Monday, December 4, 2017

Location and Emotional Tension Through van Gogh et al.

     I'm certainly one among countless others whose favorite artist is Vincent van Gogh. When​ ​my​ ​family​ ​took​ ​me​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Art​ ​Institute​ ​of​ ​Chicago​ ​to​ ​see​ ​a​ ​special​ ​exhibit​ ​about​ ​his Bedroom paintings, ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​have​ ​been​ ​more​ ​excited.​ ​Though​ ​I​ ​had​ ​plenty​ ​of​ ​access​ ​to​ ​view​ ​his Bedroom, particularly​ ​by​ ​means​ ​of​ ​a​ ​to-scale​ ​recreation​ ​of​ ​his​ ​room,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​most​ ​intrigued​ ​by​ ​the motif​ ​of​ ​wandering​ ​in​ ​van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​life.​ ​He​ ​moved​ ​as​ ​many​ ​times​ ​as​ ​years​ ​he​ ​lived,​ ​so​ ​his physical​ ​home​ ​was​ ​inconsistent​ ​for​ ​most​ ​of​ ​his​ ​adult​ ​life.
     As​ ​well​ ​as​ ​van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​physical​ ​state,​ ​his​ ​psychological​ ​well-being​ ​was​ ​just​ ​as unpredictable:​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​suffered​ ​through​ ​seasons​ ​of​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​problems​ ​that​ ​were​ ​most likely​ ​attributed​ ​to​ ​severe​ ​depression.​ ​Aside​ ​from​ ​art,​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​found​ ​some​ ​respite​ ​through writing​ ​to​ ​his​ ​brother,​ ​Théo.​ ​Otherwise,​ ​though,​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​had​ ​poor​ ​resources​ ​to​ ​help​ ​him overcome​ ​his​ ​mental​ ​instability,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​took​ ​his​ ​life.
     Browsing​ ​through​ ​van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​works,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​consistently​ ​honored​ ​that​ ​he​ ​revealed​ ​to​ ​me places​ ​and​ ​emotions​ ​that​ ​held​ ​significance​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​While​ ​I​ ​took​ ​his​ ​paintings’​ ​subjects​ ​and locations​ ​at​ ​face​ ​value,​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​also​ ​communicating​ ​the​ ​complexities​ ​of​ ​his psychological​ ​state.​ ​For​ ​my​ ​exhibition,​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​feature​ ​some​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​works​ ​which​ ​I believe​ ​portray​ ​ordinary​ ​settings​ ​with​ ​an​ ​unordinary​ ​emotional​ ​tension.​ ​Next,​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​extend the​ ​dialogue​ ​of​ ​place​ ​and​ ​tension​ ​from​ ​only​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​to​ ​other​ ​artists​ ​from​ ​the​ ​late​ ​nineteenth and​ ​early​ ​twentieth​ ​centuries.​ ​I​ ​relied​ ​on​ ​works​ ​whose​ ​colors​ ​and​ ​shapes​ ​successfully​ ​portrayed the​ ​discomfort​ ​between​ ​place​ ​and​ ​state​ ​of​ ​mind.​ ​Finally,​ ​I​ ​ensured​ ​that​ ​there​ ​was​ ​variety​ ​in​ ​the works’​ ​textures​ ​and​ ​the​ ​degree​ ​of​ ​minimalism​ involved.

Vincent van Gogh, Corridor in the Asylum, September 1889, oil color and essence over black chalk on pink laid ("Ingres") paper, 48.190.2

Color​ ​contrasts​ ​are​ ​the​ ​breadcrumbs​ ​we​ ​follow​ ​down​ ​Van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​endless​ ​hallway.​ ​First, van​ ​Gogh​ ​demands​ ​attention​ ​with​ ​the​ ​corridor’s​ ​arches.​ ​Varying​ ​ratios​ ​of​ ​gray​ ​to​ ​blue​ ​hues​ ​on the​ ​individual​ ​arches​ ​keep​ ​the​ ​eyes​ ​drawn​ ​upward.​ ​The​ ​shift​ ​in​ ​tones​ ​of​ ​red​ ​flooring​ ​give consistent​ ​motion​ ​down​ ​the​ ​aisle​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Asylum.​ ​Between​ ​these​ ​two​ ​factors,​ ​our​ ​gaze​ ​is compelled​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​down​ ​the​ ​corridor.​ ​A​ ​gray​ ​figure​ ​walks​ ​towards​ ​an​ ​open​ ​door​ ​on​ ​the​ ​left and​ ​deeper​ ​into​ ​the​ ​field​ ​of​ ​the​ ​painting.​ ​The​ ​end​ ​of​ ​the​ ​corridor​ ​appears​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​door.​ ​Van Gogh​ ​presents​ ​viewers​ ​with​ ​a​ ​constricted,​ ​tight​ ​environment​ ​to​ ​explore.​ ​Uncertainty​ ​lingers throughout:​ ​viewers​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​how​ ​much​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​is​ ​isolated​ ​in​ ​this​ ​Asylum.​ ​The​ ​hall​ ​is devoid​ ​of​ ​large​ ​quantities​ ​of​ ​light.​ ​Loneliness​ ​is​ ​louder​ ​the​ ​longer​ ​I​ ​linger​ ​here.

