May 30, 2010

How Van Gogh burned my eyes out

Seeing my artwork appear in digital book form is a little unnerving.  The reproductions are reproductions of reproductions of reproductions, and that has made colors stray quite a bit from the originals.  This is one reason why I've decided to learn how to make my own prints, so that I can proof every one and make sure the colors stay intact.  But images are reproduced in many different ways these days and different formats have advantages and disadvantages.

I'll never forget the first time I saw an original Vincent Van Gogh.  I had never been to the Fogg Museum at Harvard University before, and I wasn't expecting any "wow" moments from the impressionist section we were exploring.  The Fogg has a fine collection of  impressionist paintings including works by Picasso, Monet, Manet, Matisse, Renior, Degas and Cezanne.  But I didn't expect to be impressed by the impressionists.

Strolling through the rooms I came to a doorway and turned my head to the right to look inside.  On the other side of the room was an entire wall with only one painting hanging in the center.  It was a Van Gogh self portrait, painted in 1888 for his friend Paul Gauguin.  That green background... I was slammed in the eyeballs by this weird, lime color.  I started walking toward the painting, drawn to it like a moth flying into a campfire.  It radiated off the wall like an emerald.  

As I got closer, I saw that he placed paint strokes in circular patterns that emanated away from the head, as if he was radioactive or something.  Hell, he even used the lime green in his skin tone.  Wow, that was creepy-weird.  "Yeah", I thought, "This guy was nuts!"... or, he was brilliant... or more likely, a bit of both.  Vincent had painted himself in the image of a Japanese monk, with a calm exterior on the surface and an inner intensity beneath.   He knew exactly what he was doing.  
But he painted this just weeks before lopping off a chunk of that ear.  I remember thinking that this was the oddest, and yet, one of the most intriguing paintings I'd ever seen.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  I stared at it for quite a while.  Also odd, is that the eyes aren't looking at you, unlike most self portraits where an artist looking in a mirror is likely to paint the eyes looking directly back at the artist. 

That painting changed my opinion of the impressionists. I finally began to get it.  I began to see in a different way... which was the whole point of what they were doing.  Design was not the goal, they were exploring emotions, through color.  Van Gogh had painted himself with an aura.  The image gave off an energy.  I had this surreal feeling as if Van Gogh's soul had been painted right into this painting. I realized that the painting itself had an aura.  Some images do that to you. I'd felt it with other paintings, but never like this.

Getting back to the point, seeing an original painting is important, even though time may give it a bit of a patina.  Googling images of paintings will inevitably bring a variety of versions, most of which do not accurately represent the original, and most likely will not reproduce that aura, if it has one.

Comparing examples of another Van Gogh portrait taken from the web, it's clear that accuracy is lacking.  Design is present but color is random.  How would anyone know which is closest to the original?

No comments:

Post a Comment