Thursday, August 24, 2006

For Vincent

For Vincent, 9x12, oil/linen
Vincent Van Gogh has always been my favorite painter. I don't recall how I first came across his work but I do remember it was in junior high school. Many artists came before him and many have come and gone since, but his work continues to speak to me at a deep level. At first I didn't know anything of his tragic life and to this day I've never read his biography and though I own several books about him I rarely read the text preferring to look at the paintings. What little I've learned of his life and struggles with mental illness I picked up sporadically here and there. I'd rather let his works speak for themselves. Curiously, his work tells me of joy and life and energy, perhaps to a frenetic, manic degree. I sometimes get the feeling that I wouldn't think that if I didn't know of his internal struggles with mental illness and possibly bi-polar disorder. I think if I just saw his work without any knowledge of him I'd just see, joy and life and energy with no "abnormal" side to them. That perception, that his art is a direct result of his mental instability comes to us courtesy of various art historians who have to make their living concocting convoulted theories about why an artists work is what it is and then write books to explain it all to us. It does seem odd to me that Van Gogh's work should be so obviuosly joyful, when he was so tormented by his disability. I wonder if perhaps it was because he was a spiritual person, having at one time been in the ministry, and he found that awareness of the spiritual, the transcendant, the goodness of God to be an anchor or a source of joy and peace in the midst of his illness. Perhaps he knew his ability to paint was a gift or perhaps the creative process itself was a healing balm to him. In the end we will probably never know, but the fact remains that his artwork, so unappreciated in his own time, has been a source of joy, delight and inspiration to thousands of people. This notion of mental illness as the necessary ingredient to artistic genius has been a topic of conversation over at Robert Genn's Twice Weekly Newsletter The Painters Keys in a entry called How Sick are You?. I highly recommend Robert's newsletter, it's free and you can sign up in the sidebar by clicking on the logo.
Now about this paintng. Every year for the last coupple of years I've done a painting of sunflowers when they're in bloom to honor Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings that I have loved so well over the years. This piece was painted with really thick paint and a knife, echoing back to the thick textured surfaces of Van Gogh's paintings. Van Gogh actually painted a series of sunflower paintings and I think I might do the same. Sunflowers as subject matter can often come off as cliche, being found on everything from kitchen towels and curtains to greeting cards, coffee mugs ,sweatshirts and totebags. But I love them so much my goal is to try and bring an authenticity to my paintings of them that will raise them above the level of "favorite American icon". So be on the look out for more sunflower paintings to come.


"van Vliet" Art Blog said...

Wonderful, bright and illuminating. The Blue and Breen really make the cadmiums shine. Nice piece on van Gogh as well. Many times better to enjoy the creation for what it is rather than look for a defect whether inherent in the work or the creative mind behind it.

Jan Blencowe said...

Believe it or not I don't use cadmiums! The palette for this was my usual: Naples Yellow
Hansa Yellow
Hansa Yel-Or
Trans. Red Ox.
Tit. White

Glad you like it!!

Jennifer Young- Vibrant Landscapes said...

Nice piece, shimmering with life and color! I love the blue/violet compliments you've used in the irises of the sunflowers.

Best wishes,

Rebecca Grantham said...

I love this piece, Gorgeous! and it's a funny thing that I just now came across it.

Did you know that Vincent's sunflowers were inspired by Monets? I didn't until yesterday and it's stunning relation.

I agree they are timeless subject and one well sought after to paint the rewards are great.

All the best

marja said...

Thank you for your painting and your story about Van Gogh. I'm not a painter; I'm a writer and photographer. But I have bipolar disorder and find I can understand van Gogh fairly well. I've read books about him and can relate.

I believe van Gogh did most of his paintings during the highs of mania. At times like that you feel inspired, overdo everything, and feel enormous energy.You sleep very little and forget to eat.

When I get like that, I can't contain the joys I feel. It's almost painful at times. And it's truly exhausting. Being high like that almost inevitably leads to a drop into depression. And the higher you are, the deeper you drop.

That might help you understand a little better what made Van Gogh paint how he did. I enjoyed telling you this. Didn't think I'd be "talking" to an artist tonight.

Jan Blencowe said...


Sometimes I think that we are meant to be able to feel immense joy, and that when we are free from our earthly bodies and are spirit we will be able to feel such joy and it won't be a disorder but rather the fullness of all that we are. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here!


Jan Blencowe said...


I did not know that about the sunflowers. I did know that Van Gogh painted them to put in Gaugin's room and he painted them in the weeks prior to his arrivalat the famous yellow house. . I think he did 14 versions but only felt a few were acceptable.


Jan Blencowe said...

Hi Jennifer,
So glad you like these!

Lori said...

Your blogs and websites look great Jan, I am blown away by all the works you have up. I love these sunflower paintings, they are superb. Lori from WC