2000-12-23 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio...

From The Artists Studio

From The Artists Studio...

By Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway Artists Alliance calendar is here and moving like hotcakes. Fifteen beautiful black and white photographs of works of art by RAA members and a photo of the director, cast and crew of Rockaway Theatre Company’s "Once Upon a Mattress" make the year 2001 a pleasure to behold. This lovely calendar is a perfect gift, available for a donation of only $5 per calendar and six calendars for $25. They may be acquired at the RAA office, The Beach Club, Harbor Health and Fitness, Dragon’s Den, Tiberio’s Restaurant, Paper Panda and Neponsit Real Estate on 129 street. Many thanks to calendar manager Denis Macrae and project assistant Annie Graves (with a little bench strength at the end from Susan Hartenstein) for this wonderful crowd pleaser. Thanks also to Church Bulletins Inc. at www.thechurchbulletininc.com for such timely work. Thanks go especially to the terrific sponsors of the calendar who made its publication possible. They appear prominently in the calendar. If you wish to be a business or individual sponsor for RAA’s 2002 color calendar, contact Annie Graves by phone or at annierock@hotmail.com. It will be first come, first serve because most of 2001’s sponsors wish to return in 2002.

Check out the 116 street Rotary triangle. RAA’s Chris Jorge and Geoff Rawling have decorated it with giant beautifully wrapped packages and artistically recreated candy cane to brighten the season for us all.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is approximately a two hour ride away and very much worth the trip, especially this holiday season. It is situated in a beautiful area of the city, which includes Independence Hall and the Rodin Museum. The external architecture of the Philadelphia Museum (remember Rocky’s climb up those steps) is a sight worth seeing, as is its interior, presently decorated with poinsettia. In among galleries of paintings you will find rooms filled with crystal chandeliers, exquisite furnishings and decorative arts. The museum’s website is: www. philamuseum.org.

"Van Gogh: Face to Face" runs through January 14, 2001 at the museum. This exhibition explores the portraiture of Vincent van Gogh from his days in his native Holland through the last part of his life in Auvers, France. Even for those who think themselves familiar with the portraits by van Gogh, this exhibit provides new pieces in the story of this ever-intriguing artist.

The portrait, we learn, excited van Gogh more than any other artistic genre – the modern portrait, that is. In this age of analyzing color, its properties and possibilities, he attempted to express the character and emotions of his subjects not through a photographic likeness, but through the manipulation of color, "rendering our impassioned expressions." The early portrait drawings by van Gogh done in Holland may very well be a portion of his oeuvres you hadn’t known. These works done in the fine-tuned media of graphite, chalk and pen and ink, among others, are sensitive, incisive creations meant to capture the essences of their subjects. In many of these, as in his later works, van Gogh freezes the subjects in a quiet, personal moment of solitude. In the choices made, the poses, the moments chosen, we gain insight perhaps as much into the artist as we do into the subject. We see many of these poses, often including downcast eyes, in van Gogh’s later portraits as well. In the early painted portraits, we are told, the viewer sees the influence of Frans Hals in the animated backgrounds which put the figure in an energized space. Perhaps these backgrounds anticipated van Gogh’s later backgrounds full of swirling flowers, dots and lines.

It is in van Gogh’s years first in Paris and then in Arles and Auvers that we see the change from the dark Dutch palette to a bright palette influenced by the Impressionists and neo-Impressionists. It is here we see the influence on van Gogh of techniques and the color theories embraced by these artists. Van Gogh experiments with use of short brushstrokes and dots. He moves away completely from realistic color, freeing himself to use color to express emotion and reveal character. He juxtaposes contrasting colors. Various pure colors are positioned and applied in particular ways to achieve his goal. Van Gogh discusses his experiments in his letters. It is evident that he is no madman slashing paint on a canvas in furious and random fashion, as the image of him might suggest. He is a man who carefully reasoned and planned his work.

The exhibition also makes us aware of van Gogh’s experimentation with texture to make areas stand apart from each other and with combinations of materials such as wax and linseed oil. Included in the exhibit are pen and ink portraits in which the wide, dramatic pen strokes parallel the artist’s painted strokes. By the way, take out a book sometime of the extraordinary pen and ink drawings van Gogh did at the hospital at St.-Remy. You’ve never seen landscape expressed like this. Etchings of Dr. Gachet in this exhibit reveal van Gogh’s versatile use of line. The works approach brilliant caricature. Concluding the exhibition is an exploration of van Gogh’s influence on those who came after, including Les Fauves and Chuck Close.

We see, perhaps most prominently in his final self portrait, the attempt to translate the emotional and spiritual into the physical – into the particular arrangement of pieces of certain pigment on a sheet of fabric. The internal is transferred into an external expression. The external is an extension of the internal. Art is extended into the metaphysical. Ultimately, this was van Gogh’s historical significance and why he holds such a fascination for us, even today.

From all of us at RAA to all of you – a very happy holiday.

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