Monday, May 7, 2012

Van Gogh in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently exhibited almost 50 paintings from van Gogh's final, and most productive phase of his career as a painter.  In the reproductions that I have seen, his paint seems so thick, and his brush strokes so clear, that the paintings come to life off of the canvas and into the viewer's reality.  As a beginning painter myself, I felt that I just had to see them up close and in the real, to find out what he had done.

My friend Mike R. generously offered to drive us down to Philadelphia, as I could never have made the trip alone.  Before our time to view the exhibit, we wandered in the 1500-1800 gallery wing.  There the paintings, in spite of giving three dimensional appearances, were, for the most part, flat medium on a canvas.  What made van Gogh stand out so?  I had taken a class in Italian Renaissance Art in college, in which we discussed the various methods used at that time, but nothing I had seen from that time in painting seemed comparable to this exhibit.

I did find out, however, that there were rules about getting too close to the paintings.  I had so wanted to see them with my naked eye, and to do that, I had to get within a few inches of the canvas.  At least I was able to see a few up close before I was warned away, and it was enough.  Now, how had he done it? and how had he been able to paint so many in the space of just two to three years?  At home, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and discovered his method.  IMPASTO, or using the paint as a paste on the canvas.  Moving rapidly, finishing in one "sitting," van Gogh swept broad areas of color onto the canvas, and then worked on detail with a smaller brush and different shades of color to give the three dimensional effect.Upon trying this method myself, I immediately discovered the value of brushes with a curved keep the areas of color from mixing too easily and promiscuously.

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