Thursday, 28 January 2010

My Van Gogh experience.

Even before entering the Royal Academy of Arts, the banner on the scaffolding bearing a zillion carefully rendered strokes within a self portrait announced the presence of  this exemplar virtuoso.
An unassailable fluency with pen and ink, a passion that was invincible and contagious, an embodiment of the creator himself, a reminder of the greater force and an appreciation for all creation, beautifully expressed by this prodigy almost gripped me into a squall for those three hours that I spent within the maroon, peacock blue, sea green and lilac lacquered walls of the main gallery at RAA.

'The Real Van Gogh', - revealed through the visual letters he wrote.
Probably, wrote and drew, as it would be unfair to leave out either.

Very aptly described at the onset of the exhibit, 'Vivid word pictures of a subject in nature or a work of art leap from the page'. His sketches, 'croquis' or scratches as he called them carried within them, the quintessence, the finesse and detail of the original chef-d'Ĺ“uvre. His scratches were monumental relics and the letters he wrote to Theo (his brother) and Anthon (a close friend and artist) bore the intimacy of a child sharing his day with a parent. 

"Now in these last four weeks..... here with, a few sketches of them"
"I've just come from there - and have worked on it further by lamplight - although this time I started it in daylight" (Letter 492)

He sent a few of his paintings rolled up to Anthon and wrote, "I'm enclosing a piece of grey paper with them - they'll show up better if you put them on that" (Letter 437)

Another letter along with a sepia scratch he sent to Theo,
"Do you remember in Tartarin, the complaint of the old Tarascon- That wonderful page?
Well, I've just painted that red and green carriage in the yard of the inn"
The scratch and the original painting of the carriage was surely one of the finest paintings I've seen.
Brilliant, vivid colours almost brought life into the carriage and it seemed like it would advance any second.

In one of the letters he wrote to Theo, (at the beginning of his career as an artist), he asked him to send a few ordinary brushes to pursue his self taught artistic studies. He described the size and type of the brushes he needed by actually drawing them. A great enthusiasm reflected in the description of the medium he used. 

What really fascinated me was his detailed rendition in words of the little sketches in sepia which essentially characterised every letter he sent. Even though, the sketch was done in Indian ink - mono tone, most often sepia, he always made it a point to mention the colours that would appear in the final painting. As a reader, for me, this established almost another level of perception of the ultimate masterwork. 

One of the letters he wrote to Theo (Letter 250 - 21 July, 1882), along with a sepia sketch describing his
prototype titled 'Rooftops' was:
'Over the red tiled roofs comes a flock of white pigeons flying between the black smoking chimneys. But behind this, an infinity of delicate, gentle green, miles and miles of flat meadow, and a grey as still... that the view over the ridges of the roofs and the gutters in which the grass grows, very early in the morning and the first signs of life and awakening - the bird on the wing, the chimney smoking, the figure far below ambling along'

This vivid and explicit narration with a mono tone sketch was adequate to almost picture his magnum opus with all miniscule details and colouration. An extraordinary and rare style in itself!

A self taught, perfectionist who believed in practicing hard until he got it right, consulted the standard drawing manuals. 'If one lacks that knowledge', he wrote to Theo, 'one will never give birth to anything'.
(Letter 160)
Through his self taught lessons, he hoped to achieve an echelon where his strokes followed the form, and 
at the same time had the right balance of light and shade. 

A very compassionate human being ("she caught my eye because she looked ill", Letter 224 to Theo with a portrait of  Siem") who spent a third of his life with peasants in the Dutch landscape. 
They formed an integral part of his early paintings. 
'..diggers, sowers, ploughers....I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that's a part of a peasant's life"
"showing the figure of the peasant in action...that's .... the heart of modern art itself"
"His whole appearance has been shaped by working on land"
He wanted the heads of the peasants to look like they were"painted in soil"

He painted the thatched cottages in Brabant for which he bore great affection and described them as a 'reflection of the simple, honest peasants whose homes they were'

Vincent's strokes brimmed with life. They danced, tweaked, curled and expressed beautifully.
There were no masses, his paintings and scratches were all about abounding lines and strokes... each one of which had life. They swarmed together like a huge flock of bees in perfect harmony, depicting his subject extremely effectively. They reflected an inner restlessness, urge, aggression and passion within him. 

A wunderkind, who lived a short life but produced a quantum as well as quality of work which probably has never been generated by a zillion other artists put together. His work, admiration for nature, perfection, passion, sensitivity, compassion and appreciation have truly inspired a zillion, me being one among those.

"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream"
Vincent Van Gogh



Sunday, 17 January 2010


10th January, 10 pm, as I unlocked the door of my flat in Manna Ash, after a lovely dinner with my closest friend, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. A pink lovely sweat shirt, a pretty face peeped out of her half open door and greeted me with a warm smile. Slowly another door opened, with a cheerful expression peered a mohawk, the glee of the refreshing Christmas break reflected on his happy face. Engrossed in conversation, we were clueless about our unconscious increase in volume till it made the third door of the flat open. A bright red robe with a glorious smile joined the confab. Almost contradicting the colour of her attire, she went on to describe her white cat in the white snow back home over new years. As the bubbly chitchat progressed, a very familiar voice emanated from the only door which was shut. It was our hissing vacuum cleaner. Instantaneously, the door flung open as the everyday cursing made its way through the corridor. In a second peered hilarious Mr Brit American or Mr American Brit. (The order you see is extremely important). The customary complaints of green greased shower curtains and the smell of puke were spouted out. And wow! I felt at home.

Four heads, four expressions through four partially open doors, all of a sudden! It was a sight indeed. Everyone was back 'home' from Christmas and I was moving out. The blue dusty carpets, the clogged drain and the blaring fire alarms had become so much a part of my everyday life. My soft toys had found a home in 7B4, my flat in Manna Ash. 

Manna Ash, my house for a whole beautiful year in London. A house away from home but made me feel so much at home. The view of the London Eye as I would peep out of the kitchen window, the noisy lots at Imbibe (the pub downstairs) where occasional squeals erupted on saturday nights and of course, the swiping of cards a zillion times and a zillion DOORS!

DOORS! How I despised them when I had to lug heavy grocery bags and huge portfolios and push and pull open a zillion of them to get home. Now they seemed unexpectedly pleasant, just the day before I was leaving Manna Ash. I could not believe when my friend said that she missed me when we were not in the same city, just by hearing a familiar tune which reminded her of the tune of my lift door in my building back home in Bombay. But, now I could relate. 

When I entered my new house at Acorn walk, everything was perfect. The most beautiful people and a cozy house. Could not ask for anything better! But, it just was one clockwise turn of that long metal object, and I was home. 

I missed the DOORS. 

I missed Manna Ash.