Still Life: Vase with 15 sunflowers ~ Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
Everyone likes to spruce up their home before special friends come to visit, and it seems Vincent van Gogh was no exception.
Anticipating the arrival in Arles of his friend, Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh clearly was hoping to impress. In an August, 1888 letter to Emile Bernard, Van Gogh wrote:
I’m thinking of decorating my studio with half a dozen paintings of Sunflowers. A decoration in which harsh or broken yellows will burst against various blue backgrounds, from the palest Veronese to royal blue, framed with thin laths painted in orange lead. Sorts of effects of stained-glass windows of a Gothic church.
Contemplating the space which he and Gauguin would share, Van Gogh grew even more enthusiastic. Another August letter, to his brother Theo, conveys his excitement:
Years before I first encountered a palm tree, decades before I found myself entranced by the watery ribbons of azure, lapis and turquoise entwined around and through the chain of Caribbean islands, I passed through shadows of tangled bougainvillea and tumbling poinciana into a world of tropical dreams. There, I discovered Winslow Homer and his art.
One of America’s premier watercolorists, Homer (1836-1910) moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. His work makes clear his love of the New England coast, yet he often vacationed in Florida, Bermuda and the Caribbean. His mastery of his medium and his unique vision of the islands produced exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, synchronized palms and great, vivid falls of blossoms that seem touched with scent even on the printed page. Continue reading
Once upon a time, in a land rather different from Texas, an artist fond of chairs (particularly red chairs) and enamored of trees (especially whimsical trees able to use their branches to tickle cobalt suns or pistachio moons) whiled away his days stitching creaky little chairs and graceful trees into tapestries of hillocks and roads.
One day, the artist posed his favorite chair and a favorite tree against the sweet, subtle glow of a marmelade sky. He posted a photograph of the painting at his blog, then posed a question to his readers. Would they be willing to compete for the honor of providing a suitable title for the painting before he took it off to meet the public?
His readers were willing, and some of you surely remember the events that followed. Cobwebbed and empty beneath its tree, the Red Chair evoked for me other seasons, other times. I remembered an aging chair tucked beneath an ordinary tree in my town’s historic graveyard, dappled by afternoon sunlight and shadowed by a falling night. I recalled spending warm summer afternoons engrossed in that slatted chair, imagining the lives of early pioneers and the Civil War soldiers buried nearby. Above all, I invented stories about the chair itself – how it had come to be there, how it had come to lean so comfortably against its own strongly-rooted companion. Continue reading
Gary Myers is an artist whose work I admire and whose blog I’ve followed for several years. He lives just north of Elmira, New York, in the memorably-named town of Horseheads. His paintings, recognizable, unique and strangely stirring, have hung in such galleries as the West End in Corning, New York, the Principle in Alexandria, Virginia and the The Haen in Asheville, North Carolina.
A museum exhibition titled Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, officially opened at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York on August 18. Continuing through December 31, the show groups together larger paintings from the last few years with a few very early small pieces that represent the beginnings of his work. A highlight at the Fenimore is the first public showing of The Internal Landscape, a painting whose progress readers of Gary’s blog were able to follow. Continue reading
I hadn’t meant to linger, but when Hazel caught me just outside the post office doors, there was nothing for it but to say good morning and fold up the to-do list. Like everyone in town, I knew the truth Hazel freely confessed. She came to the post office as much for the socializing as for stamps, and when she bumped into you, she expected to be humored.
That day, it was my turn. We covered her loss at the weekly domino party (“they cheated”), the small size of her figs (“not near enough rain”) and the relative merits of oilcloth versus paper table coverings at a picnic. She’d just begun dissecting the virtues and faults of her grand-daughter’s new boyfriend (“polite enough, but not much use on a tractor”) when a fellow I recognized but didn’t know by name parked his truck and ambled up the sidewalk.
Hazel fairly beamed. “Harlan!” she said. “Why aren’t you out with them cows?” Harlan just grinned. “Now, why would I be spendin’ time with a bunch of old cows when I can come here and spend time with you?” Turning my direction, Harlan touched the brim of his hat with a finger. “Mornin’, ma’am.”
Hazel always remembered her manners. “Have you met this young lady?” “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” Harlan said. “I sure haven’t. We’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook yet. Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” The introductions made, we proceeded to shake hands, right then and there. Continue reading
It was, I thought at the time, rather like going to church. The spare, sweeping space of the galleries, the click of heels across marble and wood, the sound of parents shushing children into silence and the sight of impassive, stolid guards lined up along the walls like ushers felt familiar, even if the painting and sculpture did not.
I was young and slightly timid, well-educated but inexperienced in the arts. With an eye still incapable of discerning distinctions and little appreciation for technique, my first experience of a “real” art museum felt like a visit to a foreign country. I might as well have been in Tanganyika, a country that still existed the year I found myself plucked from my familiar, everyday world and transported to the National Gallery of Art.
Previously, my museum-going had been confined to the Des Moines Art Center. Building additions, including one designed by I.M. Pei, have changed its appearance over the years and expanded the space available for exhibits, but in its original incarnation it was positively cozy. With creamy stone facades, immaculate lawns and lush trees, it could have been any upper-middle class home in any upper-middle class Iowa neighborhood. It was as familiar as the neighborhood playground or the Dairy Queen, and as comfortable. It played to its audience, and did it well. Continue reading
It started with the left arm. There was a dropped stitch, a slight irregularity in the smooth, sweet rhythm of the yarn. The sweater-in-process, lovely and green, the color of wild asparagus, lay in pieces across the dining room table – its back, two arms and cabled front the eventual shape of loving, hand-knit warmth.
Still, that dropped stitch was causing consternation. Halfway up one sleeve, it would have nestled into the bend of an elbow, barely detectable and probably unseen to even a well-trained eye until it began to pull apart. But the knitter – proficient, quick, given to knitting argyles and Arans in darkened movie theatres – spotted it and felt it looming like an accusation. “I’ll just unravel that sleeve and do it over,” she said. “It’ll take a little more time than picking up the stitch but after all – we want it to be perfect.”
With the sleeve unraveled and the yarn gently re-wound, she began to knit again. This time there were no dropped stitches, no errors, but a more subtle issue soon emerged. Intent on re-doing the sleeve perfectly, she may have been a little tense. While she knit, the tension worked its way through her hands, down the needles and into the yarn, making the stitches in the repaired sleeve noticeably tighter. On a completed sweater the separation of the sleeves might have negated the difference in appearance. Side-by-side on the dining table, the variation was obvious. “Humph,” said the knitter, who had plenty of time and a tendency toward obsession. “I’ll just do that sleeve again.” Continue reading