Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hommage à Vincent

Sorry, that should be apologies to Vincent. 
I wonder how many (would-be) painters have been inspired by his work? I'm certainly one of them. One of his most famous paintings is probably the almond blossom on turquoise, which you can buy in all shapes and sizes everywhere, and which even I bought as wrapping paper in Amsterdam at the van Gogh museum. My version is not slavishly copied. I drew the twig structure free-hand and more or less like the original, but the blossom is where I thought it might look nice. The size is roughly the same (80x60). Making it exact would have meant putting a canvas together. Up until the time when ready-made stretched canvases became available, painters worked from rolls of canvas, linen, or jute and cut the bit off that they wanted to paint on. This was then stretched with nails or some other devices during painting. The advantage of this method is that you can trim off bits you don't like more easily, or crop the painting for convenience. I've added a detail section to show that in fact the blossoms are painted quite elaborately but deliberately not meticulously as that would make the work less impressionistic (and it would have taken even longer). There are approximately 100 blossoms on this canvas!

Rembrandt's famous "Nightwatchman"  was a commission that turned out too wide for the space reserved for it, so a slice was cut off on the left side. That is confirmed by a sketch of the whole painting, which hangs next to it in the Rijksmuseum. 
There is a delightful story about one of Vincent's sunflower paintings. Scientists proved that the bit stuck onto the top end came off a roll of jute belonging to his lodger, Gauguin. I'd love to hear the whole story. Did Gauguin know Vincent had taken the jute? And obviously, Vincent had miscalculated the height of his sunflowers that particular time. 
I did this look-alike on request, starting with acrylics, then moving on to oils, but I did not do the impasto effects Vincent has, partly because I really wanted to pass the painting on quickly, then it got stuck in the process and I have just finished fiddling with it. The colours are more or less as I remember them from the original. Vincent's whites have yellowed over the years. Almond blossom is not yellow, so I haven't painted it yellow. On the original the white looks quite buttery now. I expect it was lead white, since commercial production of titanium white, the white most artists use these days, did not start until 1916. 
Now this almond blossom is ready to go, I'm moving on to sketching some of the heads from a lovely book of Raphael paintings. This is an exercise in observation and the sketches will be in charcoal with a bit of pastel and done fast. Learning from the masters is a time-tried way of improving one's skills, so I make no apology for doing it.
Actually, painting has come back to me as compensation for spending long hours translating, since I find  writing original stories difficult to coordinate with the demands of translating academic texts. That pattern of work will probably continue until the end of the year, though it will include my chorus work, of course. The music is never shut down!
I read a little book on artists and their preferences last night. Not famous artists, just modern people working in the art "trade". Asked what kills creativity, most of them said the things you'd expect them to say (tiredness, money troubles, etc). One said he didn't like the word. I thought that was a good answer. You can't really wait for inspiration to fall from the sky or the mythical muses to kiss you. It's a case of getting on with the job, even if on that particular day it's only clearing the decks for next time. 
More on that in my next post. 

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