Blackpaint 230


Van Gogh

Richard Dorment, on the Royal Academy exhibition “Van Gogh, the Artist and his Letters”, which took place earlier in the year, writes in the Telegraph: “We learnt (from the letters) that even if it only took Vincent an hour or two to paint a picture, before his brush touched  the canvas he had chosen and mixed his pigments, and knew precisely where he would place every touch of colour” (my emphasis).

Can this really be so?  Precisely? Every touch?  I find this hard to believe – no element of chance at all, no revising, no improvising.  Many other painters and artists of every kind claim there is an  element of re-working, revision, spontaneity, change of some sort during their working process.  The idea of a painter following a pre-determined plan with precision sounds like painting by numbers – which doesn’t sound likeVan Gogh.

I didn’t see the show, so I can’t comment on the match between particular letters and paintings; if VG described the process after doing the painting, maybe he did some unconscious editing, “tidying up”.  Maybe not; must read the letters, so until then, will say no more on VG and stick to Dorment’s comments.

It is interesting to me that Richard Dorment equates this preparedness and precision with “consummate professionalism”.  I’m sure he’s right, but a bit of spontaneity, improvisation and chance properly acted on can be professionalism too, surely; otherwise, a lot of great painters are amateurs.  Then again, one purpose of the exhibition was, I believe, to demonstrate a rational and controlled approach on Van Gogh’s  part, as opposed to the popular view of him as “the madman touched with genius”, so perhaps Dorment’s comments must be seen in this light.

He finishes: “The brilliance of this show was that it forced us to see what is really there and not what our imaginations add to it”.  This opens wider a giant plastic bin liner full of live eels with almost every word – but I’ve gone on too much already, so will change the subject.

Sandra Blow

Lovely, but short, DVD (the Eye, Illuminations) on the above done in 2006, the year she died.  She lived with Burri in Italy after the war and acknowledged that she got the idea of using sacking in her paintings and collages from him – not often you hear artists confirm their “borrowings” so freely.  She mentioned two other important sources of influence – the Underwood book on African art and the work of Ruskin Spear and Walter Sickert on her “brown” phase.  I’m still very taken with her “Vivace”, which I saw at Tate St.Ives a few months ago and which, in its spontaneity, was untypical of her work.  She put wellington boots on to hurl red paint across the huge canvas, making an enormous “V”.

Quiz

Who put a zebra and a parachute in the same picture?

Lambton Worm

Blackpaint

13.12.10

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