I appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as much as the next person, but the immersive, experiential Van Gogh traveling exhibition brings his paintings, his life and his travails to a totally new level. I was fortunate to catch the traveling show in Israel at the Arena complex in Herzliya. It was a stunning, unforgettable experience.
One is first guided into a huge space where the 360 degree surround sound and imagery are otherworldly. The fact that Van Gogh’s imagery is so iconic and recognizable made the experience feel intimate and monumentally epic at the same time. I’ve never dropped acid, but it felt like I was tripping as Van Gogh’s painted petals detached themselves from the branches of giant cherry blossoms, sunflowers careened underfoot and flocks of black crows took flight from haystacks that danced and spun around me. I could have stayed there for hours.
The artists and production team who created this sensory delight have to be applauded. The viewer is taken on an emotional roller coaster – chirping birds and beautiful vases of flowers morph into gaudily painted characters who peopled Van Gogh’s life in Arles. Then comes the suspenseful music that foreshadows Van Gogh’s descent into madness and despair.
But just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, the next phase of the exhibition blew me away. Visitors are fitted with Virtual Reality headgear that literally transports you back to Van Gogh’s time, starting right in his famously painted bedroom.
And from there one flies down the steps, walks through the town of Arles, greets his friends and patrons, wanders through meadows, sidesteps chickens, watches the boats glide on the river and the night turn starry over the local church. My hands were reaching out to touch the cows, or hold onto a handrail. Magical, simply magical.
I happened to visit the Van Gogh show just days after another truly inspirational and totally unique cultural experience that played a different game with my senses. The Israeli town of Jaffa is home to a unique space called Na LaGaat (‘Please Touch’). Na Lagaat presents cultural opportunities for connecting the deaf and the blind, those that are both deaf and blind, and the wider seeing and hearing public. I attended a concert there by singer/songwriter Yoni Rechter – IN TOTAL DARKNESS! Not only did the audience experience the concert in total darkness, but the musicians had to play in the dark as well. The words to the songs have never sounded sweeter, nor more poignant.
I’ll never look at a painting in quite the same way again, nor listen to a song in quite the same way…
Every three years, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery hosts the Outwin Boochever contemporary portrait competition. It’s one of my favorite art events because it expands and re-defines what we think of as portraiture. This year’s judges selected 46 out of 2600 entries! Race, gender bias and immigration were the underlying themes tackled by the selected artists. Here are a few of the standouts:
Artist Deborah Roberts felt ‘called’ to paint a portrait of 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. who was executed in 1944 in an electric chair for a murder he did not commit. The work symbolizes the injustices against African American youths today (I would highly recommend a visit to another outstanding Smithsonian museum in DC – the National Museum of African American History and Culture). Aside from its message, I loved the subtle confluence of painting and collage in the face, shown in detail:
Some of you may recognize the face of iconic novelist and activist, James Baldwin (1924-1987), in this work below by artist Nekisha Durrett.
But take a closer look at how she created this portrait:
A video work by performance artist, Anna Garner, presented a totally different interpretation of self-portrait. Garner filmed herself engaged in a potentially harmful situation of her own making. To watch the video, click on the image below.
The portrait of ‘April and June’ by David Antonio Cruz features Cruz’s focal subject – black and brown members of the queer community. I particularly liked the artist’s fearless treatment of color and the clash of patterns (see detail below).
The exhibition also included several outstanding photographs.
AND THE WINNER IS….
The judges of the Outwin Boochever competition awarded first place to Hugo Crosthwaite for his stop-gap animated ‘Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chavez’ dealing with one woman’s American Dream. Click on the image below to watch the video.
Before concluding this brief overview of the portrait competition, I want to introduce another two works that greatly impressed me. I was blown away by the sensitive treatment and paint quality of ‘Hidden Wounds’ (below) by Luis Alvarez Roure, who painted his childhood friend after the latter returned from war. The half-shadowed face hides the hidden scars below the surface.
Another powerful service member portrait (below), this time representing women in the armed forces, was painted by Julianne Wallace Sterling who found her subjects by advertising on Craigslist!
(I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the service of another young woman, close family friend, 2nd Lt. Rosenberg, United States Marine Corps, pictured below with General James Mattis)
On a recent visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), I felt connected to three artists in particular as a result of having recently read books inspired by these artists and their work. The first artist was Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the famous French painter, unparalleled for his vivid color and line work.
I just finished reading Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living my Dream by James Morgan. Morgan takes the reader along as he follows in Matisse’s footsteps. There are no big discoveries or surprises, but Morgan makes some wonderful observations. The Baltimore Museum of Art inherited an outstanding collection of works by Henri Matisse, thanks to the Cone sisters of Baltimore (Claribel and Etta, below). These dour-faced sisters amassed over 3,000 works in their lifetimes, including hundreds of paintings and sketches by Matisse.
