Friday, June 29, 2012


I love cartoons. And I love art. I love cartoons AND art. The two together? Almost as good as a chocolate cake baked with crushed cookies inside.

And now I have a plan for tomorrow.

Anyway, when I was younger, watching cartoons one afternoon, I watched Yakko Warner hold up a sunflower and mention something about "that van Gogh grouch."

I was intrigued.

I went upstairs to our encyclopedia, where I found several black-and-white images lithographed onto the glossy white pages. Images that transfixed me. I mean, I'd seen reproductions of artworks before. Sure. Typical grade-school fare. Religious iconography. Reproductions of "Pinkie" and "Blue Boy" that my parents had in their room. But art? Real art? Independent of the dry recitation of fact, art as a life force all its own, art for art's sake? Art, I might add, that had an element of grittiness to it, art that was terrifyingly real. Art that had been suffered over, hadn't been sold during the author's lifetime, and had, most importantly, endured.

It was on that dusty Midwestern afternoon that I sat, cross-legged and transfixed on the floor of my parents' house, and first discovered something far outside my normal realm of existence.

Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers."

Fast-forward almost a decade, and I'm living in London for a summer of study. I am painfully lonely, broke, and yet desperate to soak up what I can of the culture before returning to the States. So most of my afternoons find me finishing homework, then wandering down to the National Gallery (free admission!) and strolling through the elegant structure. I loved it. It was cool in there, quiet, and smelled of antiquity, of culture, of understated sophistication. The guards got to where they'd nod to me in an absent, British sort of way--"There goes the scruffy American kid again," they seemed to say. And I'd wave back, every time. Friendly-like.

Without fail, every time, I'd wind up in the Impressionist room. It housed several paintings, masterpieces each, among them Monet's "Bridge at Giverny" and ...

van Gogh's "Sunflowers."

It was my favorite of the six different versions he painted. Yellow background, mellow oranges and browns, flowers tangled and rioted, each fighting for prominence, for recognition. And the paint was so thick. Valleys between the ridges, oily swirls cut into and over each other--I'd stare at them, fascinated, angling my head, imagining how he must have felt as he scratched his palette knife through heaps of paint thicker than any I'd ever attempted. I had painted, sure, but with acrylics, not oils--as a student, with no pretensions toward becoming a master. I wondered what drove him, what kept him from madness as he saw such staggering visions with clarity enough to realize them in paint. Did he see his subjects, or did he see into them? How much of himself was he projecting into their forms? Was his every painting a self-portrait?

I wondered.

I studied.

I dreamed of that painting. Nearly every day for almost three months, I visited it. I sat on the bench immediately facing it, felt its enormous presence. The canvas itself is huge, by the way. Big enough that I felt dwarfed by it. (I don't often feel dwarfed, being as how I'm six feet tall.) And the mental presence of a man who'd died hundreds of years ago--I could still feel it.

I later painted a reproduction of it, years later, one square at a time, gridded out to ease transfer from the printed image I'd gotten from the internet to the giant canvas I'd stretched myself. Every night I'd sit at it, quietly stroking acrylic onto the gessoed linen, until what I had was a passable ghost of the power of van Gogh's original.

So I like this painting, is what I'm saying.

A couple of months ago, my mother went to the Netherlands. She'd never been to Europe and I was delighted to see her travel to her family's original homeland. I'd skipped over to Holland for a weekend while I was living in England, and had loved it, so was glad when Mom had a great time, too. I asked her if she'd made it over to the Rijksmuseum, as when I had been there, at the bus stop in front, there was a young impatiently-waiting woman holding--wait for it--a bouquet of sunflowers. And Mom had. Cool, right?

Well, she'd brought back lots of presents for everyone, and gave them in a big flurry of gifting that lasted the two months she's been back. And I noticed, the first time I went to see her after she returned, that she had a refrigerator magnet with a tiny picture OF VAN GOGH'S SUNFLOWERS.

"Yay!" I thought to myself. "Mom's enjoying 'Sunflowers' too!" Because I'm super-enthusiastic about that which I enjoy, and Mom had picked up on my obsession with this painting. She listens, see. She can't hardly help but.

And then tonight, I was getting ready to leave my parents' house after supper, and Mom gasped while looking at the fridge. "Oh! I almost forgot! I got this for you--" And she pulled that very magnet from the fridge! I might have squealed, a little. And hugged her. And ... and called her my favorite mom. Of, you know, all of them.

So now I can see "Sunflowers" every single day. Again. It's like the National Gallery, but this time, it's in my home. Ahh.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012