Hello my little tulips from Amsterdam.
Goodness me, how time flies. I do hope things are going well since we met last met.
We are almost arriving at my favourite season of Spring and I’m impatient for the bulbs I buried in November to perform their underground magic.
I’ve never planted bulbs before and I don’t even know if I’ve done it properly, so I’m monitoring daily and excited to see that shoots are coming through at a pace. Blimey, I’ve even pruned a rose tree this week; at this rate I’ll be a regular on gardeners question time and laughing uncontrollably at the diverse ways of dispatching slugs and snails from your clematis. (Snip in half with scissors, throw over wall into neighbours garden. Hilarious, see?)
I can’t remember what I planted so it will be a total surprise, they probably aren’t even flowers and I might find my borders full of onions. Either way maybe I should have a go at painting what comes up in homage to an artist that almost everyone knows and loves....
Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, 1888
As a little respite from the greyness of Tyneside, I jumped aboard one of the ferries that conveniently sail from North Shields and headed over the water to Holland with the sole intention of visiting the Van Gogh museum.
It was well worth tolerating the rowdy hordes of passengers on their way to the coffee shops and, as a natural people watcher, the hen party with a blow up doll kept me amused in the long boarding queues.
I’ve been to Amsterdam a number of times and enjoyed the scandalous spectacle of the sex museum, broken my heart in the Anne Frank house and walked for hours along the canals but I’ve somehow never been to the Van Gogh. How dare I even call myself an artist?
Arriving at Dam Square, my companion and I set off towards the museum. We enviously watched the throngs of cool Dutch folk pedalling effortlessly on their peculiar bicycles. These dudes are well dressed and firm bottomed; there's a lot to envy.
The museum is a large, contemporary glass affair opposite the Rijksmuseum. Headphones on, I got stuck right in.
I’m just going to say this: I dislike Vincent’s early Dutch style work. It may not have been his intention but it speaks of misery and hardship to me.
Take a look at this little lot...
The Potato eaters, 1885.
It makes me tired to look at these people and their roughened features. If I had to find a positive in this scene it could only be the comforting coffee cups.
Among these subdued paintings, there was one one exception, a piece I've never seen before and which gave me some entertainment:
Flying Fox, 1885
A large, tropical fruit eating bat of the Megabat suborder. Vincent painted this from the (equally amusing) stuffed specimen displayed in a glass case alongside the picture.
Mercifully early on in the museum progression, the unhappy looking peasants rendered in all shades of brown and grey give way to the breath-taking light and colour we had all come to look at.
You can see Vincent’s own palette, a few tubes of his paint and many of the 800+ letters he wrote to his beloved brother, Theo. Then you are confronted by some of the most joyous and melancholy artworks you will ever experience.
It would be difficult to add anything to what is already written about Vincent. I can only offer my own response to his work: of all the artists I’ve admired my whole life, Van Gogh is probably the one who has the power to move me in a way that very few others can. The obvious reason for this is his life story. Without the loneliness and madness, his stays in the asylum, an almost unbelievable act of self-harm and ultimately his suicide, maybe Vincent’s self-portraits wouldn’t pierce the soul the way they do.
He stares out at you from some 25 different canvases and if you can zone out of from the other museum visitors, you will feel his presence.
Maybe the reason Vincent touches deeply is because so many of us are, or have been, affected by mental ill-health disorders. We know he was real; there is nothing pompous here, only the searching and beautiful confessions of a troubled mind.
In the museum, you can see his little yellow house at Arles, the surrounding fields, delicate blossoms and of course......
Finally, as your ofiicial reviewer, I would like to critique the cakes in the museum café and I can tell you that, just like in all National galleries, they were a tad expensive but at least the Black Forest Gateaux was of a substantial portion. I was disappointed to note that there was no absinthe available though there was a rather nifty wine dispenser. Select glass, choose wine, push button, hey presto, my kind of Gallery cafe.
If only all of us artists had even a teaspoon of what Vincent had, we'd be very lucky indeed. We can but try our best to bring a little light to the world, in our own way.
I’m continuing with a new collection of paintings. Although normally a figurative artist, I may try out some seascapes for a change. If I feel uncomfortable, I can always add a plump ship with a tiny figurehead, on the horizon.
There are vague plans for releasing some brand new images in late spring. You know the drill by now, I publish something then send you an email about it, the email will then go into your spam folder because I have a Z in my name. (So if you want to see new things, please remember to check.)
In the meantime, let’s wave winter bye-bye and keep looking at the gardens; Vincent could see magic in nature and if we make the smallest of efforts, so can we.