This is my new favourite painting:
‘Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette‘, by Vincent van Gogh, was painted around 1885-86 in Antwerp. It is a stunning oil painting, with the wonderfully lit rolled cigarette casually held between the teeth, possibly highlighting his disdain for the conservative approaches at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he was based when he painted this picture. Just wonderful, a real mocking memento mori.
I am honestly surprised I have never come across it before, nor of his other two study paintings of a human skull (here and here). It is fair to say that I now bitterly regret not going back to view his works in Amsterdam recently, what a chance I missed!
A few recent trips in a photographic memory kind of way…
Leaving Tynemouth on the ferry to Holland, this historic scene caught my eye. The wood that will rot, the stone that will weather, the land that will change.
Proud to fly the flag of sexual liberation in Amsterdam. Although many may not agree with the relaxed nature of sexual liberation in Amsterdam, it is encouraging to explore the boundaries of our tastes and nature. Of mankind’s inherent lust for the flesh.
The North Sea, freedom on the waves. The sensation of being on the sail, cutting through the waves is akin to how I feel when I swim. The water connects the world, and we are all linked intimately, no matter how hard the politics of division tries to rear it’s ugly head.
The ship at night. A mistake, but a beautiful mistake. Much like life, a blur. A moment captured but never repeated.
The view that welcomed me to Hull for three glorious years- a sight I’ll associate with some of my warmest memories, with some wonderful people. An education gained and lost, a love first found.
I never took many photographs until my brother lent me his camera on a semi-permanent loan. I still try to limit how many I take. Social media is spammed with photographs of inane poses, of posed profile pictures, of representations of the self that give me headaches. Talking to friends and associates we all agree that the big social media site is often a headache to navigate and to use, with posts and updates that make us ache, internal and external representations of how damn good our lives are, of how happy we are, of how far we have come in life. Yet it’s addictive and it’ll always be there it seems. And I’m a part of it, perhaps bigger than I think with this and other social sites that I contribute to. But a picture is a picture, and for me it’ll often have a meaning, so why not share it?
If I’m honest this is all just part of an internal monologue, of how I think I should lead my life, and how I actually do. The lightness of being is weighted down by the materiality of the modern way of being.
The arrow thudded into the target with a satisfying thud, scoring a much needed five points for our team. The bow, still clutched in my hand, was placed horizontal out in front of me as I latched another arrow onto the string, brought it up vertical, drew back the string to just under my chin, aimed and fired again.
I hadn’t fired a bow for a few years now and, as it slowly came back to me after going through the basics with the other participants it made me think of how previous generations of humans had used the bow for pleasure, for war, and for hunting, for millennium. The bow and arrow isn’t a modern weapon, it isn’t a gun. It is a thing of beauty, sleek and skillful.
Ah the passing of the time, of time’s infinite arrow into the unknown. The string and the thack of the arrow into the wooden boards reminded me of the twanging of the heavy bass strings, of the light and bluesy guitar strings in comparison, and of the intricacies and follies of string theory, and ultimately, of the vibrancy of life.
Last week I visited Amsterdam with friends, and it was beautiful. Time slowed down, came to a stop a few times, and seemed to go all too fast as we left that beautiful, surreal city.
Author’s photograph of the canals of the Dutch capital.
Ever since visiting Amsterdam in the late 1990’s with my family, and being introduced to Impressionism via Amsterdam’s magnificent art galleries, I have been a fan of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and his artwork. A poster copy of the painting below hangs on my bathroom door, and as I look at it each day I become more enamored and entranced by the details in the composition, and in the application of the brushstrokes. The strong vibrant colours leap out at the viewer, and help to create an atmospheric setting. I particularly love the broad brush strokes of the cobbled path in the foreground, the natural lush green of the encroaching tree on the viewers right hand side, and the people in the distance, promenading along past the café. The painting is given a sense of perspective by the woman in red, walking away from the viewer, whilst the night is wonderfully evocative of the swirls of stars in the distant dark depths of space.
Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night‘ (oil on canvas), painted in Arles, France, in 1888. A stunning composition of colours, the painting captured people drinking and socialising in the early evening, gathered under a bright sulphur yellow light. This was one of his first paintings where he depicted the swirling stars in the night, an antecedent to his more famous later painting ‘The Starry Night‘, which made full use of the swirling stars in the night sky.
The painting is, to my mind, quite magical and a beauty to behold. It appeals to me because it is not technically perfect but rather because it is more evocative and emotional than finely executed draughtsmanship; it fits within my idea of perfection through imperfection. It makes me want to start painting again, to splash a few colours onto canvas and to see how they interact. I hope you enjoy this painting as much as I do. Here is an interesting webpage detailing Vincent van Gogh’s art work throughout his life, and his biography, which makes for interesting and melancholy reading. Recently it was announced that a letter, part written by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, will go on sale next month in Paris. Here is a short article discussing the letter.