Saturday, February 26, 2011

Armchairs in Art: Van Gogh

Welcome to Part Two of Armchairs in Art!

Last week we discussed Señor Pablo Picasso, one of the lucky bastards who actually achieved international celebrity in his own lifetime. Today, we're traveling even further back in time to talk about a guy who wasn't nearly as lucky.

Poor old Vincent.

Off the top of my head, here's what I can say about Vincent van Gogh:

Brother named Theo.
Those ugly potato folks.
Don McLean.
And obviously, the ear thing.

Okay, I actually know a little more than that. Definitely more than I knew about Picasso. Thanks, in part, to our old friend Simon Schama, who devotes the sixth hour of Power of Art to Van Gogh. As my good friend Carl so perfectly put it, the actor Andy Serkis "blows minds" as Vincent. It's true. Whether or not he blows minds as Gollum, née Sméagol, I'll leave to you.

(FYI, Power of Art covers Picasso, too. But it's on the 3rd disc. Which I haven't yet gotten from Netflix. So. You know. I'll get back to you.)

Anyway, I also learned quite a bit about Van Gogh in Amsterdam at, you guessed it, the Van Gogh Museum. That was back in 2006, during the crazy two week period in my life when I traveled solo to Belgium and the Netherlands. And off we go on a tangent!

If you've never traveled alone, go do it. Sure, I got lost in the pouring rain a couple times. Which is exponentially worse on one's own. Also, being a poor defenseless girl, my after-dark options were slightly limited. (I spent one particularly sad evening watching the film adaptation of Starsky & Hutch alone in the hostel common room.) And, worst of all, there's nobody to back me up when I tell people the first thing I saw in Amsterdam was a live camel.


Here's what I love about traveling alone. You have to talk to people. It becomes a necessity. I met people I never would have spoken to had I been with friends or family or a tour guide or an iPod. One night, in a hotel bar in Amsterdam, I spent four hours in deep conversation with a Mexican guy, an old British dude, and the cute Dutch bartender. All thanks to the necessary boldness that comes with traveling alone. You gotta be bold. I wonder what that bartender is up to.

Anyway, you know who else was bold? Vincent van Gogh. That was one bold dude. Usually when you see a picture of a chair you think, "Oh hey, that's a chair." One look at these paintings and you're all, "SHAZAM! Now that's a CHAIR!"

Ok, maybe not. But I bet you like these as much as I do.

Gauguin's Chair, 1888
Oil on Canvas
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

As you may or may not already know, Paul Gauguin was Van Gogh's roomie for a time. It didn't go that well. Maybe because Van Gogh was always painting the furniture. Dude probably just wanted to sit down. (Also, who smells a Jersey Shore parody? Vinny and Pauly G? Enh...?)

Van Gogh's Chair, 1888
Oil on Canvas
The National Gallery, London

Of course, Van Gogh painted his own chair, too. People make much of this pair of paintings, particularly the question of their symbolic meaning. Van Gogh said little on the subject himself, but there's a wealth of speculation to be found. Everything from the reasonable (Simplicity vs. Pretension) to the slightly more outrageous (Gauguin's Chair as a Phallus-Bearing Symbol of Van Gogh's Mother Issues).

Want more Van Gogh? How could you not! Check out these videos, courtesy of a way cool site I discovered today called Art Babble. If you still want more, watch the videos on the site proper where they provide a sort of Pop-Up Video type feature in the form of a scrolling bar to the right of the page that provides links to supplementary information. I really like the way they've set it up.

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