Vincent​ ​van​ ​Gogh,​ ​​Portrait de l’artiste,​ ​1889,​ ​oil​ ​on​ ​canvas,​ ​RF​ ​1949​ ​17.​ ​Musée d’Orsay,​ ​Paris,​ ​France.

This​ ​exhibition​ ​contains​ ​portraits​ ​whose​ ​figures,​ ​if​ ​any,​ ​are​ ​typically​ ​at​ ​a​ ​distance.​ ​It​ ​is only​ ​fitting​ ​to​ ​include​ ​this​ ​​Portrait, which​ ​dedicates​ ​its​ ​space​ ​to​ ​depicting​ ​van​ ​Gogh,​ ​the​ ​primary inspiration​ ​for​ ​the​ ​curation.​ ​The​ ​background,​ ​despite​ ​its​ ​humble​ ​purpose,​ ​delivers​ ​the​ ​most insight​ ​about​ ​the​ ​figure.​ Van Gogh​ ​painted​ ​himself​ ​among​ ​cool​ ​tones​ ​of​ ​blue​ ​and​ ​green,​ ​wispy lines.​ ​Where​ ​the​ ​lines​ ​of​ ​his​ ​blue suit should distinctly separate him from the background, van Gogh begins to blend into the background of curls. ​Perhaps​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​is​ ​letting​ ​viewers​ ​into​ ​his mind:​ ​so​ ​much​ ​of​ ​his​ ​history​ ​is​  wrapped​ ​among​ ​both​ ​vivid​ ​creativity,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​significant​ ​mental health​ ​crises.

 ​Andy​ ​Warhol,​ ​​Red Disaster,​ ​1963,​ ​silkscreen​ ​ink​ ​on​ ​synthetic​ ​polymer​ ​paint​ ​on​ ​canvas, 1986.161a-b.​ ​Museum​ ​of​ ​Fine​ ​Arts,​ ​Boston.

Every​ ​so​ ​often,​ ​we​ ​stumble​ ​upon​ ​a​ ​place​ ​composed​ ​of​ ​so​ ​little​ ​of​ ​a​ ​physical​ ​environment, but​ ​quite​ ​an​ ​emotionally​ ​heavy​ ​space.​ ​So​ ​Warhol​ ​presents​ ​viewers​ ​with​ ​one​ ​electric​ ​chair,​ ​copied twelve​ ​times.​ ​Taken​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​red​ ​environment,​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​itself​ ​looks​ ​relatively​ ​ordinary. Paired​ ​with​ ​an​ ​ominous​ ​color​ ​scheme​ ​and​ ​the​ ​knowledge​ ​of​ ​what​ ​happens​ ​to​ ​occupants​ ​of​ ​the chair,​ ​though,​ ​the​ ​definition​ ​of​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​changes.​ ​What​ ​should​ ​be​ ​a​ ​domestic​ ​object​ ​for​ ​people​ ​to rest​ ​on​ ​becomes​ ​a​ ​death​ ​sentence​ ​and​ ​torture.​ ​Wherever​ ​this​ ​chair​ ​travels,​ ​its​ ​home​ ​will​ ​become identified​ ​with​ ​despair.

 ​Mark​ ​Rothko,​ ​​No. 61 (Rust​ and Blue),​ ​1953,​ ​oil​ ​on​ ​canvas,​ ​84.9.​ ​The​ ​Museum​ ​of 
Contemporary​ ​Art. 

Unlike​ ​the​ ​previous​ ​pieces,​ ​which​ ​have​ ​a​ ​clear​ ​setting​ ​through​ ​location​ ​or​ ​curved​ ​lines​ ​for a​ ​background,​ ​​Rust​ and​ Blue​​ is​ ​the​ ​bringing​ ​of​ ​three​ ​rectangles​ ​together​ ​in​ ​one​ ​frame.​ ​While​ ​the painting​ ​itself​ ​is​ ​located​ ​in​ ​a​ ​particular​ ​museum,​ ​the​ ​location​ ​of​ ​viewers​ ​holds​ ​the​ ​most importance.​ ​Rothko​ ​insists​ ​that​ ​the​ ​farther​ ​one​ ​steps​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​portrait,​ ​the​ ​closer​ ​of​ ​an emotional​ ​response​ ​viewers​ ​will​ ​have.​ ​These​ ​purple,​ ​deeper​ ​blue,​ ​and​ ​blue​ ​gray​ ​rectangles​ ​are capable​ ​of​ ​evoking​ ​melancholy​ ​or​ ​arresting​ ​viewers​ ​in​ ​their​ ​emotions:​ ​because​ ​the​ ​rectangles​ ​are 
a​ ​non-negotiable​ ​subject​ ​matter,​ ​viewers​ ​have​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​put​ ​their​ ​unique​ ​emotional experiences​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​a​ ​universal​ ​shape.

