This is the finished block for the primary (darker) color. I'm going to print a small edtion in one color only, then work on the second block for the other color. It's cooler in the studio today -- what a relief! Makes it so much easier and more pleasant to work.
Right now I'm cleaning up from lunch and checking mail, which is another way of saying that I'm procrastinating a little about getting out the messy oil-based printing inks. But I'm always anxious to see what the print will actually look like, so once the process gets going I always find myself very concentrated. It seems like it's this way in all the arts: starting is difficult but once you get going, it's rewarding and completely absorbing, and even with the inevitable difficulties, steady incremental work does add up eventually.
In Ottawa this week we saw a remarkable exhibition called "Van Gogh - De Pres," or "Van Gogh Up Close." There were about 40 paintings, many of which I'd never seen before, in a show organized by the Canadian National Gallery and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Along with the paintings -- still lives, flower paintings, and landscapes which explored compositions that include a nearby focus -- there were photographs, drawings, and Japanese woodblock prints of the type that VanGogh would have seen and collected, and used for inspiration and study.
Like all of these blockbuster exhibitions, this one was crowded and admission was by timed tickets. I felt like one of many sardines, but we walked ahead and then went back as the first rooms cleared out, and were able to spend some time fairly close to the paintings we most wanted to see. I felt exhilarated, moved, and also troubled by the profits that are made from this extraordinary, ill, incredibly gifted man's work and difficult life.
The painting above was the one that probably spoke to me the most, and this image doesn't begin to show how beautiful it really is (you can click for a larger version, but even so...the color simply isn't accurate and the depth doesn't come across.) In person, you see that it is an exploration of the complementary colors blue and orange, built up of many layers of carefully applied paint so that it has an internal glow. I was absolutely stunned.
I've read Van Gogh's letters, and a number of books about him. To be in the presence of so many of his paintings was even more emotional than I had expected; they are so full of quiet joy as well as the agitation that's been so emphasized. It's also personal for me, because Van Gogh often grappled with the same subjects that interest and bedevil me -- how to represent nature in its complexity, how to find the strong forms and a shorthand way of showing what we see. Most of all, it was so apparent, looking at the dates of the works, so compressed, that here was a man who showed up and worked almost every single day of his short life; th work kept him going, but so did nature itself. I left feeling humbled, inspired, and grateful.