Delphine and I have been re-reading Greek myths – via Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods. The book starts off at the beginning of Ancient Greek creation – with Chaos. Chaos itself means ‘The Gap’ – which means nothing.
It set me on a thought path. I thought about how lost you feel when you’re apart from something and the opposite – the joining up – feels wonderful. When things come together, it’s an unbeatable thing. Convergence is magic.
We went to see the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition today at the Tate Britain. It’s the biggest Van Gogh painting assemblage in the UK in just under a decade. I guess co-ordinating the movement of Van Gogh’s paintings is a pretty enormous deal. This exhibition had a particular focus too – how Van Gogh’s work was influenced by his time living in Britain.
I had a vague knowledge he’d lived in the UK – there’s a blue plaque near the leisure centre here in Isleworth confirming his brief residence. Turns out he lived in London for about three years. He transferred to London for his art dealership work at only 20 years old. Two things seemed to happen after he arrived.
The first was that Van Gogh noticed all the 19th century London suffering. Hard to miss I guess. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing at this point. Intense working conditions and grinding poverty was London living. Van Gogh was drawn to it. Oops- pardon the pun. But you know what I mean. When he started drawing, he was largely self-taught. To learn, he often copied art work depicting the poverty-stricken human condition.
In London too, he soaked up Charles Dickens. Dickens’ writing was portraying social realism and heightening social reform. Vincent carried a Dickens book around with him; apparently he loved Christmas Stories and read it over and over for the rest of his life. I get the feeling that if Steinbeck had been around then, he’d have had an another favourite.
Being the son of a Protestant minister, Vincent had grown up with a firm sense of charity. Victorian London gave him plenty of opportunities to reconnect with this.
I discovered that his brother, Theo (awesome brother alert) had encouraged him to take up painting to, in part, to cheer himself up. Get out some of those gremlins that were bothering him, he probably thought.
In order to teach himself to paint, Vincent turned to inspiration. He had enjoyed The Graphic in London in particular – an illustrated newspaper that dwelt on social reform. The Graphic was beautifully illustrated- this was one of its prime selling points, having been started by a wood engraver, William Luson Thomas. Vincent studied these lithograph illustrations- lines upon lines going in the definite directions in order to seek shade and form.
The exhibition had a few of these black and white prints from The Graphic hanging on its wall. Then a typical Vincent painting behind it. Lines going in definite directions too. This time the lines were painted in oils though. Oh wow. My breath stopped. Van Gogh had taken an artistic technique and adopted it into a different form. Little bit of poaching to create his own style. It was coming together.