Vincent​ ​van​ ​Gogh,​ ​​The​ Night Café,​ ​1888,​ ​oil​ ​on​ ​canvas,​ ​1961.18.34.​ ​Yale​ ​University 
Art​ ​Gallery.

‘Café,’​ ​a​ ​gentle​ ​word​ ​with​ ​a​ ​graceful​ ​accent,​ ​is​ ​typically​ ​associated​ ​with​ ​a​ ​quaint​ ​place​ ​to sit​ ​down​ ​in​ ​others’​ ​company​ ​and​ ​have​ ​a​ ​delightfully​ ​warm​ ​beverage.​ ​Van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​​Night Café destroys​ ​any​ ​fantasy​​viewers​ ​may​ ​have​ ​of​ ​a​ ​peaceful​ ​locale​ ​to​ ​take​ ​life​ ​slowly.​​​ While​ ​there appears​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​curtain​ ​opening​ to​ ​a​ ​friendly​ ​back​ ​room,​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the​ ​​Café​ ​traps​ ​viewers​ ​inside a​ ​shadowy​ ​room.​ ​The​ ​paint​ ​on​ ​the​ ​walls​ ​have​ ​a​ ​metallic-like​ ​bite,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​dingy​ ​yellow​ ​lights won't​ ​brighten​ ​the​ ​room​ ​or​ ​the​ ​mood​ ​much.​ ​No​ ​matter​ ​how​ ​long​ ​viewers​ ​choose​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​among the​ ​cluttered​ ​tables​ ​and​ ​misplaced​ ​chairs​ ​of​ ​van​ ​Gogh’s​ ​​Café ,​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​will​ ​hardly​ ​be​ ​a respite​ ​from​ ​troubles​ ​waiting​ ​for​ ​viewers​ ​outside,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​‘real​ ​world.’

Edvard​ ​Munch,​ ​​The Scream,​ ​1893,​ ​tempera​ ​and​ ​crayon​ ​on​ ​cardboard,​ ​NG.M.00939.​ ​The National​ ​Museum​ ​of​ ​Art,​ ​Architecture,​ ​and​ ​Design,​ ​Oslo,​ ​Norway.

Munch’s​ ​work​ ​shares​ ​red​ ​and​ ​yellow​ ​hues​ ​similar​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ceiling​ ​and​ ​lights​ ​in​ ​van​ ​Gogh’s 
Night Café.​ ​The​ ​curvature​ ​of​ ​the​ ​waves​ ​and​ ​sky​ ​resembles​ ​other​ ​van​ ​Gogh​ ​works,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​​Starry Night​​ and​ ​​Portrait de L’artiste.​ ​Staring​ ​towards​ ​viewers,​ ​the​ ​titular​ ​screamer’s​ ​body​ ​is​ ​also composed​ ​of​ ​curves.​ ​His​ ​face​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​shaped​ ​like​ ​a​ ​lightbulb,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​yellow​ ​and​ ​green​ ​skin tone​ ​eliminates​ ​the​ ​possibility​ ​of​ ​an​ ​illuminated​ ​light.​ ​Noodle​ ​arms​ ​are​ ​all​ ​the​ ​figure​ ​has​ ​to attempt​ ​to​ ​drown​ ​out​ ​whatever​ ​triggered​ ​his​ ​scream.​ ​The​ ​elongated​ ​deck​ ​not​ ​only​ ​alienates​ ​the 
screamer​ ​from​ ​two​ ​strangers,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​creates​ ​tension​ ​between​ ​the​ ​gangly,​ ​smoke-colored​ ​figures and​ ​the​ ​screaming​ ​one.​ ​​The​ Scream ​sends​ ​ripples​ ​of​ ​panic​ ​through​ ​the​ ​wavy​ ​lines​ ​which​ ​don’t appear​ ​to​ ​have​ ​any​ ​stopping​ ​points.​ ​Viewers​ ​are​ ​just​ ​as​ ​stifled​ ​in​ ​a​ ​physically​ ​eerie​ ​and emotionally​ ​unstable​ ​place​ ​as​ ​the​ ​title​ ​figure​ ​is. 

1 comment:

  1. Very keen insights, Kate. This was very interesting to read through, and opened my eyes to view these familiar paintings in a new way. Thank you.