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."