Van Gogh’s expressive painting of hobnailed boots (below) immediately caught my eye. It brought to mind Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong struggle with poverty, articulated in his prolific correspondence with his brother, Theo (The Letters of Vincent van Gogh).
I doubt there ever lived an artist more dedicated and obsessed than Vincent van Gogh. His letters describe asensitive, observant, frustrated, and anguished man. His obsession with his art ultimately contributed to his mental breakdown and tragic demise.
Also on view was a bronze cast of Degas’ iconic, tutu-clad ballerina, Little Dancer (below).
This sculpture – one of the best-known works in modern art and first exhibited in 1881 – is the subject of a recently published, introspective book entitled Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens. Ms. Laurens’ narrative is a hybrid memoir/art historical dive into the sculpture’s controversial history. The author’s research into the model’s identity provides an in-depth view of 19th century life for these young dancers, preyed upon by wealthy Opera goers and exploited by artists such as Degas.
I can personally attest to the inspiration that a work of art can spark in a writer. I have recently completed my manuscript ‘L’Origine‘ (seven years in the making) based on Gustave Courbet’s erotic 19th century painting L’Origine du monde. (In case you missed it, read about it in my article published by the Huffington Post.)
Before signing off, here are two works at the BMA from two of my favorite women artists.
Read the inspiration for the above work in Truitt’s own words:
‘What did I know, I asked myself. What did I love? What was it that meant the very most to me inside my very own self? The fields and trees and fences and boards and lattices of my childhood…rushed across my inner eyes as if borne by a great, strong wind…’
It’s a great feeling when all the different influences and inspirational threads from one’s time at a residency come together. That’s what happened when I created Through my window (above). I felt like I had captured the colors and the intense heat, as well as my weeks-long view from the window of my atelier here at LMStudio Residency in Hyères.
I produced quite a few studies and works during my time here, allowing the inspiration of the moment to guide me. Here are a few examples:
My portrait (below) of the local personality, Michel, always drew a small crowd outside the gallery.
Michel is an unforgettable character and he taught me a thing or two – his motto in life is ‘Pourquoi pas?’ (Why not?) Why not indeed. Why do we have to conform or answer to anyone but ourselves?
I did a series of prints with abstracted windows/shutters that are so typical of France, and this area in particular. The shutters keep out the intense sun and provide privacy so coveted by the French. The rabbit is an image from a local poster about town advertising a wine festival. In the original poster the rabbit ears were cleverly composed of wine bottle silhouettes.
Watercolor sketching is not my forte but it’s just so satisfying and relaxing. Here I am sketching on the picturesque island of Porquerolles.
The beach is a GREAT place to sketch – all those free, unsuspecting models!!!
Other new works created during my residency will be on exhibit in September here in Hyères at the beautiful gallery, ARTDANH, run by artist/sculptor Annie Denis.
My final act on the last night was to eat a madeleine (below) while reading the famous excerpt written by Marcel Proust about this sweet French treat.
In his iconic book Remembrance of Things Past (a novel in seven parts, published in the early 20th century), a madeleine crumb triggers memories of Proust’s childhood. The excerpt is famous for its legendary wordiness and pomposity. It is often used as a literary example of how to really milk an idea! Just for the hell of it, I have included an English translation of the madeleine excerpt. Eating one while reading may make it more pleasurable…
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of
Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre
and the drama of my going to bed there, had any
existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came
home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered
me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I
declined at first, and then, for no particular reason,
changed my mind. She sent out for one of those
short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’
which look as though they had been moulded in the
fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon,
mechanically, weary after a dull day with the
prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips
a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel
of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the
crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran
through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon
the extraordinary changes that were taking place.
An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but
individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.
And at once the vicissitudes of life had become
indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity
illusory–this new sensation having had on me the
effect which love has of filling me with a precious
essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it
was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre,
accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to
me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was
connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it
infinitely transcended those savours, could not,
indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did
it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon
and define it?
I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing
more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather
less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is
losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my
quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The
tea has called up in me, but does not itself
understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a
gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which
I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be
able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it
there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my
final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine
my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But
how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the
mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond
its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the
dark region through which it must go seeking, where
all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More
than that: create. It is face to face with something
which does not so far exist, to which it alone can
give reality and substance, which it alone can bring
into the light of day.
And I begin again to ask myself what it could have
been, this unremembered state which brought with it
no logical proof of its existence, but only the sense
that it was a happy, that it was a real state in whose
presence other states of consciousness melted and
vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I
retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank
the first spoonful of tea. I find again the same state,
illumined by no fresh light. I compel my mind to
make one further effort, to follow and recapture
once again the fleeting sensation. And that nothing
may interrupt it in its course I shut out every
obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and
inhibit all attention to the sounds which come from
the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is
growing fatigued without having any success to
report, I compel it for a change to enjoy that
distraction which I have just denied it, to think of
other things, to rest and refresh itself before the
supreme attempt. And then for the second time I
clear an empty space in front of it. I place in position
before my mind’s eye the still recent taste of that
first mouthful, and I feel something start within me,
something that leaves its resting-place and attempts
to rise, something that has been embedded like an
anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is,
but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the
resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces
Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of
my being must be the image, the visual memory
which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it
into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far
off, too much confused; scarcely can I perceive the
colourless reflection in which are blended the
uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I
cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the
one possible interpreter, to translate to me the
evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable
paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot
ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in
question, of what period in my past life.
Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my
consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment
which the magnetism of an identical moment has
travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up
out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell.
Now that I feel nothing, it has stopped, has perhaps
gone down again into its darkness, from which who
can say whether it will ever rise? Ten times over I
must essay the task, must lean down over the
abyss. And each time the natural laziness which
deters us from every difficult enterprise, every work
of importance, has urged me to leave the thing
alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the
worries of to-day and of my hopes for to-morrow,
which let themselves be pondered over without
effort or distress of mind.
And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was
that of the little crumb of madeleine which on
Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those
mornings I did not go out before church-time), when
I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my
aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her
own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of
the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind
before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often
seen such things in the interval, without tasting
them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that
their image had dissociated itself from those
Combray days to take its place among others more
recent; perhaps because of those memories, so
long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now
survived, everything was scattered; the forms of
things, including that of the little scallop-shell of
pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious
folds, were either obliterated or had been so long
dormant as to have lost the power of expansion
which would have allowed them to resume their
place in my consciousness. But when from a longdistant past nothing subsists, after the people are
dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still,
alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more
unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the
smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,
like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping
for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and
bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable
drop of their essence, the vast structure of
And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of
madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers
which my aunt used to give me (although I did not
yet know and must long postpone the discovery of
why this memory made me so happy) immediately
the old grey house upon the street, where her room
was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach
itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden,
which had been built out behind it for my parents
(the isolated panel which until that moment had
been all that I could see); and with the house the
town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the
Square where I was sent before luncheon, the
streets along which I used to run errands, the
country roads we took when it was fine. And just as
the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a
porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little
crumbs of paper which until then are without
character or form, but, the moment they become
wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour
and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or
people, permanent and recognisable, so in that
moment all the flowers in our garden and in M.
Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne
and the good folk of the village and their little
dwellings and the parish church and the whole of
Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper
shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town
and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.
For those who are unsure of what one does on an artist residency, imagine yourself being invited to spend time in an unfamiliar environment where most of the usual mundane demands of your regular life are momentarily suspended so that you can pursue what is closest to your heart. My current artist residency in the town of Hyeres in France’s gorgeous Provence district has allowed me to explore, experiment and reflect. The hope is that the experience will filter through into my art in unexpected ways. Like the new mixed media work (above) inspired by the appearance of France’s tri-color flags in a lead-up to Bastille Day, France’s National Day.
I have also been inspired to paint small format portraits of some of the locals – I find French men have a lot more character in their faces than their American counterparts.
It’s also obvious that the region’s vibrant colors have radically changed my palette. How could they not…
The local artists are very laid back and mostly very friendly (speaking French does have its advantages!). Yesterday I was invited to a charming two-person show in a vine-covered courtyard garden. The two artists complimented each other very well.
JEANNE-MARIE YOU primarily paints vibrant and expressive gouache scenes en plein air (on site outdoors) and creates infinitely diverse and delightful greeting cards.
TONY FONTANA paints lush stylized paintings of Provence. He has a very unique style and a palette that captures the light in this region.
I hope to continue making breakthroughs in my work. The wonderful fresh produce and cheeses will keep me going. And the occasional pain au raisin thrown in for good measure, of course.
It actually is as beautiful here as in the postcards. But don’t take my word for it – a picture says more than a thousand words.
Hyères will be my home for the next three weeks – I am the artist in residence at LMStudios where I have the run of a quirky, centuries-old little house in the historic part of town. This includes a gallery on the ground floor where I exhibit my own works.
The gallery sitting aspect of this residency is my least favorite part. I find it quite excruciating to represent and sell my own work. Give me another artist’s work that I admire and I can be an amazing salesperson. I believe people fall into three categories as far as galleries go – first you have the totally oblivious passerby like this gentleman below who stood for a good five minutes at the entrance of the gallery reading his daily!
The majority of passersby fit into the second category – those who look in through the glass vitrines but are deathly afraid to enter – either from fear or discomfort. And lastly there’s the tiny minority whose radar is open to the existence of art and dare to step foot inside!
Because I just arrived, the work I hung in the gallery are small format works I brought with me until I start producing work here (I’m not sure yet what direction my works will take). The surroundings need a while to simmer. A very interesting local gentleman popped into the gallery on my first day.
My multi-media series on African women appealed to him greatly. My first sale of the morning was from that series. See below.