Friday, July 24, 2009

Vincent's Fields

Oil on canvas, 20 x 50 cm

Auvers-sur-Oise was the place Vincent van Gogh spent the last three months of his life and produced over 75 paintings in 70 days. Today's Auvers is still fairly simple. It is beautiful and bathed in that unusual light that apparently fascinated him, and fascinates many painters today, including me.

I am lucky enough to live about a half hour away from Auvers, which is to the northwest of Paris, and it is exquisite painting country. There is something about the curve of the earth there, the way sky and the arcs of slightly hilly fields come together that is particularly satisfying and beautiful.

When I finally got a car after having lived my first four years in Paris as a pedestrian and metro-rider, one of my first places of pilgrimage was to Giverny. The second was to Auvers-sur-Oise. The road then was hopelessly full of potholes and the old car I was driving, a gift from a friend because it was way past its prime, was equally hopelessly lacking in shock absorbers. So it was a slow-going, jarring, but unprosaic journey into the valley of the Oise river that meandered along and got more and more beautiful with every bend in the road. Green and flowers abounded, along with beautiful 200 year-old homes flocking the hillsides. One often sees those homes in the more picturesque outskirts of Paris. They were built by the bourgeoisie to escape the heat of Paris in summer around the turn of the nineteenth century.

When I first went eight years ago, the place was surprisingly quiet. There was a small museum set up where Van Gogh had last rented a room, the same room he died in later after having shot himself in the chest on the night of 27 August 1890. The sadness of his mental illness and suicide can only be balanced out slightly by the glory of his work. Those wild, blazing canvases of searing colour and movement and feeling that affect all of us who gaze upon them - they are his gifts to us.

Vincent van Gogh, Champs de blé aux corbeaux, July 1890

"Vincent's Fields" is only about the forth landscape I've ever attempted. As you can see from my earlier posts, I'm passionately addicted to figure drawing and painting, and working with live models. So, I have no idea really, whether this landscape is any good or not. I usually need to put things away for a while and then look at them later to have any perspective on my own work anyway. I do know that at one point an incredible set of storm clouds rolled in, and then that fast wind that comes before a storm, and I got totally excited about painting those clouds and trying to hang on to the canvas at the same time. I was kind of wildly slapping paint on the surface and by the time the clouds had blown on by, out of my range of vision for the painting, I realised, oh yeah, there are the fields to paint as well... (I was a little emotionally spent by that point.)

Anyway, I seem to be drawn a lot to Auvers these days and will write more about some recent experiences there in coming posts. The roads have been made smooth now and there is a beautifully maintained museum and restaurant at the Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh lived out those last months of his life. The whole town is well organised for walking and seeing exactly where Van Gogh painted many of those incredible pieces. It always was, but is even more now, a pleasure to visit.

Figure drawing classes at the Louvre are on hold for the summer thus the good weather has driven me outside. We'll see what other canvases I can come up with. Compared to Van Gogh's record I've only produced one canvas in the last 70 days.

All the best, as always, to all of you.

"Vincent's Fields" photo courtesy of Sophie O'Gorman

Plein air/canvas photo courtesy of Mitchell R. Bloom