. In some ways, you wish you could go back in time just to smack Van Gogh across the face and yell, "SNAP OUT OF IT!"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Little Seen Van Gogh Painting Fetches 16.9 Million Pounds at Auction

A Sotheby's auction in early February reached a record amount in part due to a Van Gogh painting which fetched 16.9 million pounds, reports Bloomberg.  The Van Gogh was the second most expensive painting of the London auction, which raked in a grand total of 169.5 million pounds (US $266.8 million.)

The first most expensive painting of the evening was "Boulevard Montmartre" by Camille Pissarro.  It was estimated to go at 10 million pounds but when the hammer fell the price was 19 million pounds.  About 60% of the auction pieces went for prices higher than Sotheby's estimate, which indicates that the world art market is coming back strong.

Van Gogh's "The Man Is At Sea (L’Homme Est en Mer)" was estimated to bring in a mere 8 million pounds.  This is the canvas' second time at Sotheby's.  In 1989, it was sold in the New York branch of Sotheby's for a piddling $7.15 million. Things get a little muddied as to the painting's history after 1989. According to Sotheby's, it was bought by an anonymous art consigner in 1993 and sold to Holocaust survivor and art dealer Jan Krugier.  Krugier died in 2008 but his extensive art collection did not go on sale until this year.

Van Gogh painted the woman and baby at home waiting for Daddy in front of the hearth while he was an inmate at the asylum in Saint-Remy, France in 1889, about a year before the artist's death.  Van Gogh's paintings were considered worthless in his lifetime.  The first owner of the painting was Dr. Paul Gachet, Vincent's final therapist and one of his models.  It has had several wealthy owners after the good doctor's family sold the painting in the early 1900s.  It was last exhibited publicly in Paris in 1905.