Subversion – personal painting, #rift

I’m quite fond of subverting what might be described as genre output by juxtaposing or underpinning a relatively traditional piece with something that jolts it a bit. So when I came across an ad for a painting-by-numbers Van Gogh, my mind had already raced to an idea involving tracing and cutting out the numbered areas then enlarging and exploding them over an A1 card.

But reality had other ideas. The schematic is printed onto the canvas which, unlike the ones from my childhood, is real and not a piece of cardboard. But even if it had been a firm surface, I’d have needed a microscope to do the tracing and instruments designed for delicate brain surgery to cut them out. Still, I had a set of paints, a canvas, and a starry night road map that I didn’t have before.

Plan B then was to shift this immensely detailed piece requiring fine point brushes into a broader, less contained perspective by first applying paint in rough approximate patches, and then to add compatible but different colour frames with wonderfully soft, crumbly pastels and adding water.

This went from one idea, one imagined scenario, to another, but in the end it was one of the early iterations I preferred so thank goodness for cameras.

Van Gogh is commonly thought to have been experiencing visual hallucinations caused by psychosis, but the range of issues he appears to have been beset by suggests several other possible causes, including epilepsy, sleep deprivation, infection related delirium and, not surprisingly, acute anxiety and mood swings. He was also a user of alcohol (absynthe) and tobacco, and exposed to lead over many years via his paints. [see Health of Vincent Van Gogh for the full catalogue of disorders he endured.] My painting removes the detail and exaggerates the sweeps of the marks, using a palette related to the original but tonally a few steps away. The town is gone, along with the comforting lights, the tree is more clawed, and the swirls are more like individual eyes or pools than parts of a continuous movement.

The video below emphasises the darkness that was almost inevitably the subtext of Van Gogh’s work. The animation is made in MotionLeap by Lighttricks and the video finished in Filmora Pro. As a deliberate choice, there is no audio – Van Gogh’s distress was largely unheard and his auditory and visual hallucinations experienced in dreadful unshareable privacy.

I’m not sure where this fits in the Rift collection or how to validate its inclusion, except to say that it feels to be a natural fit. The rift here is between the internal and the external – what is observable and what is private experience. Short of death, this must be the ultimate separation; we can never know, only guess, at the internal conflicts of another person and try to help by careful conversation or empathic silence.

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