Thursday, February 9, 2012

New work....reading The Yellow House

Savannah Schroll Guz, "The Stars Shone Above Them" (2012)
watercolor, ink, paper
Last week, I began a series of "Illustrations in an Hour", my personal form of meditation. For sixty or so minutes, I go into my office, where my drafting table is located, and I freehand a design, then watercolor it, and finally augment it with ink. My first in the series appears at left. I'm working on a second (of course now more than an hour will have gone into its production), which I began yesterday while talking on the phone. Although it might seem like placing (relative) time constraints on the time in which a piece is produced would create stress, it actually serves as a Zen moment in a day that I usually have packed full of projects. Creat lecture notes, check. Two hours for syllabus creation, check. Two hours for book reviews, check. On the exercise machine by 1 p.m. (um, yeah, I'm a bit late with that today). Anyway, this brings a little color and sparkle to my daytime schedule and allows me to descompress for sixty minutes. Now, will they sell? Eh, who knows. I put them in my shop, but I'm not truly able to move any of my works. *shrugging*

     Speaking of that particular conundrum and the ability to sympathize with another person's serious difficulty, I'm reading Martin Gayford's The Yellow House, which describes the period of time, very close to the end of Van Gogh's life, in which he lived in a small rented house in Arles with Gauguin. It was dubbed the "Yellow House" because Van Gogh had it painted that color, both inside and out, before Gauguin arrived from Brittany. Gayford's work is highly descriptive and effectively communicates the frustrations of Van Gogh's life. He was absolutely unable, despite his brother Theo's best efforts as an art dealer, to get anyone to buy his work. Theo could move Gauguin's, but not Van Gogh's, which made Van Gogh increasingly anxious and prone to self-berating. Even Cezanne, who by that time had achieved significant notoriety, looked at Van Gogh's work and declared them to have been painted by a mad man. I can just imagine how absolutely disspiriting that kind of persistent rejection would have been. Combine that with his teasing by the local children and his failure to be included in shows other than the ones he organized himself in taverns, and it seems little wonder that his mental state deteriorated to such an extent. It was not more than a year later that he cut his ear after an argument with Gauguin and gave it to a favorite prostitute named Rachel for safe keeping (not as a gift as popular legend relates). The year after that, even with a visit to the Saint Remy asylum and a move to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Gachet, he fatally shot himself in the chest. And although he was able to walk home, he suffered for 29 hours before he died. Ironically, he had been praised that year in the Mercure de France for being "a genius", but I suspect the praise came too late. He had already been hallucinating for some time and had several relapses that February.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Starry Night Over the Rhone", 1888
      His painting style changed everything, everything after him.

     He's buried in Auvers, although this was not his original burial spot--he was disinterred and relocated when someone else bought Dr. Gachet's house (which, according to legend, involved hacking away the roots of tree that firmly gripped his coffin...another interesting tale involving an almost supernatural relationship to the chemical thujone, the principal intoxicant of absinthe and carried by the tree that gripped his coffin...but that's another story for antoher time). Somewhere I have a picture of his grave and that of his brother Theo's: they are buried side by side and covered in ivy. I went there with a friend when I visited Paris on a day when, sadly, the Absinthe Museum was closed.
     Now, back to book reviews. Check.